Arsenal hosts Liverpool in a massive pre-Christmas clash at the Emirates. Here's what you need to know about the matchup.
The last round of games before Christmas is headlined by a top of the table clash between Arsenal and Liverpool. On Friday night, Arsenal will be hoping to keep a high-octane Liverpool side at bay, while also solving their own issues in front of goal.
Liverpool have enjoyed an impressive recent run of form against Arsenal, winning the reverse fixture 4-0 earlier in the season and winning both Premier League meetings during the last campaign. The Merseyside club come into the game on the back of an emphatic 4-0 win over Bournemouth last weekend, and will be hoping to maintain this level of performance on Friday night.
Although the hosts Arsenal have kept back-to-back clean sheets, the Gunners will face an uphill battle in order to contain the offensive trident of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Coupled with this, the Gunners will also have to overcome their current struggles in front of goal, having struggled to convert a myriad of chances against Manchester United at the start of December.
Earlier in the week Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger called for his striking duo Alexandre Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez to improve their fortunes in front of goal. The pair have struggled in front of goal recently, however, Friday's game against a top-six rival could be the motivation needed to end their barren run.
Mohamed Salah vs. Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Mohamed Salah has been one of the revelations of the season so far. Due to his recent performances for his new club, the Egyptian international has become one of the favorites to win the player of the season award. The Egyptian currently tops the goal-scoring charts with 14 Premier League goals.
Tasked with the unfavorable job of keeping the Egyptian at bay will be Arsenal's young versatile midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles. A midfield by trade, Maitland-Niles has broke into the starting line-up at Arsenal in recent weeks; albeit as a left-back.
On paper, this looks like a favorable matchup for Salah, however due to Maitland-Niles' blistering pace, the former Roma man may struggle to slip past the youngster in the same manner he was with so many other full backs this season.
Olivier Giroud will be ruled out for Friday's game, after picking up a hamstring injury midweek as Arsenal advanced to the semifinal of the Carabao Cup. His injury should benefit Lacazette who has been prematurely subbed off for his fellow countrymen on a number of occasions this season.
Aaron Ramsey will also be sidelined with a hamstring injury until January. The pair will join Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla on the injury table.
However, Wenger will be buoyed by the expected the return of Shkodran Mustafi who is available after a recent injury lay-off.
Liverpool on the other-hand, will be sweating the fitness of Joel Matip ahead of Friday's game. The Cameroonian defender will undergo a late fitness test to evaluate his condition on Friday. His dubious status could mean that the much-maligned Dejan Lovren will continue to partner Ragnar Klavan in defense.
Mane - often Arsenal's tormenter - was rested for Liverpool's trip to Bournemouth. The Senegalese forward to should return to the side this weekend.