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Red-hot Giroud and Suarez key to heavyweight clash

Olivier Giroud of Arsenal celebrates scoring against Crystal Palace during their English Premier League soccer match at Selhurst Park, Londo
Olivier Giroud of Arsenal celebrates scoring against Crystal Palace during their English Premier League soccer match at Selhurst Park, Londo

LONDON (Reuters) - The Premier League clash between high-flying Arsenal and Liverpool on Saturday could well be decided by the form of two strikers whose recent performances have silenced those doubting them before the start of the season.

Leaders Arsenal raised plenty of eyebrows when they failed to land a striker during the transfer window, leaving Frenchman Olivier Giroud, who underwhelmed during his first season in England, to lead the line.

Giroud has since gone on to net five goals and set up a further four in nine league matches, to prove his critics wrong and help Arsenal to the top of the table.

While there were no doubts over the ability of Liverpool's Luis Suarez, there was plenty of speculation he was set to leave the club, possibly for Arsenal, after the Anfield side failed to qualify for this season's Champions League.

Since his return from a 10-match suspension for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic, the Uruguayan has scored six goals in four league appearances, including a hat-trick in last week's 4-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, and has struck up a devastating partnership with Daniel Sturridge to put the doubts over his commitment to rest.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger acknowledged the impact the pair were having on their respective clubs.

"They are different styles of players," he told reporters on Friday.

"Giroud is a real center forward who uses space and uses his power and he's really central. Suarez is more a player who goes on the flanks, comes deep into midfield and is more a dribbler."

Wenger backed Giroud, who came on as a substitute for Arsenal during their League Cup defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday, to maintain his form, and gave little thought to the fact Suarez could have been lining up alongside him had Liverpool decided to sell the Uruguayan after the Gunners made a bid of just over 40 million pounds ($64.26 million).

"I'm not focused on that now, what is important for me, 24 hours before the game, is that I believe Giroud has proven since the start of the season that he is an exceptional striker and I am convinced that he will be up to show that tomorrow again," said Wenger.

Midfielder Mikel Arteta will return for Arsenal after suspension but Serge Gnabry and Mathieu Flamini are out.

Philippe Coutinho could be back for Liverpool after the midfielder missed six weeks following shoulder surgery.

Arsenal have 22 points from nine games with Liverpool two points behind.

($1 = 0.6224 British pounds)

(Reporting by Josh Reich; Editing by Alison Wildey)

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