Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah has been warned that Arsenal defender Gabriel will “deal with him” when the Gunners travel to Anfield on Saturday. The Egyptian forward has 11 Premier League goals this season but has been tipped to struggle in the top-of-the-table clash.
Victory for either side ensures that they will spend Christmas Day at the top of the division, after Aston Villa dropped two points in their 1-1 draw at home to Sheffield United on Friday. Salah has hit the back of the net just once in his last five league matches and former Gunner Adrian Clarke believes that those struggles will continue.
“A few weeks ago I would’ve had (Takehiro) Tomiyasu in there, but I’ll go with (Oleksandr) Zinchenko because I want us to go there with a positive mentality and to control the game,” Clarke told the Handbrake Off Podcast when asked for the Arsenal team he would pick to start. “I do think that Zinchenko with his progressive passing makes a tremendous difference.
“We saw (Jakub) Kiwior against Luton and that affected our ability to move the ball smoothly. The positives will outweigh the negatives. Salah is an issue, but I think Gabriel will deal with him more often than not, the way we defend he’s a hybrid between a left-back and a centre-back these days Gabriel.”
Tomiyasu has missed the last three Arsenal games with a calf injury, having previously been moved across to left-back in an unorthodox role specifically to combat the threat of Salah in meetings between the two sides since Mikel Arteta arrived in north London.
The Spanish boss is now unable to repeat the same tactic on Saturday with Tomiyasu absent once more, as either Zinchenko or Kiwior likely to start at left-back. Clarke believes that the Polish defender along with Tomiyasu should watch from the sidelines, preferring Zinchenko.
Zinchenko would certainly help retain possession more than Kiwior, although Arteta may have to sacrifice some defensive solidity. The boss has insisted that they will not be copying Manchester United’s approach to an Anfield away day, however, after the Red Devils soaked up pressure and came away with a goalless draw last time out in the league.
“It’s going to be a really competitive match for sure that we’re going to try to win,” Arteta said on Friday as he previewed the match. “And if we manage to do that, it’s going to be a really powerful thing for our team.”
Playing on the front foot would certainly favour Zinchenko and appease Clarke, with Gabriel instead backed to provide more support for the Ukrainian defender and work with him to keep Salah at bay.