What extraordinary times these are for Liverpool. After coming within one slip of winning a first league title since 1990 last term, they have endured an unimaginably nightmarish first half to this season. Gone is Luis Suárez and, perhaps not coincidentally, gone are the goals. The Reds, so easy on the eye as they powered through the Spring of 2014, are now a team with a distinct lack of direction and one in desperate need of inspiration. They have picked up just 14 points from the last 30 available and have already suffered defeats to the likes of Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Aston Villa. That they have only managed seven league goals all season at Anfield tells its own story.
They have been hit hard by the continued absence of Daniel Sturridge (he has not featured in a Liverpool shirt since August) while summer arrival Mario Balotelli has found life in front of goal difficult. Steven Gerrard’s performances have begun to deteriorate rapidly and Dejan Lovren and Simon Mignolet have suffered horrendous starts to the season. The Reds did manage to negotiate a potential banana skin in Bournemouth in the league cup in midweek, but serious questions still hang over their defensive solidity.
A miserable run of form culminating in last Sunday’s dismantling at the hands of Manchester United means they languish in eleventh place in the Premier League but they still have a chance of making the top four – down largely to the inconsistency of those above them more than anything else. The gap currently stands at seven points but it will surely widen quickly unless Liverpool experience a marked improvement in the next few weeks.
But things won’t get any easier for Brendan Rodgers’ men, with Sunday seeing the visit of Arsenal. The Gunners have recovered well since their calamitous defeat at Stoke City, with progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League as well as a convincing defeat over in-form Newcastle achieved since then. Olivier Giroud is back fit and firing and he has injected some much-needed impetus into Arsenal’s season. Problems still abound for Arsène Wenger’s side but for all the talk of crisis at the Emirates, they know a win on Sunday could lift them as high as fourth.
Liverpool win 7/4
Arsenal win 29/20
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
Arsenal’s fanbase has never been more divided over whether Wenger should remain in charge, but the Frenchman’s skin is thicker than most and he will be focusing solely on the job in hand this weekend. Santi Cazorla turned in a mesmerising performance in the 4-1 win over Newcastle last Saturday and he is likely to start again at Anfield. If he can rediscover his best form after an indifferent start to the campaign then the Gunners will have one of the division’s most exciting number tens. He may have just turned thirty but he still has lots to give and could very well make the difference on Sunday.
Arsenal will remain without Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey, though, who along with Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil form an extensive injury list. Nacho Monreal will hope to return to the matchday squad while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a slight doubt.
Liverpool’s injury woes are far less pronounced; apart from long-term absentees Daniel Sturridge and Jon Flanagan, Glen Johnson is their only concern. He will face a late fitness test.
Despite Arsenal’s drastically reduced options they still go into this game as overwhelming favourites. A repeat of their last visit to Anfield, when they were blown away with four early goals and went on to lose 5-1, somehow looks unlikely. That was only in February but already it seems an eternity ago. Liverpool’s confidence has been shot to pieces and while Arsenal remain shaky away from home they would be disappointed to come away on the end of a defeat.
We know Liverpool have the players to lift themselves from their current predicament, but it’s increasingly difficult to see where the next win is coming from. If Raheem Sterling can display the same scoring touch he showed at Dean Court on Wednesday then they will have a chance, but the young Englishman has been inconsistent at best this season. A victory on Sunday could definitely provide them with the momentum to start climbing the table but if there’s one word that sums the Reds up at the moment it’s ‘fragile’. Any early setback is likely to derail them, and Arsenal will look to take full advantage of this.
Betting Instinct tip – Draw at half-time/Arsenal at full-time is 9/2 with Intertops.eu
JACK CHATTERTON is a student and long-suffering Spurs fan, who has written for In Bed With Maradona and Sabotage Times, among others. You can read his miscellaneous and quite modest blog, or follow him on Twitter