Two teams coping very differently with English football’s high-intensity mid-season fixture programme meet on Wednesday when Premier League leaders Arsenal resume their pursuit of the title at injury-ravaged Liverpool.
While Arsenal could afford to make five changes as they breezed past Sunderland in the FA Cup on Saturday, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s decision to field a youthful starting XI at fourth-tier Exeter City on Friday almost backfired as his side scraped a 2-2 draw.
First-team regulars like Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Per Mertesacker will come back into the Arsenal team at Anfield and right-back Hector Bellerin believes such strength in depth bodes well for the months ahead.
“The legs are fine and we have shown that we have very good players on the bench also and the rotation helps us get good results,” said the Spaniard, who set up goals for Ramsey and Olivier Giroud in the 3-1 success against Sunderland.
“We have a lot of games and they are all hard games, but we have to respond in the way we did (against Sunderland) and I’m sure we will be fine.
“The team was up to the challenge. We didn’t rush the games and we knew we had to be patient. It is nice to get the three goals and that is confidence for the team as we had a difficult week ahead.”
Klopp can only envy the riches at Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger’s disposal as he contemplates an injury list that currently features 11 senior players.
Seven of those — including playmaker Philippe Coutinho, striker Daniel Sturridge and centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel — have hamstring problems, but Klopp has dismissed suggestions that his hard-running playing style is to blame.
Assessing the situation after the draw at Exeter, he said: “The main problems we have is because our centre-halves are injured in this moment.
“We had five centre-halves at the beginning of the season and at this moment no centre-halves. That’s the situation, but next week it could be different.”
Leicester City, two points behind Arsenal in second place, return to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham Hotspur, just three days after a 2-2 draw between the teams there in the FA Cup.
Leicester were a minute from victory when Harry Kane equalised from the penalty spot for Spurs, but having made seven changes to his line-up, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri was satisfied with the outcome.
– Manchester United toil –
“I was very pleased with our performance because eight players without play — some play sometimes, in the League Cup — and now they play in the FA Cup, and I think they deserve a positive result,” he said.
“Two-two is a positive result. Well done!”
Spurs start the week in fourth place, but Manchester United can go draw level on points with Mauricio Pochettino’s men if they win at struggling Newcastle United in Tuesday’s stand-out fixture.
United required a stoppage-time Wayne Rooney penalty to see off third-division Sheffield United in the FA Cup on Saturday, but midfielder Marouane Fellaini believes there was no shame in being made to toil by well-drilled opposition.
“It was difficult against a team like that who come to defend,” the Belgium international told MUTV.
“We tried to create chances and we kept the ball well. We had patience and, in the end, we won and we are now ready for the next game.”
United’s cross-town rivals Manchester City had a far more straightforward third-round assignment, easing to a 3-0 win at Norwich City.
Seeking to bridge the three-point gap between themselves and Arsenal, Manuel Pellegrini’s side resume hostilities with Everton, who beat them 2-1 last week in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final.
“It’s very important to be focused game by game. We’ve played in the FA Cup and now we must return to the Premier League,” said Pellegrini.
“We have to play two games at home and it’s very important that we try to reduce the gap that we have with Arsenal.”
Guus Hiddink’s improving Chelsea, 2-0 victors against Scunthorpe United on Sunday, host West Bromwich Albion, seeking to record consecutive league wins for the first time this season.
Fixtures (1945 GMT unless otherwise stated)
Aston Villa v Crystal Palace, Bournemouth v West Ham United, Newcastle United v Manchester United
Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion, Liverpool v Arsenal (2000 GMT), Manchester City v Everton, Southampton v Watford, Stoke City v Norwich City, Swansea City v Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City (2000 GMT)
– Agence France-Presse