Traditionally one of the Premier League's most watchable affairs, Mark O'Haire shares his thoughts on Saturday night's showdown between Arsenal and Liverpool...
"Mikel Arteta’s outfit are generating the second-highest Expected Goals (xG) output over the past 16 games, an impressive turnaround from the hosts"
Arsenal v Liverpool
Saturday April 3, 20:00
Arteta pleased with Arsenal fight back
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said his side's performance will "give me nightmares" after the Gunners came from 3-0 down at half-time to draw with West Ham in their last outing before the international break. Alexandre Lacazette headed a late equaliser after own goals from Tomas Soucek and Craig Dawson set up an unlikely comeback at the London Stadium.
The Spaniard was full of praise for his side's second-half display, declaring it "the best [Arsenal have] played all season". But the Arsenal boss admitted his side must start eliminating errors if they are to realise their potential, adding: "That is the level we can show. We could have scored six or seven and won the game, but we cannot have two faces."
A defeat would have opened up a 10-point gap between fifth-placed West Ham and Arsenal and arguably ended the Gunners' hopes of qualifying for a European competition through a top-six finish. And while questions will be asked about their poor first-half performance, Arteta will take heart from his side's superb reaction against a disciplined Hammers outfit.
Liverpool pick up welcome win
Diogo Jota rekindled Liverpool's Premier League top-four hopes with the winning goal on his return to Wolves before the international break. The Portuguese forward, who joined the Reds from the Old Gold in September, drilled a low first-time shot to settle a tight Molineux contest and push the Merseysiders back to within five points of the elusive top-four.
The champions arrived after an alarming run of six defeats in their past seven Premier League games. But the result and dogged nature of the display showed Jurgen Klopp's charges cannot be discounted from the final reckoning for Champions League places with Klopp admitting, "It's all about the result. If we want three dirty points, I'm fine with that."
Roberto Firmino is expected to be fit enough to return to the squad on Saturday, although Liverpool remain without all of their key long-term players. Captain Jordan Henderson therefore remains on the sidelines, along with centre-half trio Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk. Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips look set to continue in the heart of defence.
Arsenal have posted a solitary success in 11 Premier League matches with Liverpool (W1-D4-L6) since the start of 2015/16. However, the Gunners have proven stubborn opponents when hosting the Reds, returning W4-D7-L2 over the most recent 13 fixtures in the capital. Further back, Arsenal boast a W9-D9-L2 head-to-head record when welcoming Liverpool.
Arsenal 3.14 rank fourth in the Premier League when viewing results since Christmas (W8-D4-L3) and the Gunners improvements have been noticeable in their underlying performance data too. Mikel Arteta's outfit are generating the second-highest Expected Goals (xG) output over the past 16 games, an impressive turnaround from the hosts.
Liverpool's 2.226/5 title defence has been in tatters ever since October's thrashing by Aston Villa. The Reds have managed W10-D7-L9 in their following 26 outings, including only W5-D2-L6 at their normally fortress Anfield base. More recently, the Merseyside strugglers are ranked just 10th in terms of Expected Points (xP) garnered this calendar year (W4-D1-L8).
Sixteen (64%) of the 25 tussles between all-Big teams have featured Under 2.5 Goals 2.1211/10 with just five (20%) of those fixtures seeing both sides score from non-penalty situations. However, three of those five matches involved Liverpool, who've struggled to field a first-choice defence and that's led to plenty of high-scoring games against the league's elite.
The Reds have posted Over 2.5 Goals 1.784/5 in 13 of their 19 showdowns with sides inside the top-13 of the league standings, 11 also banking for Both Teams To Score 1.664/6 backers. Meanwhile, nine of the past 10 Premier League clashes between Liverpool and Arsenal have also copped for BTTS supporters, again further credence towards a goal-heavy game.
But with goal prices tight in Saturday night's standout showdown from The Emirates, I'm instead happy to support improving Arsenal with a +0.50 start on the Asian Handicap, a wager that pays out should the hosts avoid defeat.
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