Preview by Numbers: Liverpool v. Arsenal

Anfield, Liverpool
Sunday, December 21
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Lee Betts
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • This Match, Last Year: Liverpool 5 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 78 Arsenal wins, 83 Liverpool wins, 56 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-W-W-L-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: L-L-W-W-D-L
This is normally where I would talk about the magnitude and implications of the upcoming fixture, and believe me, this is a big one. But, instead, we need to talk about this picture Santi Cazorla tweeted before the players had their annual Christmas party last weekend.

Santi is shown far left wearing a silver blazer so shiny I think it was manufactured in space in the future. Hector Bellerin looks ready for a cameo in Saturday Night Fever. Nacho Monreal is there #WelcomeNacho. Danny Welbeck has gone in a traditional suit.

Meanwhile, Alexis Sanchez has really big glasses, Theo Walcott has a Santa Claus sweater, and Mikel Arteta's seems to have... something on it? What is that? Some sort of Christmas pastry? I can't tell...

Then, we come to Kieran Gibbs, whose sweater actually appear to light up. Congratulations, Kieran, you win Christmas. Please see Andre Marriner for your prize.

...What? Too soon?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (Achilles,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (thigh,) Diaby (???,) Ozil (knee)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Monreal (ankle,) Walcott (groin,) Ospina (thigh)

If the Ox doesn't pass fit, I have no idea who is available
to replace him...
A trio of Arsenal players will face late fitness tests before the weekend trip. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a doubt with a groin strain he picked up against Newcastle last weekend, while Nacho Monreal could return from the ankle injury he suffered against Southampton on December 3. Theo Walcott has been out since the November international break with a groin strain he picked up on international duty, but could return for this match. Theo made only two cameo appearances since his return from a knee ligament injury before this new injury sidelined him. The Ox has not been in training; Theo returned to training yesterday.

Second-string goalkeeper David Ospina is back in full training and could make the bench behind Wojciech Szczesny. Tomas Rosicky, out for two weeks with a thigh problem, should be back in full training next week. The long-term injured remain on schedule. And still, nobody even mentions Abou Diaby or Serge Gnabry...

In the back four, Calum Chambers returns from suspension, meaning he likely fills in at center back and Mathieu Debuchy returns to his natural right back position. Hector Bellerin played very well against Newcastle last weekend, but this is Liverpool away.

A back four of Debuchy, Chambers, Per Mertesacker, and Gibbs would be the 14th different combination of defenders Arsenal have started in 27 matches across all competitions this season. Incidentally, the ideal top combination (Debuchy, Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Gibbs) has yet to occur, as Gibbs got hurt before Mertesacker came back from World Cup break, Debuchy got hurt before Gibbs came back, and Koscielny got hurt before Debuchy came back. Wild stuff.

With Aaron Ramsey out, who would start alongside Mathieu Flamini if the Ox doesn't pass fit? Francis Coquelin? Seriously, I don't know the answer to this question, so I'm just going to predict Ox passes fit and cross my fingers...

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Alexis, Welbeck, Giroud.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Flanagan (knee,) Suso (groin,) Sturridge (thigh,) Johnson (groin)
Doubts: Lovren (groin)
Suspended: Balotelli (one match, FA charge)

Why always him? Balotelli might not have passed fit anyway,
but he's suspended now.
Lot of groin injuries going on here. Dejan Lovren was forced to be removed at halftime of Wednesday night's cup tie against Bournemouth with a groin injury, leaving him a major doubt to start at center back on Sunday; Mamadou Sakho might get a start along with Martin Sktrel and Kolo Toure in Liverpool's three-man defense. An appearance for Sakho would be just his third of this league season.

Elsewhere, Mario Balotelli missed the cup tie to focus on his fitness; Balotelli's second half cameo against Manchester United, in which he was shut down by David De Gea, was his first appearance since November 8 as he continues to undergo treatment for his groin problem. He's been suspended by the FA anyway and fined for his controversial Instagram post. Balotelli will not appeal the suspension, since he's likely not one hundred percent fit to begin with.

In terms of those definitely out, Liverpool will be without both Glen Johnson and Suso with groin injuries of their own. Daniel Sturridge is out until January with a thigh injury and Jon Flanagan is out with a knee problem.

Predicted XI: Jones, Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Henderson, Markovic, Lucas, Gerrard, Coutinho, Lallana, Sterling.

Current Form

Every time Arsenal have a string of 3+ goal victories,
Newcastle is usually one of the teams beaten in the string.
I guess this is where I can talk about everything I should have talked about in the opening. Arsenal have bounced back from the loss at Stoke by winning convincingly twice, both by 4-1 margins. It's the first time Arsenal have won consecutive matches by at least three goals since 3-0 victories over Hull and Newcastle last April. The last time Arsenal won three straight by three or more was in October of 2010, with wins over Shakhtar Donetsk in Europe, Manchester City in the league, and Newcastle in the League Cup. The Gunners have also won five of their last six after going winless in three.

Liverpool desperately needed a victory in midweek and got one against Bournemouth in the League Cup. The Reds have booked their passage through to the semifinals, though their progress in the other competitions this season has been less than stellar; they've crashed into the Europa League where they will face a Besiktas side that North London is now familiar with and they sit 11th in the Premier League table. Liverpool's win against Bournemouth was just the club's third in their last 11 matches across all competitions.

