By Stephen Darwin
Arsenal and Liverpool go head-to-head on Wednesday with both looking to find the win that will boost their chances of finishing in the top four this season.
The Gunners have blown hot and cold thus far in the 2012-13 campaign, with Champions League and FA Cup progression blemished by the humiliating Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Bradford as well as morale-sapping losses to both Manchester clubs and Chelsea.
Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, meanwhile, have threatened to mount a charge towards the Champions League spots although Sunday’s shock defeat to League One side Oldham in the FA Cup could act to knock them back off course.
It all means that Wednesday’s result is likely to have a significant say on where either side will finish come May and, ahead of the game, Goal.com have constructed a combined XI mixing together the leading lights from both sides…
Pepe Reina has had his fair share of critics in recent times but he gets the goalkeeper jersey in our combined XI, seeing off competition from Arsenal No.1 Wojciech Szczesny.
The Spaniard, who has been identified as a January target for Arsene Wenger’s side, has suffered with injuries this season but, when fit, remains one of the Premier League’s most reliable shot-stoppers.
Reina hasn’t featured for the Reds since the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United earlier in January although fans of the Anfield club will surely be desperate to see him return to action after Brad Jones’ calamitous display against Oldham.
For one reason or another both sides have been forced to rotate their defence during the 2012-13 campaign and, as a consequence, neither have looked particularly steady at the back.
The likes of Bacary Sagna, Andre Wisdom, Carl Jenkinson and Glen Johnson are all vying for the right-back slot in our combined XI but it’s England international Johnson, who has carried over his impressive form at Euro 2012 into the Premier League this season, who edges it.
Thomas Vermaelen‘s displays for the Gunners in 2012-13 have divided opinion at the Emirates but the marauding centre-back slots in alongside Daniel Agger in Goal.com’s team to form what is, on paper, a solid central defensive partnership.
On the left side of defence Kieran Gibbs is given the nod with Jose Enrique and the out-of-favour Andre Santos overlooked.
The competition is rife for a midfield berth with both sides possessing strong attacking and defensive-minded options in central areas.
Jack Wilshere has hit the ground running following his return from a 14-month injury lay-off, emerging as a key cog in Wenger’s engine room as the Gunners strive to finish in the top four of the Premier League and challenge in the latter rounds of the Champions League and FA Cup.
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard lines up alongside 19-year-old to make it an all-English combination, with the 2005 Champions League winner still pulling the strings from a deeper role at Anfield after emerging as arguably England’s stand-out performer at Euro 2012.
That means that Mikel Arteta and Lucas are two noticeable absentees while the likes of Jordan Henderson, Abou Diaby, Jonjo Shelvey, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen all also miss out on a place.
Both Cazorla and Podolski have got their Gunners’ careers off to encouraging starts following respective moves to England in the summer, while Walcott, who ended months of speculation over his future by signing a new contract recently, has come into his own after being unleashed in a striking role.
As impressive as Olivier Giroud has been in the past few weeks there was only going to be one man occupying the centre forward slot. Yes, Luis Suarez has his naysayers but you can’t doubt the Uruguayan’s natural ability and with 16 Premier League goals this name, he lines up at the head of our attack.
Suggested combined Arsenal & Liverpool XI
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