Liverpool vs Arsenal Match Preview
Arteta’s Arsenal hoping too keep up appearances against Klopp’s Champions
by Gene Sylvester
On Monday night, Anfield will host the final game of the Premier League weekend in a match befitting of the ‘main event’ tag, if this weekend’s fixtures were to be likened to a fight card.
It’s a match up that sees Mikel Arteta’s revitalised Arsenal go toe to toe with Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League Champions in a tie that will provide both managers with the opportunity to make an early statement of intent to their top 4 rivals.
You could argue that Liverpool have already bared their teeth in their previous Premier League outing which saw the Anfield men showcase the gap in quality that separates them from the majority of other Premier League teams after beating Chelsea with relative ease at Stamford Bridge.
Whilst the sending off of Andreas Christensen at the end of the first half undoubtedly changed the shape of the game, the way in which Chelsea had set up to contain Liverpool in their own gaffe, suggested that they knew slugging it out with the red men of merseyside would inevitably end in tears.
Lampard had set his stall out to avoid defeat first and foremost, with 3 points being a bonus should his game plan of containing Liverpool’s attack and using Timo Werner’s pace on the break to possibly fashion the odd chance had paid off.
It is indicative of the fear that even a well stocked Chelsea side, fresh from a £200 million pound spending spree, has when faced with last years runaway champions.
Arenal however, should be approaching this game with a little bit more confidence, having come out on top in their two most recent matches against Klopp’s men - once in the league at the back end of last season and secondly in the Charity Shield season opener at Wembley where Arteta’s men triumphed by way of a penalty shootout.
Many Liverpool fans would indeed argue the fact that those two matches had little riding on them, with the first of the two matches being played immediately after the reds had been confirmed as Premier League champions for the first time in 30 years - an achievement that undoubtedly was celebrated like it was 1999 - and the Charity Shield being dubbed nothing more than an exhibition match.
The celebrations would have understandably been epic, with the group of players realising that their legendary status would now be cemented in the annals of the Anfield club for eternity. As a result, it’s fair to say that some of the players were maybe suffering a title hangover, both literally and metaphorically by the time they made the trip down to the Emirates.
Arteta’s men came out of that game victorious, courtesy of a couple of uncharacteristic errors from two of Liverpool’s most consistent performers during their title winning campaign in Virgil Van Dyke and goalkeeper Allison Becker.
But despite the two gift wrapped goals that ultimately gave Arsenal the 3 points, it was evident that there was also a new found resilience in the way that Arsenal restricted Liverpool from creating the plethora of opportunities that they are now used to creating in most of their outings.
It was a performance that was symbolic of where Arteta has focused the first phase of his rebuilding project and that is on making arsenal difficult to beat again. There has never really been any doubts relating to the threat that the North Londoners pose going forward, but their soft underbelly of a defence has far too often proven their achilles heel.
Whilst Arteta’s taking of the reigns has coincided with a resurgence in the form of Granit Xakha, the former Manchester City assistant coach has also addressed his central defensive frailties with the addition of Gabriel Magalhaes, a summer purchase from Lille, who seems to have added some much needed stability to the Gunners back line.
Despite Arsenal’s 100% start to the season and the fact that they have shown the ability to once again compete with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City in one-off games - 3 wins out of their last 3 matches against Liverpool and Manchester City combined - it is still a long way back to the glory days that saw them enjoy their own period of dominance domestically in the early to mid noughties.
But what is clear to see is that Arteta is making headway with his rebuild, a project that was never going to be an overnight transition. What is probably even more impressive is the fact that the rookie coach is getting an extra 10% out of practically the same squad that Unai Emery struggled to get a tune out of - this in itself is testament to the work that the Spaniard is doing on the training ground.
This game on Monday night will be the first true litmus test for Arteta and how far his side has come during his brief tenure at the Emirates helm.
With both teams having started their respective campaigns in impressive fashion and Klopp’s men seemingly starting to find their rhythm, not to mention the recent acquisition of Thiago Alcantara who may be in line to make his first start for the club in Monday night’s match up, the resurgent Gunners will be coming up against a Liverpool team whose only focus will be 3 points.
Liverpool will approach this game in the same way that they approach most games, despite those recent defeats against their opponents. In fact those recent defeats may only serve to motivate Klopp’s men even further to right the wrongs of the previous Premier League encounter between the two clubs.
It remains to be seen however how Arteta will approach this game, knowing that possession will be surrendered for large parts of the match to their illustrious opponents, but also comforted by the fact that in Pierre-Emirick Aubameyang, they have one of the league’s in form strikers.
Aubameyang’s pace will be a constant threat to the Merseysiders back 4, especially if he seeks to exploit the space usually vacated by Trent Alexander-Arnold’s forward forages, a tactic Lampard tried to deploy last week.
The pace of Werner was utilised out on the left of a Chelsea front 3 as opposed to his more familiar central striker role, but Liverpool seemed to negate that threat through a combination of defensive midfield cover in the shape of Jordan Henderson and then Thiago, following the spaniard debutant’s half-time introduction for the injured Liverpool captain.
The defensive masterclass of Fabinho who was drafted into the back four to address the injuries to Joel Matip and Joe Gomez also played a huge part, with his ability to nick the ball ahead of his opponents and engage them before they get into their stride proving effective.
Monday night will be a thorough test of Arteta’s credentials to see whether he really does have the combination to unlock the Liverpool defence once again whilst sterilising an attack that usually scores when they want at Anfield.
Klopp on the other hand will be looking to put paid to another potential contender to his throne whilst announcing that his Premier League Champions will not be relinquishing possession of that title without a Battle Royale.