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    Liverpool vs Arsenal Match Preview

    Liverpool's prospects ahead of Wednesday's clash against top-of-the-table Arsenal have been boosted by the return from injury of five senior players and by the club's second new signing of the January transfer window. It means the Reds now have the unlikely luxury of naming three fully-fit central defenders in the squad after the return from injury of Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho, followed by the completion of Steven Caulker's loan signing on Tuesday.

    Arsenal, who currently sit seven places and 12 points above their hosts, have endured an injury-ravaged season themselves but have shown remarkable consistency throughout their league campaign. With Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger set to meet for the first time as Premier League managers, it promises to be a fascinating encounter. Klopp will be hoping that the side shows up which won back-to-back Christmas games against Leicester and Sunderland and not the one that lost tamely to West Ham, while Wenger be be fully aware that this is the kind of fixture they cannot afford to lose if they wish to become champions.

    With a deluge of injuries set to cast a shadow over this fixture, Liverpool's fears have at least been eased in recent days. The Reds were forced to deploy Toure, who was struggling with cramp, and midfielder Lucas Leiva as a makeshift central defensive pairing for the last 56 minutes in last Tuesday's victory at Stoke after the club were hit with a succession of injuries. Toure is set to return after missing Friday's 2-2 draw at Exeter in the FA Cup, while Mamadou Sakho is also in contention for a starting place after being unavailable for the past two matches with a knee injury. They should replace Jose Enrique and Portugal Under-21 international Tiago Ilori, whose season-long loan deal to Aston Villa was cut short.

    With Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren ruled out with hamstring injuries, Liverpool were prompted into making a move for the 24-year-old Caulker, who joins on loan from QPR for the rest of the season after a similar arrangement with Southampton had been cut short. He joins fellow new signing Marko Grujic in signing for the Reds after the midfielder completed a £5.1 million move from Red Star Belgrade. Caulker only made eight appearances in all competitions for the Saints, the last of which was last month's 6-1 demolition by Liverpool in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals. James Milner, Jordon Ibe and Jordan Henderson are also set to return to the side after recovering from calf, hamstring and heel injuries respectively, which will come as welcome news for Klopp.

    Despite the easing of Liverpool's injury crisis, there are still a number of influential players ruled out, including Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi. It almost certainly means that Christian Benteke will continue in attack, with Roberto Firmino playing in a slightly deeper position than the one he occupied at times in the Belgian's absense. Benteke has failed to match the consistency in an injury-ravaged that he displayed for Aston Villa in the second half of last season but he does have the accolade of scoring three times against Arsenal in his Aston Villa days. As well as scoring the winning goals against Leicester and Sunderland, he missed guilt-edged chances in both matches and failed to make any sort of impact against West Ham and Exeter.

    While Arsenal have been more consistent in the league this season than their hosts, they are prone to the occasional off-day. The Gunners have only lost four matches in the league all season but endured a 4-0 humiliation against Southampton on Boxing day, the only match that the club have failed to win in the last eight. Arsenal themselves are without three key players who were so influential in the first half of the season. The absence of Santi Cazorla has allowed Aaron Ramsey to play in his favoured central midfield position, while Joel Campbell has impressed as a right-winger. The loss of Alexis Sanchez has also brought out the best in Theo Walcott in the wide-left role and both Callum Chambers and Mathieu Flamini have done well, when called upon, in Francis Coquelin's holding position.

    One of the most compelling aspects of Wednesday's encounter will be the revival of the Wenger-Klopp rivalry that the Arsenal manager edges with three wins to two, with one draw. How Arsenal's intricate, one-touch passing will fare against the German's gegenpressing style will be the key to how this match is decided, as was the case when Klopp's Borussia Dortmund's side faced the Gunners in the Champions League six times between 2011 and 2014. It is no secret that Arsenal play their best football when they are allowed time and space on the ball but they go into the game in confident mood, boasting an excellent head-to-head record over Liverpool in recent years.

