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Partey vs Salah and Mane: Will Arsenal thwart irrepressible Liverpool?

3:46 AM SGT 16/3/22
Partey, Mane, Salah — Arsenal vs Liverpool
The in-form Ghanaian strives to help the Gunners end wretched run against the Reds forwards looking to take advantage of Manchester City's recent slip

Having had Mikel Arteta wax lyrical about Thomas Partey in the days leading to Arsenal’s meeting with Leicester City on Sunday, the ensuing performance against the Foxes was what the doctor ordered.

It was not just about the close-range 11th-minute header that opened the scoring against Brendan Rodgers’ side that underscored the Ghana star’s showing at the Emirates Stadium, but the significantly telling influence with possession and efficiency without the ball.

The former Atletico Madrid midfielder may have cursed the woodwork for denying him his first brace in league football since April 2015, while a Caglar Soyuncu handball prevented what looked to be a goal-bound header from making it 2-0 to the Gunners.

Still, goals would have represented a fringe benefit for a player who was voted Arsenal’s Player of the Month for February.

Partey kept things flowing when he had the ball, bypassing Leicester’s intermittent press by picking out better-placed teammates.

When the Gunners did not have possession, the Ghanaian was dutiful in trying to regain it. He was not only the game’s most accomplished presser, but he also made more tackles plus interceptions (nine) than anyone on the pitch. Unsurprisingly, no player outranked the 28-year-old’s 11 recoveries.

Few will challenge any claim that the Arsenal star is the Premier League’s current best player, yet many will be fascinated to see how he fares against one of the league’s best in Liverpool.

While Jurgen Klopp’s team come to town on Wednesday night as heavy favourites, Arteta’s troops are no pushovers, even if the precedent suggests otherwise.

The Gunners have picked up one victory in their last 18 in all competitions against this week’s opponents, failing to score in five successive meetings with the Reds.

With the North London side chasing a six-game winning league run, a feat they have not achieved since the 2018/19 season, Gooners will argue this represents their best chance of beating the Anfield giants in years.

Indeed, Arsenal’s upswing and menace have put paid to all that schadenfreude directed at the club in recent years and their performances mean they have to be considered as worthy opponents who seek their best chance of a Champions League return after a five-year absence.

It is for this reason that Klopp will be relieved to have Mohamed Salah available for Wednesday’s meeting, having worryingly gone off in last Saturday’s 2-0 win at Brighton & Hove Albion.

“Looks like,” the German replied on Tuesday when asked if Salah will be available. “Mo is a tough cookie and he was only a little bit cut, we were quite lucky with it. It was swollen, painful, yesterday a little less swollen, less painful.

“Now I got the message before the press conference that Mo is ready to train and we will see how that looks.”

Any player that has contributed 30 goals in 26 games deserves all the credit going his way, especially after matching a feat previously achieved by one player in Premier League history.

Only Thierry Henry had ever netted 20 times while recording double digits in assists in multiple seasons, but a clinical conversion from 12 yards at the Amex put the Egyptian in the same league as the Arsenal icon.

Klopp will have wanted his attacking spearhead available for a clash that could see Liverpool move within one point of Manchester City in the title race, and he looks set to get that with the 20-goal man seemingly shaking off his injury.

It will be remiss to not include Sadio Mane in this conversation, a player outscoring everyone not named Salah in England’s top flight.

The African champion’s 12 league strikes have already surpassed last season’s tally of 11 with 10 games to play while he will set his sights on nearing the 18-goal tally from Liverpool’s title-winning season as the Merseyside club challenge City in the final weeks.

The fact Mane’s return have come without a penalty remains commendable, although there remains a feeling the Senegal superstar is neither playing at nor as clinical as the level he showed in 2018/19 and the following season.

Nonetheless, the 29-year-old forward remains deadly on his day and Arsenal will recollect the damage done by the ex-Southampton man in the reverse fixture on Merseyside.

Arsenal vs Liverpool has hardly carried this much significance in recent years owing to the decline of the London side. This time, it feels like Arteta’s men have what it takes to rub shoulders with the big boys, already evidenced by a strong New Year’s Day showing against Man City.

Partey was impressive in the aforementioned fixture as the London giants made the Citizens sweat. Now, Gooners need an analogous showing against the league’s best player and his comrade as the Gunners strive to end their Liverpool nightmare.