There has been plenty of hype around Arsenal’s revival under Mikel Arteta, but I suspect they will take a heavy fall at Anfield.
Arteta has done some good work since he took over as Arsenal manager last December, and there is no doubt he has improved the players working under him, which is a sign of a good manager.
They beat Manchester City and Chelsea to lift the FA Cup last season and have come out on top in their last two meetings with Liverpool as well, which is a pretty impressive list of scalps for a team that still has big holes in it.
Yet, I suspect their optimism will be burst when they run into Jurgen Klopp’s champions, with Liverpool appearing to be clicking back into top gear as they set out on their defence of the Premier League title they won in such style.
I know Frank Lampard’s side were down to ten men for half of the game and that played a part in the final outcome, but Liverpool were the dominant side before Andreas Christensen was sent-off and they rammed home that superiority in the second half.
Thiago Alcantara was fantastic on his debut and Fabinho was hugely impressive alongside Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the Liverpool defence, so it looks like all bases are now covered for Klopp. He doesn’t need to sign any more players in this summer’s transfer window.
Now comes the task of getting the foot back on the accelerator pedal as there is no doubt that Liverpool lost some momentum after the title was won last season and needed to get it back.
Some of the doubters were questioning whether Liverpool could sustain their incredible levels of consistency for another season, and that may be why the bookies had Manchester City as pre-season favourites for the Premier League title.
Yet, those odds must have been tweaked after the powerful performance at Chelsea, and they will get another chance to send out a message against Arsenal.
We know how Arteta will approach this game, with his counter-attacking tactics familiar to Liverpool, who tend to come up against them every week now.
Teams that take on the champions in a straight battle of attacking football have tended to come out second best, with Manchester City included in a list of teams that have come to Anfield and parked the defensive bus in the last couple of seasons.
Arsenal will do the same tonight, and with their brilliant striker Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang leading the line, they will always have a chance to snatch a goal on the breakaway.
Aubameyang’s goal in the Community Shield game against Liverpool last month was a top-drawer finish, and he has proved himself to be a clinical finisher if you give him half a chance.
Yet, I suspect Liverpool’s players will have a sniff of revenge in their nostrils tonight, as there have not been too many teams that have beaten them twice in quick succession of late.
Arsenal got lucky in the Premier League game at the Emirates Stadium at the back end of last season, as uncharacteristic mistakes from Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk handed the home side a win.
Then, they rode their luck again to come out on top in a penalty shoot-out at Wembley in the Community Shield game against Liverpool. You can be sure Klopp will be telling his players that they can’t allow anyone to beat them three times.
An Arsenal defence featuring David Luiz cannot hold firm against Liverpool’s attacking play for a third successive game, and so long as Klopp’s side score first in this match, I can only see one winner.
The danger has to be that Arsenal will score a breakaway goal that will give them something to hang on to. That is what Liverpool need to guard against, yet I liked what I saw from Liverpool at Chelsea. More of the same should get the job done against Arsenal.
Thiago looked like a Rolls-Royce of a midfielder in his first 45 minutes as a Liverpool player, and it will be fascinating to see how the pieces of Klopp’s midfield jigsaw fall into place around him.
I suspect Thiago will be the first name on the team sheet for all the big games from now on. That means the pressure is on Klopp’s other players to raise their game.
Liverpool’s engine room has done an incredible job as the club has won every trophy available in the last year, so improving on that was always going to be tough.
Yet, they have done that without Thiago – and none of us should be surprised by the opening burst of action we saw from him in the 2-0 win at Chelsea last weekend.
He was a class act at Barcelona and backed that up with seven great years at Bayern Munich, so it said a lot about Liverpool’s standing in the game now that he appeared to be the one pushing to get a move to join Klopp’s team.
Liverpool don’t offer the biggest wages in European football, and Thiago could have got more money by joining Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain, but my old club are the team everyone is talking about. After all, they are led by the best manager in world football.
When the best players in the game are kicking down your door to sign, you know you are doing something right, and Klopp needs to make the most of the platform he has created for himself and his team in the next few years.
Liverpool are re-establishing their aura of invincibility after a few wobbles in recent months, and I expect them to get the job done in typically ruthless fashion against Arsenal.
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