Weblog: The football punter

Take Liverpool to beat Arsenal in thriller

BT Sport 1, 5.30pm Saturday

Liverpool have enjoyed a memorable 2018, raising hopes of an even more glorious 2019, and the Premier League title favourites are expected to end the year on a high in a fixture that is renowned for entertainment.

The Reds beat Arsenal 4-0 at Anfield at the start of last season, with Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Daniel Sturridge on the scoresheet, before a 3-3 draw in the reverse fixture.

This term Liverpool have dropped only six points and conceded seven goals in their first 19 matches but they were knocked out of their stride by an impressive Arsenal display at the Emirates in November.

Alexandre Lacazette's late strike earned the Gunners a deserved 1-1 draw but bookmakers give them only a slender chance of derailing the league leaders.

Arsenal's defending has been suspect all season long under Unai Emery. During their 14-game unbeaten run in the league they kept just three clean sheets, at home to Everton, Watford and Huddersfield.

In the last two weeks Arsenal conceded three headed goals at Southampton, were swept aside by Tottenham in the League Cup, and allowed Brighton to score a ridiculously soft equaliser courtesy of an error from Stephan Lichtsteiner.

The Austrian veteran had a poor game in Wednesday's 1-1 draw at the Amex but he is likely to keep his place for the daunting trip to Anfield, where Liverpool are unbeaten in 30 Premier League matches.

That is due to a defensive injury crisis for the Gunners, who are missing Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding and have doubts over Nacho Monreal and Shkodran Mustafi.

Captain Laurent Koscielny, chucked straight back into the fray after a long-term Achilles injury, and his fellow stoppers face a Liverpool side who battered Manchester United 3-1 and eased past Newcastle 4-0 in their last two home games.

While Arsenal's defending has been patchy at best, Liverpool have been racking up the clean sheets and bet365 rate them 5-1 to break Chelsea's record of just 15 goals conceded in a Premier League season.

At the heart of their defensive excellence has been Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk, who is 6-4 from 125-1 with bet365 to be named PFA Player of the Year.

Liverpool 5-1 to break Premier League defensive records
However, the best bet for the Arsenal game may be a Liverpool win with both teams scoring.

A shortage of attacking options and a lack of faith in Mesut Ozil, who was taken off at half-time at Brighton last time out, mean that Emery may start with Lacazette alongside the prolific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the classy strikers can land a blow on their hosts.

Both are capable of creating a goal out of nothing, as they showed at Brighton when Lacazette's bustling work in the penalty area teed up Aubameyang for a brilliant first-time finish – his 13th goal of the league campaign.

The Gunners lost the shot count only 13-12 in the reverse fixture and have scored at least twice in eight of their nine away games this term while the expected-goals figures suggest Liverpool's defence has been slightly flattered by their results.

Newcastle's Joselu missed a great early chance on Wednesday and Jesse Lingard scored for United in their defeat. Earlier in the season Liverpool conceded against Cardiff and Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic was denied a goal by the tightest of offside decisions.

Given Arsenal's struggles at the back their best chance is to be positive, as they were in the reverse fixture, but it is hard to see them coming out on top in a high-scoring contest against the rampant Reds.

Liverpool to win & both teams to score

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Match in Focus

15:00 Sa 25May SKY

Newport Co v Tranmere

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Newport are unbeaten in 12 matches.
Expert verdict
Michael Flynn’s Newport headed into the playoffs as the fourth tier’s form side, securing seventh spot by finishing the season ten games unbeaten. Tranmere will know all too well about County’s disciplined defensive, having failed to score in both league meetings with them and, even with James Norwood leading the line, they look vulnerable.