Here we are two games in and you’d be excused if it wasn’t all on the line for the Gunners this early on. After woeful displays of defending in the two opening matches of the season, they take on one of the leagues title hopefuls with an attack stronger than their other two opponents.
Arsenal have yet to hit any semblance of preparedness for their league campaign. Sure, they came back win a hectic 4-3 match at home versus Leicester. But the display itself was less than impressive, especially from a defensive side.
A week later, Arsene Wenger, went and did his impression of Claudio Ranieri during his time at Chelsea and tinkered with his side, playing the majority of the squad out of position. The result was a 1-0 loss to Stoke that anyone could’ve seen coming.
This Sunday, Arsenal continue the campaign with another road trip to Anfield. Last season saw us lose both matches against Jurgen Klopp’s side. 4-3 on the season opener and then a more emphatic 3-1 loss later in the season at the site of Sunday’s match.
It’s cliché to say this, but with this match, Arsenal must get a result of some kind. They can ill-afford a second loss this early in the season. So much rests on this result that everyone from the manager to the players should be feeling the pressure to come away from the trip with a positive result.
The match sees the likely return of two key cogs who have been unavailable over the first two matches. The first is Laurent Koscielny who through the first two matches was finishing up a suspension garnered from the last match of the season versus Everton. His return will hopefully add some stability to the Arsenal defensive unit that has been missing thus far.
From an attacking perspective, Arsenal should also have Alexis Sanchez to call on as Wenger has confirmed his inclusion into the squad for this weekend. Whether he starts remains to be seen, but given his makeup and desire to play you wouldn’t be surprised to see if he starts.
The worry for Arsenal is less about its attack and more about its defending. In each of the last matches there were individual mistakes rather than systemic that led to goals. Against Stoke, it all started when Xhaka vacated the midfield leaving a gap for Stoke to come through and put pressure on our makeshift back three.
While Koscielny’s inclusion should fix some of those individual errors, the worry still persists. The biggest fear is how does Arsenal’s back three and high line handle Liverpool’s press and speed in attack? If we are going to roll out the back 3 here, then he has to opt for Bellerin and Kolasinac as the wing backs. In addition for their ability on the ball, their defensive ability will be needed against Liverpool’s wingers as they drop into the back line to create a back 5.
Additionally, Arsenal needs to get its midfield right. Xhaka and Ramsey worked fine until Xhaka forgot his duties and then was subsequently taken off last week. Movement through the middle of the pitch, once a hallmark of how Arsenal liked to play has been tepid at best.
Most of that is in part to the absence of a true ball-carrying midfielder, like Santi Cazorla. As I’ve bleated about all last week, we don’t get the best of Mesut Özil, because he is dropping deep to come get the ball and then is forced to take players on. If we had the ability for someone to come get the ball and transition forward, then Özil could occupy the channels and lines between the opposition midfield and defensive lines looking to make those magical incisive passes he is so good at.
Luckily for Arsenal, Liverpool’s defense is as bad as theirs. For all of the pressing and speed up front the team is as shambolic in the back as Arsenal has been. If you’ve watched them, you know that if they score 3 you know they are just as likely to concede 3.
Additionally, they are a that hasn’t had any level of consistent play. They will look like a world class team against certain teams and then suddenly look like mid-table dross the following match. Usually, this is immediately after a stellar performance.
What opponent Arsenal get remains to be seen but it really is lining up to be a match where the defenders should probably just stay on the bench.
TRENDS TO WATCH:
Will Arsenal persist with the back 3 in this match? To close out last season, it afforded them some defensive stability and allowed them to arrest their free fall. However, through the first two matches of the season, the back 3 hasn’t looked as resolute and Wenger has opted to switch to a 4-2-3-1 when chasing the game.
For Liverpool can they continue their fine form against the league’s big teams or will they come off another big win (midweek Champion’s League qualifier) and stutter?
HOW THE MATCH PLAYS OUT:
I am interested in Liverpool’s start in this match. They’ve now played four matches in over two weeks and Klopp is rotating his squad. Their run to the top 4 was predicated on not having to rotate too much because of no European obligations.
Klopp’s way of training tires out his players and his teams typically fade and have to hold on to matches. Should Liverpool come out fast pace, can Arsenal provide enough stability to hold on defensively, ride out the storm and use their fitness and fresher legs to see out the match.
I am looking for Wenger to try and sit deep and hit Liverpool on the counter. The scousers haven’t fared too well when teams have sat deep against them. Regardless of how we play, if we don’t lock things up early and establish some defensive structure, it won’t matter, Liverpool’s attack will be all over us and we’ll be looking at our 2nd loss of the season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez. If the Chilean plays, regardless of his contract situation, he’s still electricity in a bottle and will be the impetus for all Arsenal attacks.
Liverpool. Sadio Mane. When they are without him, they are a different looking team. He is a threat every time he is on the ball.
INJURIES AND SUSPENSIONS:
Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris injury), Chambers (groin)
Liverpool: Lallana (thigh), Coutinho (back), Clyne (hamstring)
Referee: Martin Atkinson (2M 5Y 1R)
Assistants: A Nunn, S Child
Fourth official: C Pawson
MATCH FACTS (Courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Liverpool won both of their Premier League meetings with Arsenal last term. They haven’t won three top-flight matches in a row versus the Gunners since a four-match streak from 1996 to 1998.
- Games between these clubs have produced 17 Premier League goals in the 90th minute or later – more than any other fixture.
- The Gunners had the worst record in games involving the top six last season, claiming nine points and losing five of 10 matches.
- They are winless in their last 12 away league games against the sides which ended in last season’s top six (L7, D5).
- Arsenal have lost eight of their last 13 Premier League away matches (W4, D1) – as many defeats as they suffered in their previous 41 games on the road.
- Petr Cech has conceded 26 goals against Liverpool in the Premier League – against no side has he let in more.
- Alexis Sanchez scored only one goal in eight league appearances against the teams that finished above Arsenal last season.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Arsenal