Match Preview: Liverpool - Arsenal, 27/8/2016

The Premier League is back with all its intrigue and drama, and this week we are in for a treat when Arsenal on Sunday, face Liverpool away, in a match where both teams will need the 3 points to avoid falling too far behind the current league leaders Manchester United and the rest of the favorites.

Arsenal
Arsenal are coming off a defeat away to Stoke, where they have struggled so much over the years and in the same manner that we have seen so many times before, dominating possession and creating several chances only to concede a goal through a counterattack. This has led to speculations whether we’re witnessing “the same old Arsenal” and particularly Granit Xhaka has been on the receiving end of much criticism. Twice this season already, has his sloppy passing led to opposition goals and the deep-lying playmaker will have to improve his performance for Arsenal to have a chance to beat Liverpool.
Earlier this week Arsenal legend Ian Wright cast his doubts on Arsenal’s current midfield partnership of Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey, suggesting that they lacked the mobility and legs especially in the defensive phase of the game. On their day, the Arsenal midfield-pairing is phenomenal with Xhakas pinpoint passing from deep, combined with Ramsey’s high-energy game and willingness to arrive in the box. However, Ramsey venturing forward can leave gaps in midfield, and the question is whether Arsenal need a more defensively-minded midfielder than Xhaka, especially in the big games.
Despite the result against Stoke, Arsenal have reasons to be positive with Laurent Koscielny returning to the squad which finally gives Arsenal the chance to replace the current makeshift defense, with the preferred defensive trio of Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi. Arsenal found their defensive solidity towards the end of the season with the trio in the heart of the defense in their current 3-4-3 formation. New signing Sead Kolasinac who is quickly becoming a fan favorite is expected to start in the left wing-back position and it will be interesting to see whether Arsene Wenger opts for Héctor Bellerín or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been linked with a move to Chelsea, for the right wing-back position.
The biggest boost for Arsenal though is the return of their talisman and last season’s top scorer, Alexis Sánchez who has recovered from his abdominal strain and is available for selection against Liverpool. Arsenal created several chances against Stoke, some which the Chilean undoubtedly would have put in the back of the net. The return of Alexis is a also a positive for Arsenal’s new record signing Alexandre Lacazette as the Chilean will help shift the defenders focus away from him with Arsenal now having two prolific goalscorers in their lineup.
The biggest question for Arsenal is whether they are capable of producing results in big games away from home. Arsenal have consistently throughout the years, failed in big away matches and had the worst record among the top-6 teams last season. The last time Arsenal won against last season’s top-6 away from home was back in 2015 in a 2-0 win at the Etihad against Manchester City, in a match where Arsenal delivered a near-perfect defensive display, and that is exactly what Arsenal need to handle Liverpool’s attacking firepower.

Liverpool
Liverpool on the other hand are coming off a strong 4-2 victory midweek against Hoffenheim, which led to qualification for this seasons Champions League. Within 21 minutes Liverpool had a 3-0 lead and produced a brilliant display of attacking football, especially between their front-trio Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, and Emre Can scoring twice from central midfield. Mané has been in incredible form so far, this season and is currently their key-man. The 25-year old Senegalese winger will be hard to stop, with his combination of pace, trickery and brilliant playmaking abilities which Liverpool have needed badly without Philippe Coutinho in the squad. Coutinho has been sidelined with a back injury, and has long been linked with a move to Barcelona which has not yet been formalized. Whether Coutinho is in the squad for this Sunday’s encounter is still uncertain.
However, just like Arsenal questions will be asked about whether Liverpool’s defense will be able to stop the threat of Arsenal’s attacking prowess. Liverpool’s defense looked far from convincing in both legs against Hoffenheim as well as their league opener against Watford which finished 3-3 with a late equalizer by Watford. Liverpool fans have expressed their discontent with their center back Dejan Lovren who has received a lot of criticism and upon Liverpool’s failed attempt at signing Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk, they might be looking for a new defender before the transfer deadline.
In contrast to Arsenal, Liverpool thrive in big matches and will look to continue their excellent record against Premier League’s top teams. Their fast-paced, high-pressing style gives most managers trouble and Liverpool will look to continue last season 10-game unbeaten run against the top 6.

Previous meetings
In recent years the meetings between Arsenal and Liverpool have been high-scoring affairs and with both teams’ defensive struggles this match has all the right ingredients to become yet another classic. Last season Liverpool completed a rare double over Arsenal with a 3-1 home victory in a game where Alexis Sanchez was famously benched, along with a 3-4 victory at the Emirates Stadium in an incredible 7-goal thriller. Other high-scoring affairs between these teams includes a match which finished 3-3 in January 2016 with a last minut equalizer from Joe Allen, the legendary 4-4 draw in 2009 where Andrey Arshavin famously scored all Arsenal’s four goals and Liverpool’s 5-1 victory at Anfield in 2014.

Team news
Arsené Wenger confirmed in his press conference that Alexis Sánchez and Laurent Koscielny will be available for selection, while Santi Cazorla is out with a long-term injury.
Liverpool currently have Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana injured with Philippe Coutinho uncertain to play.

Expected lineups
Arsenal (3-4-3): Cech - Oxlade-Chamberlain - Mustafi - Koscielny - Monreal - Kolasinac - Xhaka - Ramsey - Özil - Lacazette - Alexis

Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet - Moreno - Lovren - Matip - Alexander-Arnold - Henderson - Can - Wijnaldum - Mané - Firmino - Salah

Prediction: 2-2