Jurgen Klopp’s injury-ravaged Liverpool squad will continue their manic schedule on Wednesday against an Arsenal side that also know a thing or two about injury crises. But, while Arsenal have regularly been hit by a myriad of fitness issues in recent seasons, Liverpool’s current predicament would make even Arsene Wenger wince.
In the midst of a run of eight matches in January, the Liverpool side that takes on the Premier League leaders at Anfield will be shorn of a full 11 players because of injury. The biggest problem has come at center-back, where Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure have all been sidelined of late. While Sakho and Toure could be back to take on Arsenal, Klopp has already acted to try and address the worrying shortage.
On Tuesday, the club announced the signing of Steven Caulker on loan from Queens Park Rangers until the end of the season. The 24-year-old won a cap for England in 2012, but has struggled of late and only made a single Premier League start while on loan at Southampton in the first half of the season. But Klopp insists Caulker was an ideal option.
“We looked for Premier League experience because in this short time, you need that experience,” he told Liverpool’s official website. “We looked for a good header [of the ball] because that’s what we need -- we want to play good pressing, we want to press the opponent and so they have to play long balls. If they play long balls, you need people in the last line who can help you with headers.
“And we’ve found it with Steven Caulker. He was not in the best situation in Southampton, didn’t play too much, but this is January and we want to have the best solution for us and we are absolutely convinced that Steven is the best solution for us.”
While the problems at center-back have been eased, there are now growing concerns in attack. Divock Origi has undergone knee surgery that will keep him sidelined for another month, meaning that, with Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings also ruled out, Christian Benteke is the club’s only fit senior striker.
Arsenal have had their own injury problems, but have thus far coped with them impressively to hold a two-point advantage atop the Premier League table. Their talisman of last season Alexis Sanchez has been sidelined since late November with a hamstring problem, and Arsenal will again have to make do without the Chilean forward again on Wednesday, with Wenger revealing he expected him to again be short of fitness.
Arsenal and Liverpool have played out some memorable contests in recent years, with the Gunners winning 4-1 at the Emirates Stadium last season and Liverpool recording a thumping 5-1 victory at Anfield the season before. There can be no question, though, that Arsenal come into the latest meeting in better form. As well as being seven places and 12 points better off in the Premier League, Arsenal also enjoyed a far smoother FA Cup third round weekend. While Wenger’s men saw off Sunderland 3-1, a hugely inexperienced Liverpool lineup had to fight back to salvage a 2-2 draw at League Two side Exeter City. But Wenger is expecting a tough contest in what will be his first meeting with Klopp’s Liverpool and his famed counter-pressing style.
“Every time we go to Anfield, we face a team who is up for it,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “It’s always a ferocious battle, no matter who the manager is. They had a very strong manager before, they have a very strong one now and Klopp has the personality to do well there.
“[We need to] play our game at a good pace. We are used to pressing. It is not only Liverpool who do that, everybody in the modern game [does it]. Pressing has been created in england, basically, there’s a history of teams that have done that very well. It’s part of the modern game as well to make quick decisions.
Prediction: Against a Liverpool side missing a host of defenders and the creative influence of Philippe Coutinho, Arsenal have to start as favorites to pick up the three points. Yet the Anfield crowd should be fired up for a match of this caliber under the lights and that should transmit to a fully committed showing from players that, with the exception of Benteke, were given a much-needed rest against Exeter. An entertaining draw could be in store.
Predicted score: Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EST
TV Channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra