Game: Liverpool v Arsenal.
Date: Monday 28th
Where to watch: Sky HD.
Last season, many had written Arsenal off as soon as this fixture appeared but it’s a testament to the coaching skills of Mikel Arteta that Arsenal managed to upset the apple cart with two successive, determined performances that harked back to the days of George Graham.
Klopp has shown the utmost respect for Arteta and rightly so because he had been in the same position himself with a dysfunctional team that required a major rebuild. Arteta has an analytical eye and possesses the ability to buy players to answer the individual problems of the team. Towards the end of the Wenger era, it was more a case of purchasing talent in hope of them fulfilling the available roles. Wenger acquired an eclectic mix of skills that he employed in unfamiliar roles from the bargain basement, not so Arteta.
The Liverpool v Arsenal fixture is a mouthwatering affair, with an incomplete Arsenal against a finely tuned Liverpool side that is highly likely to complete back-to-back Premier League titles. There’s quality and class throughout but somehow, Arteta has managed to level up the playing field with a durable and organised side that competes for every ball.
The Gunners can absorb periods of pressure and then swiftly counter from back to front and put the ball in the net in less than 10 passes. That type of move is reminiscent of Wenger’s best sides and the one’s that Arteta himself played in. Both Guardiola and Arteta are purists and advocates of slick, fast, one-touch football but the Arsenal boss still knows there’s a mountain to climb in terms of quality.
This is another learning curve in the Spaniard’s first full season in charge and no doubt he’ll be looking closely at attitude and application during the Liverpool v Arsenal clash to cement in his mind who to keep and who to jettison. The difference between Emery’s and Arteta’s Arsenal is spirit, appetite, desire, and a stomach for a fight.
On paper, Liverpool have enough to get three points but Arsenal will give them a test which, at this stage of the season, Klopp could do without. This is still not the high performing Liverpool of last season, they look vulnerable and if Arteta can bring pace to the team, Van Dijk may have another bad day at the office. The Liverpool defender has been head and shoulders above everyone in the Premier League but recently, his performances haven’t looked quite as solid.
Arteta’s plan will be beautifully simple, draw Liverpool forward in numbers and then convert defence into attack with a devastating counter. It’s almost certain that he’ll employ two wing-backs, two pacy wingers, and the speed of the frontmen out wide. If this goes according to plan, Klopp’s men could be caught napping and wind up on the receiving end on a tough evening.
Liverpool will want to stifle the ball over the top, but it’s a threat that various Arsenal players can offer with Aubameyang prowling the flank and ready to cut in. The prime example of exposing Liverpool would be the Aubameyang goal in the Community Shield game, which was played out expertly from the back and involved Bellerin and Saka. Saka’s peach of a pass, perfectly weighed, went straight to the feet of an advancing Aubameyang who cut the rearguard to ribbons.
There’s a similar threat from Liverpool’s much-lauded frontline of Mane, Salah, and Firmino but Arsenal have a different proposition in Lacazette, who drags defenders away, holds the ball up well, and has a very underrated touch in the build-up.
Tonight’s Liverpool v Arsenal is a massive game for both sides and although it means nothing in terms of the finishing places in the season, it will certainly be crucial for momentum. I’m going to predict a 1-2 win for Arsenal because I think Arsenal have become a bit of a bogey team for Klopp, with two defeats fresh in the memory.
Henderson is out for the Merseysider’s but Alcantara is an exciting alternative. Arsenal have a list as long as your arm of absentees including Sokratis Papastathopoulos (calf), Cedric Soares (calf), Emile Smith Rowe (shoulder), Pablo Mari (ankle), Callum Chambers (knee), Shkodran Mustafi (hamstring), and Gabriel Martinelli (knee) The good news is that Kieran Tierney should be fit to return after muscle tightness in the previous game against West Ham.
Preferred Side: Leno; Holding, Luiz, Gabriel; Bellerin; Ceballos, Xhaka, Tierney; Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang.
Probable Side: Leno; Holding, Luiz, Gabriel; Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka; Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang.
Predicted Score: 1-2 Arsenal win.
Key men for Arsenal: Aubameyang, Gabriel, Willian, Leno.
Key men for Liverpool: Salah, Van Dijk, Firmino, Alcantara