Arsene Wenger will be relishing the opportunity to test Arsenal’s title ambitions against a Liverpool side who also have a point to prove, writes Camilo Zannoni.
In the last fixture between these two, Arsenal put in a dominant performance that saw Liverpool crumble to a 4-1 defeat, heralding the return of Mesut Özil and brushing away any demons residing from the 5-1 walloping at Anfield in the season prior.
Then, that victory led to a run that saw Arsenal finish third in a scrimmage for Champions League places. Since that duel, Arsenal have had their feet firmly planted on the ground, following a humbling 2-0 defeat at the hands of West Ham United, before putting in a well fought performance against Crystal Palace to earn their first victory of the season.
With all due respect to the Merseysiders, Arsenal, with an eye on the Premiership, should be brushing these opponents aside, especially considering the opportunity to get an early jump on defending champions Chelsea and remain within touching distance of the reinvigorated Manchester City. Liverpool will provide a much sterner test (in theory) than what they’ve faced so far, though, having recruited well in the off-season, and boasting two wins from two games, albeit shakily and with a somewhat toothless attack. But if Arsenal are serious about winning the title, this is a match in which they must make a statement.
Arsenal have been talked up by pundits since the beginning of July as potential title contenders, with Petr Cech representing a signing that strengthened a key element in Arsenal’s spine. You still get the feeling that they’re a player or two away from a Premiership-winning side though. With the window still open – and Wenger rumoured to have a Scrooge McDuck-like fortune available to him – a bit of added depth at defensive midfield, and a marquee up top, would create less doubt about their ability to challenge.
There are the regular rumours of the likes of Karim Benzema, but any genuine indications of more signings are yet to come however, and Wenger will likely field and near unchanged XI to the previous time the sides met. Cech coming in for Ospina is a no-brainer, but other than Walcott coming in at right wing, one cannot see Wenger changing much, specifically in light of his strong stance on stability.
Rodgers, on the other hand, will likely field a greatly changed XI, which signifies in his own right that he is addressing the deficiencies that plagued Liverpool last term. With the Reds still in a rebuilding phase, and with new recruits still adjusting to their new teammates, it will be imperative for Liverpool to master the basics if they are to frustrate Arsenal and attempt to get the most out of this tie. Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana both have injury clouds hanging above them, which could see a first full start for Roberto Firmino in the front three – and possibly a last-minute opportunity for Lucas Leiva to show Rodgers he’s still a valued member of the squad.
Regardless of the personnel, Rodgers getting his tactics right is key. If Liverpool can manage to retain their shape, stay compact in defence, and limit Arsenal’s creative sparks to the routine pattern of vague passes across the mouth of the box, there’s no reason why Liverpool can’t come out of the Emirates with a result, particularly with the likes of Coutinho and Benteke to break with intent.
The equation is simple for Arsenal. A win would get their title tilt back on track, but anything less on their home patch – which was last the site of the toothless capitulation to West Ham – and it could be yet another season of Champions League football but not much more.