Arsenal and Liverpool face off this weekend in a mouth-watering clash at The Emirates. It’s a fixture that doesn’t disappoint with only two 0-0 scorelines throughout its history in the league.
In recent times, Arsenal fans have dreaded this fixture. Whether it’s Luis Suarez or Roberto Firmino, Liverpool’s attackers have certainly enjoyed this fixture but is that era of dominance over the gunners coming to an end?
Liverpool come into this game 11 points behind the league leaders despite being only eight games into the season. Their midweek win against Rangers gave them a huge boost ahead of a crucial game. The groans were getting louder, previously flawless Trent Alexander- Arnold and Virgil van Dijk are now heavily under the microscope. Rival fans can’t wait for the next Trent mistake while the media are drawing their knives out already.
Jurgen Klopp has built his success at Liverpool around pressing. They were famed for chocking teams under their press. Heavy metal football. Their midfield was the engine. No matter who they faced, you always knew Liverpool would outrun their opposition. When teams decided to play deep then you had the crossing abilities of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The structure worked perfectly but are we starting to see some cracks in the system?
Roberto De Zerbi took his Brighton & Hove Albion side to Anfield last weekend and should have wrapped up the game in the first half. Not only did his side comfortably play out from the back, they found it even easier in midfield not to mention in the final third. Liverpool did press high but once Brighton played through the first press then the spaces opened up. This has been the feature of Liverpool’s play this season. Teams are now comfortably playing through their press as well as their midfield and creating chances against them while Liverpool at times are struggling to convert their own.
Klopp switched to a 4-2-3-1 against Rangers, which was more of a 4-2-4 when pressing. It paid off as Liverpool were able to stop Rangers from playing through their midfield which had become the norm for teams to do. Arsenal are certainly a much better side and it will be interesting to see if Klopp persists with this set up. What is clear is that Arsenal come into this game as clear favourites.
Arsenal, on the other hand are flying. The only blemish to an almost perfect record is the 3-2 loss against United. Mikel Arteta finally has a side that is expressing how he wants football to be played. Arsenal I think would be getting much more recognition for the type of football they are playing were it not for the alien called Erling Haaland.
There has been evidence that this Arsenal side is different to previous ones. They respond to setbacks much better than they used to, whether it’s Gabriel Magalhães making up for gifting Alexander Mitrovic a goal or William Saliba getting encouragement from the crowd after scoring an own goal against Leicester City. There’s a collective feeling of unity and everyone is pulling in the same direction. The Emirates is getting louder and louder with each passing week.
Last season, Mikel Arteta stressed the importance of having versatility in the squad. We’re now getting to see what he meant. Arsenal now has several players who can play multiple positions on the pitch, thus increasing the number of ways in which the team can play. This has brought a new dimension to this team, making them more unpredictable.
The Liverpool manager has also been impressed with Arsenal’s quartet of attacking players. In his pre-match press conference he said:
All my respect, wow. Really, really good job. Martinelli has become exactly the player I expected. [Martin] Odegaard, I spoke to when he was 15 and the whole world wanted him. He became the player everyone expected. [Bukayo] Saka, wow, incredible.
Klopp isn’t hiding his admiration for the job Mikel Arteta is doing but do not mistake his nice words for a concession.
Mikel Arteta will know that a victory here will be unlike any other victory he’s had as Arsenal manager. It’s more than three points at stake. A win would have a huge psychological impact on his young side and would get people noticing something special is building there.
Tactically, besides individual quality, the game will come down to how the two sides deal with each other’s strengths. Can Liverpool press Arsenal and disrupt their build up forcing them to go long like they did last season? Or can Arsenal dominate Liverpool like they have done to every opponent they’ve faced this season? Whoever answers these two questions will emerge victorious on Sunday.
The two teams have a lot in common but they have never really developed a rivalry. This can maybe be attributed to the fact that they have never been in their prime at the same time. One’s rise coincides with another’s downturn. As a consequence, we’ve been treated to some spectacular matches throughout the years as it’s usually more about the game than anything else…but could this be changing?
The gap between the two sides is quickly closing and may already be changing in trajectory come Monday morning. Arsenal have never been more ready for Liverpool. Overcoming this mental barrier against a foe who has tormented them for years may be the final step in Mikel Arteta’s “process”. It’s going to be a great watch.