Best odds: 13/5
The international break is over, and it’s time for the players of all clubs and leagues to focus on the remaining games, the final stretch of the campaign. Two teams currently far away from where they want to be in the Premier League table, Arsenal and Liverpool will do battle for points on Saturday evening at the Emirates Stadium in North London, in the 30th league game of the season for both.
Year after year, the Gunners set themselves the same goal – to finish inside the top four and return to the Champions League, where they feel they belong, despite not playing in the competition since 2016-17. Obviously, they fail year after year. It doesn’t seem they’ll make it this time either at the moment, though nothing is mathematically certain.
Arsenal are in ninth place on 42 points, nine less than Chelsea in fourth, seven less than West Ham in fifth, and four less than the two Merseyside teams in sixth and seventh. It’s a steep climb and a win on Saturday wouldn’t move them up the ladder, but it would certainly get them closer, as well as prevent 10th-place Aston Villa from climbing above them.
Their recent form has been decent enough though inconsistent, with their last six league matches including a 4-2 win at home against Leeds United, a 0-1 defeat to Manchester City at home, a 1-3 triumph over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, a 1-1 draw away to Burnley, a 2-1 home win in the North-London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur, and a very exciting 3-3 draw away to West Ham.
In the Europa League, Mikel Arteta’s team managed to get past Benfica and Olympiacos in the first two knockout rounds, and they will face Slavia Prague in the first leg of the quarterfinals next Thursday.
With Willian, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka all doubts for this match through various injuries, captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are likely to be joined by Nicolas Pepe and Martin Odegaard upfront. There is no reason for Arteta to disturb the relatively stable partnership of Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka in the middle of the pitch.
At the back, Gabriel Magalhaes will likely be playing alongside David Luiz in the heart of defence, with Kieran Tierney on their left. However, Arteta will have to make a tough call on the other defensive flank. He gave the West Ham match to Callum Chambers who put in a terrific performance, and now the boss has to decide between him and regular first choice Hector Bellerin.
They may still officially be the Premier League champions, but Liverpool will have given up on the title a while back. It’s certainly not to be wondered at, after manager Jurgen Klopp’s plan to enter the season with just three senior designated centre-backs backfired. All three of them are out for the rest of the season, and the tinkering Klopp was forced to do because of it caused a lot of problems in other areas. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that their two most important signings from last summer, midfielder Thiago Alcantara and forward Diogo Jota, missed several months of action each while a number of other first-teamers had injury problems too. Most notably, captain Jordan Henderson will likely join Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip on the sidelines for the rest of the campaign.
Be that as it may, Liverpool are currently in sixth place with 46 points to their name, and they go to the Emirates harboring the same hope as their hosts – a place in the top four, but like Arsenal, they won’t find it easy to dislodge Chelsea who haven’t lost a game in any competition since Thomas Tuchel took over from Frank Lampard in January.
The Reds are still pretty much on a horrible run of form in the league, having lost four (3-1 away to Leicester, 0-2 at home against Everton, 0-1 at home against Chelsea, and 0-1 at home against relegation battlers Fulham), and won just two (0-2 away to bottom side Sheffield United and 0-1 away to Wolverhampton Wanderers) of the last six games.
They will, however, be boosted by the two Champions League wins over RB Leipzig in the round of 19, both 2-0, which can change the perception of that form up to a point – in all competitions, Liverpool won their last two matches.
There won’t be Van Dijk, Gomez, Matip or Henderson on Saturday in North London, of course, but the rest of the team should be fit and ready to play. The centre-back duo of Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips has looked very good with Fabinho protecting the back line, which means the three of them, with Andy Robertson on the left, Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right and Alisson Becker in goal, should be the back half of the starting XI. Thiago and Wijnaldum are expected to play ahead of Fabinho in midfield, with Klopp unlikely to start Curtis Jones following the displinary issues the England U-21 international had against Croatia a few days ago.
Klopp has confirmed that Roberto Firmino, who was out of the last three matches with a knee problem, is now back, but it remains to be seen if he gets the nod ahead of Jota who showed fantastic form for his country during the break. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are, of course, expected to start on the flanks.
Arsenal and Liverpool have already played three matches this season, starting with Arsenal’s triumph on penalties in the Community Shield back in August. The same happened in the Carabao Cup on the first day of October, but Liverpool won the Premier League clash at Anfield just three days before by 3-1.
At the moment, neither of these two teams is performing to the best of their ability, and it should be an interesting contest. Both sides have been known to make defensive mistakes and to waste numerous chances upfront recently, but they’re basically still very good teams; their respective Premier League and FA Cup triumphs last season were no fluke. With everything said above in mind, a draw feels like the likeliest outcome.
Best odds: 13/5
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