Three key battles that could define the outcome of Liverpool vs Arsenal
We’re only three weeks into the new Premier League season and already the top-of-the-table clashes are coming thick and fast, and this week it’s the turn of Arsenal to take a trip to Liverpool.
Neither side have hit the ground running over the opening two weekends, with the hosts pegged back by Watford in the final minutes and Arsene Wenger’s side falling to defeat at Stoke last week.
And although they say that the title can’t be won in the first six weeks it can certainly be lost, and defeat for either team on Sunday afternoon could prove to be damaging – even at this early stage.
Sadio Mane vs Laurent Koscielny
Sadio Mane’s rampant start to the Premier League season, combined with Arsenal’s glaring defensive frailties, might only suggest one outcome from Sunday afternoon’s clash at Anfield.
The Senegalese sensation has scored twice in his first two outings – including the winner against Crystal Palace last weekend – and has been the stand-out performer for Jurgen Klopp’s side to date.
But Arsenal will be relieved that club captain Laurent Koscielny is eligible to return to the side following his suspension carried over from last season, and after a make-shift back-line failed to keep out Stoke City last weekend, the Frenchman’s return to the side could provide a big difference and a big boost.
It’s not just his ability as a defender that Arsenal have been missing over the past two weeks, the absence of his natural leadership has left their back-line unorganised and able to be exploited easily.
Yet Mane will only be relishing the challenge to target an uninspiring Arsenal defence on home territory, and the winner of this battle could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the match.
Emre Can vs Granit Xhaka
It’s not quite the powerhouse midfield battle that these two prestigious Premier League clubs used to serve up – just consider Steven Gerrard vs Patrick Vieira – but it’ll be a pivotal battle nonetheless.
Both Can and Xhaka have the underlying potential to be an important part of the spine of their respective teams but, for some reason, they have been too inconsistent in recent years to reach it.
Yet they’ve shown in glimpses already this season that they may be ready to take the Premier League by storm; for instance, Xhaka put in an exemplary performance during the opening day win over Leicester City, whilst Can heavily impressed with his all-round display against Hoffenheim on Wednesday evening.
It’s therefore anyone’s guess as to which version of each player will actually turn up at Anfield, but with the match likely to be a close one it could boil down to which midfield maestro puts in an influential shift.
Joel Matip vs Alexis Sanchez
There will undoubtedly have been many points over the summer window when Arsenal fans wondered whether they would ever see their beloved talisman Alexis Sanchez play for them again.
Yet Sunday could be the day he pulls on an Arsenal jersey once again, with boss Arsene Wenger confirming that he’s in line for a return from an abdominal injury and is also in contention to start.
The would provide a huge boost for the Gunners heading into a critical clash, but one man who certainly won’t be pleased to see him return to a football field is Liverpool centre-back Joel Matip.
The 26-year-old is likely to be the one tasked with dealing with both Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette, and after a good start to the season this will be the real test of how disciplined he is.
Sanchez was rampant last season – scoring 24 times and assisting 10 more – and he’ll no doubt desire to make up for lost time and lead Arsenal to a much-needed three points on Merseyside.
It was in this clash last season that Sanchez was bizarrely left out of the starting eleven – a choice that backfired as Arsenal lost 3-1 – and don’t put it past him making a telling impact against Matip.
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