Match Facts

I don't want to see this again, which I suppose can be
accomplished by the fact that three of the four players in this
picture won't be involved.
Arsenal and Liverpool split their two league meetings last season, with both sides winning at home. The clubs also met in the fifth round of the FA Cup, with Arsenal winning 2-1 at the Emirates en route to winning the trophy.

This fixture, of course, ended 5-1 in favor of Liverpool. The Reds built a 4-0 lead in 20 minutes and never looked back. Before that result, Arsenal had not lost at Anfield since since the 2008 Champions League quarter-final, though it was the two-goal margin of that loss which saw the Gunners out of the tie (thanks, Kolo Toure.) The last time Liverpool won the league fixture against Arsenal at Anfield prior to last season, Peter Crouch had a hat trick and William Gallas scored Arsenal's goal in a 4-1 match on March 31, 2007.

Still, Liverpool have beaten Arsenal twice across their last 14 meetings in all competitions. Eight of the last 18 meetings have ended drawn.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Might this be a bad omen for Arsenal? Oliver was the man in the middle of this fixture last year which, as covered above, did not go very well for the visitors.

This will be the third time Arsenal have had Oliver this season; he previously worked the 1-1 draw with Spurs and the Community Shield win over Manchester City. It will be his third Liverpool match as well, as he also worked their 3-1 loss to City and 2-1 win over West Brom.

Oliver came under some fire during the Manchester derby in November. Oliver showed Chris Smalling a yellow card after an attempt to close down City goalkeeper Joe Hart, but in the aftermath, Hart appeared to slightly headbutt the official during his protests. The City goalkeeper was not punished and Smalling was later sent off for a second yellow. This handling of this situation is endemic in refereeing right now; officials love making the easy calls, happily booking defenders for shirt tugs on the halfway line. But, when it comes to violent conduct, they hesitate and choose not to make the big choices whatsoever.

Around the League

Saturday (early): Manchester City v. Crystal Palace (Etihad Stadium, Manchester)
City have won seven straight, even if they weren't exactly convincing in a 1-0 win over bottom-feeding Leicester last weekend. City remain light up front due to injuries; they'll open the weekend of fixtures hosting Crystal Palace, who have won just once in their last 10. Palace put up a great fight in this fixture last year, but lost 1-0.

Why have we, collectively as a league, allowed United
to start winning things again?
Saturday: Aston Villa v. Manchester United (Villa Park, Birmingham)
Manchester United have won six straight and are being discussed in some circles as title contenders again; many would agree that they haven't exactly been convincing in many of these victories. Villa, however, have struggled mightily this season. Alan Hutton and Kieran Richardson are both suspended, which will put the Villans further behind the eight ball.

Saturday: Hull City v. Swansea City (KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull)
Hull have gone nine league games without a win and have failed to score in six of their last eight. They'll be without Tom Huddlestone, serving the first match of a four match ban. Swansea, on the other hand, have no injury concerns, and Lukasz Fabianski will return from suspension. Hull have the league's worst home record and Swansea are the third worst team on the road.

Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. West Bromwich Albion (Loftus Road, London)
QPR have won more home games (four) than anyone else in the bottom half of the table. Even Arsenal have only won four home games this year. The R's, however, have eight losses in eight road games, which contributes to their 18th place standing. They'll be home to a West Brom team that won last time out, but struggled to break down 10-man Villa.

Saturday: Southampton v. Everton (St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton)
The Saints were dumped out of the League Cup by Sheffield United midweek and the club lost more than just that. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama both picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season and will be suspended for accumulation. Southampton have now lost five in a row across all competitions after their loss to the Blades on Tuesday, but Everton have won just twice away from Goodison Park in the league this year.

Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Burnley (White Hart Lane, London)
Spurs have one foot in Wembley for the League Cup final; their win midweek over Newcastle has set them up for a semifinal date with a Sheffield United side that shocked Southampton. It's much harder to pull off a shock in the League Cup semis, since it's over two legs. Burnley will hope that Spurs' fixture congestion helps them pull off a shock of their own; the Clarets have won three of their last six and have lost only once in that span.

We're also letting Alex Song be in fourth.
Fourth is ours, damn it!
Saturday: West Ham United v. Leicester City (Boleyn Ground, London)
The visiting Foxes have lost four straight and are now without a win in their last 11 matches. On the other side, West Ham are flying high, and have only conceded two goals in their last five home games. Play this game on paper and the Hammers win every time; in reality, anything can happen.

Sunday (early): Newcastle United v. Sunderland (St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne)
The Tyne-Wear derby is always a heated encounter and this one could be more heated than usual with Anthony Taylor selected as the referee. Newcastle have allowed four goals in two straight matches after they beat Chelsea, likely down to the fact that they have about 13+ players injured right now. Sunderland are winless in six, but they've drawn five of them. Safe bet says this ends all square.

Monday (night): Stoke City v. Chelsea (Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent)
Stoke have won just one of their last six league meetings with Chelsea, but that came in this corresponding fixture last season. Chelsea have been perfect at home this season (24 out of 24 points,) but have picked up 15 of a possible 24 points from their travels. Stoke sit 12th in the table and have failed to beat any teams in 13th or worse this year. All five of their wins have come against teams currently in the top half of the league table.

John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and owns no sweaters that light up. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, especially if you know where he can get one of those sweaters.