Arsenal travel to Anfield this weekend to face an out of sorts Liverpool team in a crucial game in the race for the UEFA Champions League places.
With the Gunners currently sat in fourth, a place and a point above Saturday’s opponents but with a game in hand, three points on Merseyside is a must.
However, Arsene Wenger’s side are notorious for dropping points in big games against the teams around them, so who would I pick to start this crucial game and how would I set up tactically?
Firstly, on the injury front, Mohamed Elneny is expected to miss the next three weeks through injury, a huge loss in what I expect to be a high intensity, end-to-end game. The Egyptian’s power and energy give Arsenal a different dimension in midfield and he would have been one of the first names on my team sheet for a game such as this one.
Despite Elneny’s absent, there are some positives on the injury front.
Laurent Koscielny is fit and will take his place in central defence alongside Shkodran Mustafi, with Hector Bellerin an easy selection at right-back. The left-back position causes a bit more of a headache though.
Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs have both looked shaky this season and Liverpool pace merchant Sadio Mane will look to exploit this. Gibbs just about gets the nod from me due to his extra pace but, it’s definitely a weak spot that Mane could thrive against.
Anchoring the midfield in the 4-2-3-1 formation, I would select Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka. The pair have both struggled at times this campaign but their defensive abilities will be crucial in stifling Liverpool’s creativity.
Xhaka’s range of passing is also an important factor. Despite all their positive work in attack, defensively, Liverpool have looked weak all season long, and teams know that. Wolves, Swansea, Hull and Leicester have all exploited this to great effect to pick up points against Jurgen Klopp’s men, simply winning the ball and immediately starting a counter attack. If Xhaka can pick out Arsenal’s attacking quartet and start these quick attacks, The Gunners could be on to a winner.
Aaron Ramsey is also back from injury and could be useful option from the substitute’s bench.
As for that quartet in attack, Alexis Sanchez is easily the first name on the team sheet. With 17 goals and eight assists in the league thus far, the Chilean has single handedly won games at times. His pace, trickery and eye for goal up top could be the difference between three points or none at all.
Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud will be useful should Arsenal be chasing the game but, let’s be honest, I was never not going to pick Sanchez.
As for the three behind Alexis, it’s a slightly harder choice. Mesut Ozil is fit but, he has often struggled in a game such as this one. However, due to the lack of an ideal replacement and his ability to create something out of nothing, he gets the attacking midfield role in my starting XI.
Out wide, Lucas Perez is an easy selection for me. Contributing eight goals and three assists in just 19 appearances across all competitions this season, the Spaniard has been underused thus far. His pace and eye for goal will be important in the counter attacking style I would employ.
On the other flank it’s a choice between the two Alex’s, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Iwobi, as well as recent centurion Theo Walcott. This was the most difficult choice for me as all three offer different qualities but, I’ve plumped for Walcott purely for his pace and in the hope that he’s got his shooting boots on come 5:30pm on Saturday.
Oh, and I almost forgot, Petr Cech in goal. Was it ever in doubt?
So that’s my team, I’m confident that tactically, my side would pick up three points in this crucial clash, exposing Liverpool’s weaknesses whilst staying solid at the back and not letting the Reds play there often devastating football.
However, who will Wenger pick? I guess we’ll find out this Saturday.