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Preview: Arsenal vs. Liverpool

Jack Sear does our match preview this week, ahead of Saturday’s game at the Emirates.

He gives his predicted line ups, his thoughts on how we’ll set up tactically and his betting tips.

Arsenal and Liverpool, the two teams who many would say have been the ‘surprise packages’ of the season so far, will face each other in this Saturday’s late kick off. This game is the start of a difficult set of fixtures for both sides, and a win for Liverpool would be a huge confidence boost as we head in to the heart of the Premier League season.

After a shock, opening day defeat for the Gunners at home to Aston Villa, Arsene Wenger’s side have gone from strength to strength as the season has gone on. A lot of people have put this down to the signing of Mesut Ozil on transfer deadline day – the statement of intent that a lot of Arsenal fans believe was long overdue. On top of this though, the prolific form of midfielder Aaron Ramsey has been an extra boost, and despite a lengthy injury list in the early stages of the season, Arsene Wenger seems to have found his winning formula.

The Gunners have a team full of players blessed with a wealth of technical ability, and for a lot of the season they have been playing without a recognised winger. Players like Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Tomasz Rosicky – who are usually deployed in more central areas – have been asked to play wide and it’s certainly worked. The Gunners have won seven of their nine Premier League games so far and head in to this clash full of confidence.

A slight blow for Arsenal this weekend is the absence of Mathieu Flamini, who’s been something of a revelation since he re-joined the club on a free transfer. He’s been offering valuable solidity to the back four, something Arsenal have certainly lacked in recent years, but will miss this encounter due to a groin injury. Theo Walcott is likely to miss out again, as well as long term absentees Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and Abou Diaby.

Flamini’s injury means one of Jack Wilshere or Tomasz Rosicky are likely to be recalled to the starting XI. The former is arguably more likely to come in for this clash due to his defensive capabilities compared to the Czech. The question is, if Wilshere is brought in to the team, whether Wenger will see this as an opportunity to move Aaron Ramsey infield, with Wilshere deployed on the right hand side, or vice versa.

Arsenal have had a busy schedule of late, losing to Borussia Dortmund at The Emirates before their clash with Crystal Palace last Saturday, and going down to another defeat at the hands of Chelsea in Tuesday’s Capital One Cup clash. Liverpool will hope that the Gunners’ hectic fixture list will give them a chance to capitalise on some potentially tired legs.

Predicted Arsenal team: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere; Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud.

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Liverpool have had similar fortunes to Arsenal recently, with the striking partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge catching the eye of so many. The pair have notched 14 goals between them so far this season, and will be an obvious threat to any defence they face.

After a performance Brendan Rodgers believed was their best of the season so far at home to West Brom, perhaps the most likely scenario is for Liverpool to set up with an unchanged line up this Saturday. However, Philippe Coutinho’s highly anticipated return to fitness will certainly give Rodgers something to think about.

The Reds’ change to a 3-5-2 formation has worked wonders so far, and allows their prolific strikeforce to do damage in their preferred positions. The balance in the team looked to be perfect at home to West Brom on Saturday, with Rodgers ‘flipping the midfield triangle’, as Lucas showcased a very good anchorman performance with Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson looking to press high up the pitch ahead of him. Coutinho is likely to slot in to one of the two midfield roles in front of Lucas, but Gerrard’s qualities and Henderson’s athleticism may well be perfect for a tough away encounter at the Emirates.

With Jose Enrique still injured, one way of accommodating Coutinho could be bringing him in to the side in place of Aly Cissokho, with Glen Johnson switching to left wing back, and Jordan Henderson to the opposite flank. However, the wing backs are the only real source of width in a 3-5-2 set up, and the fact Cissokho is left sided adds good balance to the current team.

Another option could be to stockpile the midfield with a 4-3-1-2 (or a ‘4-4-2 diamond’ as Rodgers would call it). It’s a system that Rodgers has mentioned as a way to accommodate the front two, and would allow Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson and Coutinho to all play. It’s something that could be ideal against a side like Arsenal who have so many technically gifted players that like to come inside and affect matches. A switch to this system would mean dropping a centre back, but I feel this could be an option if we’re chasing the game late on.

I do feel, however, it would be unfair to change the current side, and players like Agger, Allen, Coutinho and Moses are all fantastic options for Liverpool to have on the bench.

Predicted Liverpool team: Mignolet; Toure, Skrtel, Sakho; Johnson, Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson, Cissokho; Sturridge, Suarez.

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This is a game that’s set up to be a fantastic spectacle. A win for Liverpool would see them leap frog Arsenal, but as the home side and the team that are at the top of the league, the pressure is certainly on Arsenal.

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Here are my bets for this weekend’s game:

1. Luis Suarez to score at any time – The Uruguayan was chased by Arsenal throughout the transfer window and a goal against the Gunners would be oh so typical of ‘El Pistolero’. To follow Jack and bet with BetVictor, Click here

2. Laurent Koscielny to be booked at any time – The Frenchman has given away a number of penalties recently, and with Liverpool’s front two in such scintillating form, this would definitely be one of my top bets. To follow Jack and bet with BetVictorClick here

3. Liverpool to be winning at half time – Liverpool’s first half displays have been fantastic of late, and they’ll pose a real threat on the counter attack. To follow Jack and bet with BetVictorClick here

4. Aaron Ramsey to score at anytime – The Welshman has been in fantastic form in front of goal so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him bag a goal on Saturday. To follow Jack and bet with BetVictorClick here

5. Liverpool win – Suarez and Sturridge are quite simply unstoppable at the moment, and I’m not sure Arsenal’s defence has the quality to handle them. To follow Jack and bet with BetVictorClick here

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