Reds and Gunners seek Europe lifeline


Lacazette was in superb form in Arsenal’s impressive 3-3 comeback against West Ham. — AFP

THE Premier League is back this weekend and there are some cracking fixtures to look forward to.

Liverpool boss Juergen Klopp will be glad that his players, who were on international duty, came back unscathed.

Having endured a nightmarish injury- laden season, the German would have been praying and hoping in the last two weeks that there would be no more injury worries.

The Reds, having picked up back-to-back wins against RB Leipzig and Wolverhampton before the international break, just cannot afford to have any more injuries.

They will hope to maintain the momentum and keep on picking up as many points as possible to rekindle their Champions League hopes for next season.

Having played for their respective national teams during the international break, it remains to be seen whether the likes of Ozan Kabak, Georginio Wijnaldum, Sadio Mane, Andrew Robertson, Diego Jota and Thiago Alcantara will return to their places in the starting line-up against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in today’s late fixture.

If their fitness permits, then there will be no question that they will start as all have begun to play well together.

Jota, who returned from injury, was in fine goal-scoring form as he netted three goals in two matches for Portugal and would surely be a threat against the Gunners.

Wijnaldum and Robertson, who captained the Dutch and Scotland sides respectively, had featured heavily in all three games and could be rested to prevent fatigue and injuries.

It is a relief that Brazil’s World Cup qualifying games have been postponed, allowing Alisson Becker and Fabinho to be fresh to face Arsenal.

Having both players fit and match-ready would certainly be a boost to the team, especially with Fabinho bossing the centre of midfield.

Despite his unforgettable howlers against Man City and Leicester in February, there is no doubt about the capabilities of Alisson, who has saved the team on numerous occasions, especially in the last few matches.

Both will be the difference when facing Arsenal, who boasts the talents of Martin Ødegaard, the January on-loan signing from Real Madrid, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pépé and Alexandre Lacazette.

Their compatriot, Roberto Firmino, who had missed the last three games with a knee injury, is also a welcome sight having reported back to training earlier this week.

Firmino, while not having the best of seasons, does have a good goal-scoring record against Arsenal, scoring eight times in 11 Premier League matches.

The 29-year-old will certainly have an important role to play for Klopp’s side.

Other certain starters include Nathaniel Phillips, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah.

Phillips, who has been impressive in defence, has formed a formidable partnership with Kabak, which has seen three clean sheets being kept.

As for Alexander-Arnold, it is a blessing in disguise that he was not called up for England duty, as he will be all fired up to prove a point to England manager Gareth Southgate that his dip in form is only temporary.

Salah, who scored two goals against Comoros in their final group match of the African Cup of Nations earlier in the week, will look to improve on his goal tally as he is now joint top of the scoring chart with Tottenham’s Harry Kane with 17 goals apiece.

Goals have been scarce of late, which is undoubtedly a worry for Klopp.

The players’ decision-making, especially in the final third, have been poor when compared to the free-flowing attacking style during earlier campaigns.

Everyone in the team needs to chip in with goals to ease the burden of Salah and Mane.

Arsenal will not be easy meat, so the Reds will have to be at their best to get their campaign back on track.

Both teams will be desperate to win, as any hope of making it into the top five spots for European tournaments qualification is at stake.

The Reds might have a better head-to-head record against Arsenal overall but often struggle when playing away against them.

Liverpool were beaten 2-1 in the league last year and drew twice in 2018 and 2017.

Arsenal’s attack is a threat but their defence still can be exploited as they have not kept a clean sheet since the draw against Manchester United in January.

It will be a tight contest with a narrow one-goal margin to decide the outcome, hopefully in Liverpool’s favour.

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