That Suarez could have a crucial role almost goes without saying. Of all the players on the pitch at Anfield on Saturday, it is Suarez who has that rarest of abilities to single-handedly turn a match in his side’s favor. Cameras will be turned toward the Uruguayan even more so than usual as he takes on a club who pursued him keenly in the summer. In the match between these sides earlier in the season he was largely shackled by Arsenal’s impressive central defensive partnership. Still, with his intelligence and ability to manufacture a chance from nothing, he won’t need much of an opening to have a major impact.
The Arsenal defender will be crucial to trying to ensure that Suarez does not become the game’s pivotal figure. Koscielny’s pace enables him to cover for his heavier-of-foot partner Per Mertesacker, however the France international will have to successfully stay on the right side of the line between being proactive in his defending yet avoid crossing over into reckless decision making. It is a balance which he has largely accomplished superbly this season and it is no surprise that his complementary partnership with Mertesacker was the only one to prevent both Suarez and his Liverpool cohort Daniel Sturridge from scoring in a match this campaign.
In the opposition defense will be the man who Koscielny has essentially replaced at Arsenal. Since moving to Anfield last summer, Toure has continued to show why Arsenal did good business in allowing him to leave for big money to Manchester City in 2009. The Ivorian, a key part of the Gunners’ “Invincibles” team of a decade ago, has been on the decline since before even then and while bringing his big personality and experience to Liverpool’s backline has also brought his tendency for calamity. His woeful error against West Brom last week cost Liverpool two points, and Arsenal will be hoping that the 32-year-old is similarly accommodating on Saturday.
No one can doubt the psychological impact Ozil’s arrival from Real Madrid has had on Arsenal as a whole. Signing one of the world’s truly elite players lifted the club out of a seeming acceptance that remaining in the upper reaches of the Premier League and Champions League was enough, without pushing on and actually challenging for honors. Yet, after making a seamlessly brilliant start to his Arsenal career, Ozil’s own form has tailed off in the past month or two. A player of his quality is ultimately sought to be a difference maker in the tightest and biggest games, and, with Saturday’s match kicking off the first of two stretches of tough fixtures that are likely to define Arsenal’s promising season, now would be the ideal time for the German to return to his best.
Whether Ozil is at his peak or not, it promises to be a tough afternoon for Gerrard in trying to keep Arsenal’s array of quality midfielders quiet. In the fixture at the Emirates, Arsenal simply passed around Liverpool’s midfield. And that was when Gerrard has the support of the defensively minded Lucas Leiva alongside him. Since Lucas went down with an injury, Gerrard has been crudely exposed as the deepest-lying midfielder against Aston Villa and even in a 2-0 win over Championship side Bournemouth. When drawing with West Brom last week, Liverpool’s midfield was unable to wrest back control of the game after the opposition’s equalizer. Only in a trouncing of Everton did Liverpool bypass the problem as Brendan Rodgers ceded possession and was happy for his side to sit deep. It will be interesting to see if the Liverpool boss adopts the same solution against a side even more adept at keeping the ball.
Like Gerrard, Arteta is no natural as a holding midfielder. Positionally he is perhaps more reliable than the Liverpool skipper, but like his counterpart he is also reactive in the role. Against Liverpool in November, Arteta -- who then, as he will be on Saturday, was without Mathieu Flamini -- was able to adequately cover the space in front of Arsenal’s back four and prevent passes through to Suarez and Sturridge. His job will be made more difficult at Anfield with Liverpool’s most creative player, Philippe Coutinho fully fit and likely to operate from the start.