    Liverpool Key Players

    With Philippe Coutinho missing through injury, Liverpool will once again turn to Roberto Firmino to provide the kind inspiration that his fellow Brazilian has delivered so often in a Liverpool shirt. Firmino has been criticised for some of his performances since his magical display in the 4-1 victory over Manchester City but he, along with Adam Lallana, is a player capable of finding the pockets of space which allow him to unlock a defence with a pass or effort on goal. With Arsenal often criticised for being vulnerable on the counter-attack, it may be the perfect match for him to find the space where he can have such a devastating impact.

    Mamadou Sakho will have the enormous responsibility of trying to stop his in-form international teammate Olivier Giroud from continuing his excellent run of form, as well combating the threat posed by the likes of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott. Whether Klopp opts to hand a Liverpool debut to Steven Caulker or give Kolo Toure a first league start of the season, it will be Sakho whose presence they will call upon to help them through the match. The Frenchman has been one of Liverpool's most inspirational and consistent players this season and has enjoyed a new lease of life since Klopp was appointed manager. His influence on the Liverpool back-four cannot be underestimated at a time when the club have been blighted by so many injuries.

    Arsenal Key Players

    Olivier Giroud is one of the most in-form strikers in Europe having scored 18 goals for club and country so far this season. Although Arsenal have often been criticised for not having a world class striker, Giroud continues to answer his critics by scoring the goals that have helped Arsenal to challenge on three fronts going into the second-half of the season. The Gunners rely heavily on the Frenchman, whose ability to lead the line in the manor of a traditional centre-forward is a commodity offered by no other players in a red and white shirt. He will relish his duel with Mamadou Sakho, who he knows so well having played in the same French team for the past four years.

    Mesut Ozil has arguably been even more influential in an Arsenal shirt this season than Giroud, having made 16 assists in the Premier League alone and scoring five goals in all competitions. Like Firmino, the German is at his best when he is allowed time and space to penetrate the opposition's defence with his passing range. With Jurgen Klopp's gegenpressing game likely to be in full force, it could be argued that this is not the kind of fixture that would see the best of the 27-year-old. However, Ozil has been a completely different player this season, compared to his opening two campaigns at the club, and is one of the very few midfielders in world football that can cut open a defence with such regularity.

    Head To Head

    Arsenal have dominated the head-to-head against Liverpool over recent years, winning 18 and drawing 13 of the last 37 encounters in all competitions. Five of Liverpool's six wins over the Gunners in that sequence have occurred at Anfield, the most recent being the 5-1 demolition in February 2014 where Martin Skrtel and Raheem Sterling both scored braces and Daniel Sturridge was also on target. Arsenal, however, have been unbeaten in the past four meetings, the most recent of which was a 0-0 draw at the Emirates Stadium in August 2015.

    Team News

    Liverpool have eight players ruled out through injury, with Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Jordan Rossiter (all hamstring), Divock Origi, Joe Gomez and Danny Ings (all knee) set to miss out. Kolo Toure (cramp), James Milner (calf), Mamadou Sakho (knee), Jordon Ibe (hamstring) and Jordan Henderson (heel) are poised to return to the Liverpool squad having been ruled out of the trip to Exeter on Friday. Jon Flanagan has recovered from a long-term knee injury but is unlikely to feature after being eased back to match-fitness in the Liverpool Under-21 side.

    Arsenal should hand recalls to Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker, who were both left out of the squad to face Sunderland on Saturday, while Aaron Ramsey and Nacho Monreal are also likely to return to the starting XI. Arsenal Wenger's two biggest dilemmas will be whether to play Callum Chambers or Mathieu Flamini in the holding midfield position as well as who to select between Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell as a right-winger. Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Jack Wilshere (leg fracture), Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Thomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck (all knee) remain on the sidelines.

    Score Prediction

    Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool vs Arsenal Match Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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