What an insane Premier League festive period it has been. If you had told most people that Manchester City would currently lay in 3rd place in a supposedly 2-horse race going into the final match of 2018, you’d be branded a maniac, but that’s the way this season goes.
For Arsenal, it was a week that seen one of the most disappointing results of the season – a 1-1 draw away at Brighton. Firstly, I would say that an away draw with a Premier League team being considered a genuinely bad result is progress, but that really is putting a silver lining on it.
Arsenal, after a strong start to the match, could very well have lost to Brighton on Boxing Day. Albion finished strongly, and Chris Hughton’s men were criticised for not pouncing on what looked like an unassured Arsenal in the latter stages of the fixture.
While this was happening, Tottenham – who Arsenal had dismantled somewhat easily in the league a few weeks previous – rose above Manchester City to second place with a 5-0 win over Bournemouth. Below Arsenal, Manchester United look rejuvenated under new management, and while they’re still 6 points off the Gunners, they look like they could potentially make a decent stab at the top 4 after being useless (by their own standards anyway) for much of the campaign thus far.
What all of this means is that Arsenal, despite having a relatively good campaign thus far, cannot afford to lose points in what is an extremely competitive league season at the halfway point. With this being the case, they have a particularly daunting next fixture – Liverpool.
The Reds currently sit atop the league by an incredible 6 points. The defensive additions of Allison in goals and Virgil Van Djik at centre back, as well as the repositioning of Mohamed Salah into a more central role are paying dividends and Jurgen Klopp’s team have become the talk of Europe.
While this may be an important game for Arsenal, it is the biggest of Liverpool’s season so far – especially considering their next fixture is against Manchester City on the 3rd of January.
If Liverpool can make their way past both sides, they will no doubt become firm favourites for the title. That, however, will be easier said than done – Arsenal showed they were a good match for Klopp’s men during the 1-1 draw at the Emirates in early November, so Liverpool fans may be getting a little ahead of themselves.
Liverpool have a very strong recent record against Arsenal, remaining unbeaten in their last seven matches against the Gunners – winning 3 and drawing 4. They’re currently unbeaten in the league, becoming only the 4th side to have ever reached this stage of the season without a loss, joining Wenger’s Invincibles of 03-04, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 10-11 and last season’s Manchester City under Pep Guardiola.
Liverpool have somehow managed to only concede 7 goals so far this campaign - perhaps their best achievement of the season, as if they can get through this game without allowing a goal, they will break the record for fewest goals conceded after 20 games.
They’re also the only side not yet to have conceded a goal from outside of the penalty area – a stat that Arsenal currently excel the most in the league at, having scored a league high 9 goals outside the box.
If anyone is to ruin Liverpool’s run, it may be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabonese striker is approaching a year in Arsenal colours, and his stats speak for themselves – he has been directly involved in 30 goals in 32 Prem appearances, scoring 23 and assisting 7.
In terms of team news, an exhausting festive period means that both teams will see changes from their previous matches – especially in terms of the Gunners defence.
Arsenal defenders Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin are still out with injuries, and Nacho Monreal appears to be a major doubt on the eve of the match. Shkrodan Mustafi is reportedly not far off full fitness following a hamstring injury, although this game may come too soon.
Thankfully, despite leaving the field with a foot injury against Brighton, Laurent Koscielny will be fit for the encounter.
The away side may freshen up their midfield with the additions of Naby Keita and Fabinho, but will be without James Milner and Dominic Solanke. Alberto Moreno is available after recovering from a back injury.
With the exception of the Burnley win, Arsenal’s last few matches – the losses against Southampton in the league and Spurs in the cup, as well as the Brighton draw – have marked very disappointing results after a period of such great positivity. Emery and his side will be very eager to put themselves back on track, and what many would consider to be an upset against a hugely in-form Liverpool would be a great way to do it.
If Arsenal did pull off a win, they would leapfrog Chelsea into 4th place, if only for a day, with the Blues currently 2 points ahead and playing Crystal Palace away on Sunday. This match is followed by a home encounter with Fulham, who currently sit in 19th place, and surely represents a winnable fixture.
With this being the case, it’s imperative that the Gunners put their best foot forward once more and start winning matches to continue the competitiveness at the top – but it’s not going to be easy to come away with the points at Merseyside.
Arsenal travel to Anfield to face up against Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday the 29th of December, with kick-off scheduled for 5.30PM local time.