Arsenal and Liverpool have been given injury boosts ahead of their key Premier League showdown at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday. Fifth-placed Liverpool trail their third-place opponents by six points going into the contest, and, after losing to Manchester United last time out, can ill afford another defeat if they are to retain their place as a Champions League side next season.
It could be crucial then that they have their leading striker available. Daniel Sturridge was forced to miss out on England’s two internationals over the past week with a hip injury, yet manager Brendan Rodgers revealed that he has returned to training and sounded hopeful that he will be available for selection.
“Daniel is back training with the team today,” he said, reports Liverpool’s official website. “We'll see the reaction of that tomorrow.”
Rodgers spoke with even greater confidence that another player forced to withdraw from England duty, Adam Lallana, would be able to take his part in the squad. And he was also relieved that the international break had not cost him any of his key players, with the two week layoff indeed allowing midfielder Lucas Leiva to return to full fitness.
“The team is coming along fine,” he said. “The squad have been away, some of them coming back from internationals, and they're fine. Jordan Henderson is back in and Lucas Leiva is back fit and available to come in from the start. The squad is good. Adam will hopefully be training with the team tomorrow and available for the weekend.”
Arsenal, too, have largely benefited from the international break. While Danny Welbeck suffered a slight injury in England’s 4-0 win over Lithuania, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger still feels he has a chance to play on Saturday. Meanwhile, long-term injury casualties Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby all made their return in an outing for an Arsenal XI against Brentford on Tuesday.
“They’ve all been involved and trained well, with no problem after that coming out of the game, so that’s good news,” Wenger said in his pre-match press conference. “They’re back available in training, a bit short still of top competitive level certainly, but that’s normal, they’ve been out for a long time. But I was quite surprised by how fit they looked, and the quality of their performance was good.”
Still, while Arsenal now just have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain definitely ruled out, Liverpool will be missing two of their key players. Captain Steven Gerrard and defender Martin Skrtel will both serve the first of their three-match suspension, after stamping on opponents in the fiery loss to Manchester United.
Gerrard’s loss will at least prevent Rodgers from having another selection dilemma on the scale he faced last time out. But there is a still a decision to be made about whether to opt for the defensive nous of the fit again Lucas or to persevere with the combination of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen. The duo has performed strongly, but has, along with the rest of the team, shown signs of fatigue of late. At the back, Dejan Lovren is the man likely to replace Skrtel, with the Croatian expected to shake off an abdominal problem.
For Arsenal, while the returning players will add valuable depth to the squad for the crucial remainder of the season, it would be a significant surprise were any to feature from the start. And the slight injury to Danny Welbeck may make Wenger’s selection more straightforward behind Olivier Giroud up front. Although Santi Cazorla has been superb in a central midfield role, Aaron Ramsey is now getting back to his best form and surely warrants a starting berth. That would mean Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez lining up in the attacking midfield roles.
D: Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Coquelin, Ramsey
Sanchez, Cazorla, Ozil
D: Can, Lovren, Sakho
M: Markovic, Henderson, Allen, Moreno
F: Sterling, Sturridge, Coutinho