Big Match Focus: Arsenal v Liverpool

Arsenal is facing a 19-year low against Liverpool, but past meetings on Fridays have gone down in Gunners folklore.

Liverpool has had the better of Arsenal in recent seasons.   -  AP

The Premier League fixture gods might have decided against staging this one on Christmas Eve, but a win for either Arsenal or Liverpool on Friday would certainly serve as a timely gift for the festive season.

Jurgen Klopp's side visits the Emirates Stadium sitting fourth in the table after 18 games, one point above the Gunners, and has gone nine games without defeat since suffering a 4-1 thrashing against Tottenham on its last visit to north London in October.

Arsene Wenger's men endured a chastening experience in the reverse game at Anfield this season and are in need of improved form heading into the packed festive program, having gone three games without a league win before the unconvincing victory over Newcastle United.

The title seems to be beyond these two – to be honest, such is Manchester City's form, it looks beyond pretty much everyone else in the division – but three points here will go a long way towards bolstering top-four ambitions at the very least.

MAGIC MANE, FEARSOME FIRMINO AND WHY THEY LOVE FACING THE GUNNERS

Liverpool's 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal in August saw Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane get on the scoresheet and there is every chance they will repeat the feat on Friday.

While Mohamed Salah has quite rightly been winning most of the plaudits for his exceptional first season back in England, two of his attacking partners boast seriously impressive records against the Gunners.

Mane has been involved in six goals (four goals and two assists) in seven Premier League games against Arsenal, which is more than he has against any other team in the division. He's also scored in each of his last three appearances against the Gunners; the only four players to score in four matches in a row are Tomasz Radzinski, Peter Beardsley, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Harry Kane.

Firmino, meanwhile, has been involved in six goals in just five league meetings with Wenger's side, although he is yet to score or assist a goal at the Emirates Stadium.

Read: Wenger questions Oxlade-Chamberlain's Anfield move

FORM GUIDE

Arsenal ended a run of three games without a win when it scraped past Newcastle United 1-0, while Liverpool responded to back-to-back draws by thrashing Bournemouth 4-0.

That result saw Klopp's side become the first in English top-flight history to win four away games in a row by a margin of at least three goals, and it has only been beaten twice on the road this season (against Manchester City and Tottenham).

Liverpool's formidable away form suggests the home team will find itself up against it, but its performances at the Emirates should give plenty of confidence. The 3-1 loss to Manchester United was the only time it has failed to win in its last 14 home league matches, while the last time it failed to score in the top flight on its own patch was against Middlesbrough in October 2016.

Although a clean sheet against Klopp's side appears unlikely, Petr Cech will have a particular incentive to keep the visitors at bay: the 35-year-old needs one more shut-out to become the first goalkeeper to record 200 of them in the Premier League.

Having said that, Cech has let in 14 goals in five games against Liverpool in his Arsenal career, which is at least six more than he has conceded against any other side.

PLAYER HEAD-TO-HEAD (Laurent Koscielny v Dejan Lovren)

Laurent Koscielny remains a popular figure among Arsenal fans and there are few who would expect the team to perform better without him in the team. By contrast, Dejan Lovren has endured some tough (and sometimes unacceptable) criticism from pundits and supporters alike for his form this term.

Given the attacking power and defensive naivety these teams have shown so often in 2017-18, it is likely the performances of these two centre-backs will be key to a result.

 

Interestingly, there is not much to choose between this duo this term when you look at the data. Koscielny has made more tackles (28, compared to 11), interceptions (34 to 17) and blocks (eight to five) than Lovren, while he's also contested more duels overall.

However, their success rates on the job look pretty similar. Koscielny has won 64.7 per cent of his duels, compared to Lovren's 59.6, while the Croatian has the edge in the air, winning 61.3 per cent of his aerial duels compared to the Frenchman's 58.4. They also have an identical passing accuracy of 89 per cent.

And what about those mistakes? Koscielny has lost possession with 10.7 per cent of his touches on average; Lovren's rate is 10.2 per cent. And each player has only made one error leading directly to a goal.

HISTORY SAYS...

There's little doubt Klopp has had the edge on Wenger since moving to England. Liverpool has scored at least three goals in each of its four league games against Arsenal under the German, netting 14 times in total in three wins and a draw.

Read: Klopp doubts Liverpool longevity

In fact, if Arsenal loses, it will be the first time it has suffered four defeats in a row against the Reds since May 1998 – interestingly, that was the month it won the title under Wenger for the first time.

Recent history doesn't cast too favourable a light on the Londoners but it can take some heart from the fact that it’s playing on a Friday. Only twice before in the post-war era has it faced Liverpool on this day in a league game: the last time, Thierry Henry scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win at Highbury; the time before that, Michael Thomas scored in the last minute to snatch a 2-0 win at Anfield and, with it, the 1988-89 league title.

One thing that seems almost beyond a doubt in this game is goals: only the Manchester clubs have out-scored these two in the top flight this season, while only one of the last 37 Premier League meetings between these teams has ended goalless.

There's also a good chance of some late drama. There have been 17 goals scored in the 90th minute or later in this match in the Premier League, which is more than in any other fixture.