Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has a depleted squad as his side return to Premier League action against Arsenal – but one injury may be felt more sorely than the rest
Of the many injury concerns Liverpool have amassed over the last few weeks, one sticks out from the rest ahead of the visit of Arsenal.
But the player Liverpool may miss most against the Gunners was ruled out before November’s World Cup qualifiers with a thigh injury.
Roberto Firmino has rarely been sidelined for an extended run of games since his arrival from Hoffenheim in 2015, but Klopp did not play down the severity of the hamstring complaint he sustained against Atletico Madrid.
“Bobby is not good news with a serious hamstring injury, really unfortunate,” the German manager said.
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Latest suggestions are that Firmino could be missing for another month until mid-December, ruling him out of roughly eight fixtures in the Premier League and Champions League.
Klopp will be particularly distraught not to have the Brazilian leading the line for the first game of that run as Arsenal come calling.
That is because Firmino has a truly remarkable record against the north Londoners, especially when he is playing at home.
He has scored eight times in 12 appearances against Arsenal while also contributing three assists, with nine of those 11 goal involvements coming at Anfield.
To put that in perspective, Firmino averages 0.32 goals per game in the Premier League but 0.67 per game against Arsenal in the top flight.
He has made a habit of flummoxing Gunners defences on Merseyside over the years, starting as he meant to go on with two goals in a pulsating 3-3 draw in January 2016.
The first was an opportunistic strike as the ball fell to him in the area, the second a brilliant, curling effort from outside the box – a sign of things to come.
Next season, Firmino scored the opening goal and assisted Sadio Mane in a 3-1 victory over the Gunners in March 2017.
In similar fashion three months later, he put Liverpool ahead and assisted his Senegalese teammate once again during a 4-0 trouncing.
But Firmino’s finest performance against Arsenal – and one of his greatest in a Liverpool shirt – came in the 2018/19 campaign, when Liverpool came agonisingly close to winning the title.
He left Gunners defenders scattered on the Anfield turf on his way to a breathtaking hat-trick which showed off every area of his brilliant ball control and trickery.
The Brazil international kicked into gear after Ainsley Maitland-Niles put the visitors ahead early on, poking an audacious no-look goal into a gaping net to equalise in the 14th minute.
Seconds later, Firmino weaved his way through Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Lucas Torreira with a mazing run before slamming the ball past Bernd Leno to put the Reds ahead.
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And in a touching moment in the second half, Mohamed Salah handed him the ball to complete his hat-trick from the penalty spot, despite the Egyptian converting from 12 yards just before the interval.
As it happens, Firmino’s three strikes that day in December 2018 remain his most recent against Arsenal.
Yet Klopp would be furious if his prized No.9 was measured in goals without taking into account the flamboyant creativity and world-leading pressing he offers.
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Firmino has started all of Liverpool’s last four Premier League games against the Gunners, winning three and losing the encounter in July 2020 when the title was already wrapped up.
This is why it is such a blow not to have him and his fine record available as Arsenal arrive on Saturday.
Klopp does of course have an able deputy in Diogo Jota, but with the Gunners unbeaten in their last eight top-flight games with five clean sheets in that time, he will sorely miss Firmino in attack.