They are oft heralded as one of the most devastating striker partnerships in world football as, this season, Liverpool duo Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have been responsible for a combined 37 goals in the current Premier League season to date.
Seeing the acronym SAS on a team-sheet could instil a fear factor into opposition sides, particularly if you're a defender representing Norwich City (whom Suarez has scored 11 against while providing three assists) and Everton (as Sturridge has netted six times against them personally, with Suarez also scoring five himself and setting up four).
For Arsenal, though, their defensive rigidity has, for the most part, foiled both athletes.
Sturridge has featured in nine Premier League matches against the Gunners, for either Manchester City, Chelsea, Bolton Wanderers or Liverpool, but has been responsible for affecting the scoreline just three times (two goals, one assist). He has triumphed on three occasions, drawn twice and lost four times with a for:against ratio of 13:15.
Suarez's individual record is far worse. He has scored twice in six matches but has a record of one win (in August, 2011) against three losses and two draws. The Uruguayan's for:against ratio is 6:9.
Liverpool host Arsenal on Saturday, February 8 and there is a lot to play for as the latter are gunning to solidify a position in the top four while the latter remain in pole position for the Premier League title and could, should they triumph, create a five-point cushion at the top of the table (until Chelsea and Manchester City compete in separate fixtures in the 15:00 kick-off slots).
In the reverse fixture earlier in the season, Arsene Wenger oversaw a clean sheet and a two-goal victory, with strikes from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey either side of the break.
Just how did Wenger keep SAS at bay and, pressingly, can he do it again on Saturday lunch-time?
|Player||Touches||Unsuccess||Poss Lost||Disp||Shot blocked||Shot||Mins|
In the data table above, it is evident that Suarez was not allowed much time on the ball when he was last in N5 as he lost possession 25 times, an astonishing amount for someone with 68 touches on the ball. This was a fundamental cause for Arsenal's success.
In the Emirates Stadium fixture, Reds gaffer Brendan Rodgers preferred a 3-5-2 formation which not only allowed SAS to both feature, but also fortified the centre of midfield. Liverpool were let down by a lack of chance creation from the central areas, while Arsenal's defensive stalwarts Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny starved SAS of the football.
Wenger lamented the absence of Flamini in November and the French terrier will be omitted from the starting line-up once more due to suspension, however, one midfielder who played a significant role at the N5 test was Mikel Arteta, who will be returning in time to assist Mertesacker and Koscielny at the weekend.
If the Arsenal backline are to keep their sheet clean once more, whenever Koscielny presses or closes Suarez down, he must either win the duel or risk leaving his partner in a vulnerable position to make up the slack. To counter this, Arteta will need to occupy a deeper position than he is naturally accustomed to and provide cover whenever Koscielny stays tight to Suarez.
While SAS are lauded as destructive, if Per and Kos once again rise above the challenge posed by the Englishman and the Uruguayan, then they must surely underline their growing reputation as the most deconstructive defenders in the division.
image: © kuaver