Arsenal’s revival under Unai Emery has brought instant excitement and positivity to a club previously suffering in the final years of Arsène Wenger’s reign, despite the FA Cup successes. That positivity will be put to the test when Liverpool visit the Emirates on Saturday evening.
Arsenal’s run of eleven consecutive wins was brought to an end by Crystal Palace last weekend, as two penalties for the home side saw them salvage a 2-2 draw at Selhurst Park. Nevertheless, Emery has restored Arsenal’s famous free-flowing attack, allied to a disciplined and creative midfield.
Yet question marks remain over their defence, which has a similar feel to Liverpool’s backline of more than a year ago. Reinforcements are still required in defence if Arsenal are to seriously challenge for the Premier League title, but a place in the top four and Champions League football is within reach for this season.
Liverpool Looking Good
For Liverpool, they have since moved past the ‘top four with dodgy defence’ stage to being seen as title contenders and now possessing statistically one of the meanest backlines in all of Europe.
Few would have expected Jürgen Klopp’s side to be setting defensive records but the Reds almost set a club record for most clean sheets in a row in the league at Anfield, only for Cardiff City to halt that march.
Nonetheless, Neil Warnock’s side were still dispatched in an impressive 4-1 victory, meaning Liverpool have now scored eight goals in their last two games, and are looking closer to the team that ripped through opposition defences in the first half of 2018.
Mohamed Salah has also picked up his individual form with four goals in his last three matches, seemingly putting his mini goal ‘crisis’ behind him.
Clean Sheet at the Emirates?
Yet Liverpool themselves will also be facing a much tougher test than against Huddersfield Town, Red Star Belgrade and Cardiff. Their record at the Emirates is patchy at best, with only two league victories in twelve years and a hugely frustrating 3-3 draw last season, played only days before the Reds announced the signing of Virgil van Djik from Southampton.
Liverpool’s defence had already begun to show signs of its newfound strength after debacles against Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sevilla but slipped back into old habits against the Gunners. The clash also spelled the end for Simon Mignolet’s future as Liverpool’s number one goalkeeper with his latest error coming against Granit Xhaka’s long-range strike.
Liverpool have already kept seven clean sheets in all competitions this season but would love an eighth at the Emirates, just to prove how far they have come since they last visited in December 2017.
Klopp will weigh up who will start on the right-hand side of his defence, with Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold all in contention and fighting for two places alongside van Djik and Andy Robertson, with Alisson behind the back four.
Regardless of who starts, Liverpool’s defence has become unrecognisable in such a short space of time, becoming a significant strength instead of a wasteful weakness, and will have a much better chance of not conceding a three goals for the second straight year, even if Arsenal’s attack has improved since their last encounter.
Big Six to become Big Three this season?
Beyond the defence, Saturday night presents an opportunity for Liverpool to create some breathing space with Arsenal and Tottenham and match the relentless pace of Manchester City, who continue to keep winning and winning and will inevitably continue on that path against Southampton this weekend.
Liverpool are currently four points clear of Arsenal and five ahead of Tottenham, who lost to the defending champions on Monday night. Liverpool can only take care of their own business, but having made such an impressive start to the season, the Reds will be frustrated to see Manchester City and Chelsea right alongside them, with Arsenal and Tottenham not far behind.
Klopp would have predicted Pep Guardiola’s side to be doing well but with five of the Big Six enjoying fantastic starts to the season – in points at least if not performances – clashes between the elite sides take on extra significance.
A two or three horse race will be tough enough – Liverpool would like to avoid four rivals for the title, and beating Arsenal on Saturday will go a long way to cutting down potential contenders.