The usual five talking points ahead of today’s Premier League away game at Liverpool
Well, there’s only one place to start…
Mesut Ozil did not make the trip to Anfield because, the press informs us, of a knee pain. Ozil trained with the squad yesterday morning, and unfortunately, his reputation has many thinking he is not injured, but has been dropped, or declared himself unfit if he found out he would not be starting the match against Liverpool. Perhaps the injury is genuine, but would ‘knee pain’ have stopped one of the 1970-71 team from taking the pitch? Times change. On the assumption Emery has given up on his number 10, the club have a £350k a week problem on their hands. They would have lost him on a free last summer. Time to cut their losses?
Arsenal’s Invincibles achievement under threat
Halfway through the Premier League season, and Jurgen Klopp’s side have yet to suffer a defeat. Their next two matches are very significant in the light of the idea they might go through the entire campaign undefeated and replicate Arsenal’s achievement of 2003-04. First, they play the club that are the only one to achieve the feat since Victorian times. Granted, Arsenal beating the league leaders at home looks a long shot, but it’s certainly in their interest to not have to rely on anyone else. Next up, Liverpool travel to Man City on the evening of Thursday 3rd January. If Arsenal do not win today, I suspect all Gunners will be rooting for Pep Guardiola’s side in that game. If Liverpool do manage to avoid defeat there, their only other remaining match away to a ‘top six’ side is the visit to Old Trafford in late February. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
A test of Unai Emery’s tactics
Assuming Mesut Ozil was dropped, it does suggest a horses for courses approach in Emery’s tactics for this match. Supply to Liverpool’s front three has to be kept to a minimum, which means every single player pressing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 5-3-2 formation with only Lacazette and Aubameyang as the attacking selections, although this assumes enough fit defenders so that Grant Xhaka is not one of the back three. Emery has faced Liverpool with his Arsenal side once already, so he will have the measure of what to expect. Will his side press high up the pitch, fighting fire with fire, or sit deeper and try to pick Liverpool off on the counter attack? Who’d be a manager?
Late fitness tests for Mustafi, Bellerin and Monreal will determine Emery’s selection. If either of Mustafi or Monreal play, then Xhaka will move forward into midfield. Even with a back three of, for example, Mustafi, Koscielny and Sokratis, Arsenal have looked far from solid this season. Liverpool’s forwards are likely to make more of opportunities than the majority of other Premier League sides. Is anyone actually looking forward to this game?
Klopp years offer perspective
Some fans anticipate immediate progress under Emery, without seeing the bigger picture. I looked back at the eleven that started Jurgen Klopp’s first game as Liverpool manager, back in October 2015. It was: Mignolet – Clyne / Skrtel / Sakho / Moreno – Leiva / Can / Milner – Lallana / Coutinho / Origi. Subs: Kolo Toure / Allen / Ibe / Bogdan / Sinclair / Teixeira / Randall. Of those 18 players, Milner remains a regular in the starting eleven, Lallana comes on from the bench, and aside from Mignolet and Moreno (who have hardly featured this season), I am uncertain any of the others remain at the club. Klopp took his team to a Europa League final in his first (albeit foreshortened) season, however what strikes me is that he was in charge for 30 Premier League matches after taking over from Brendan Rodgers, but Liverpool only finished in 8th place that season. In the following two campaigns, they were fourth, reaching the Champions League final in the second. But to get his team playing to their optimum, there have been a lot of ins and outs. This has not been an overnight process by any means. Gooners may have to be patient.
Sorry people, it’s hide behind the sofa time. The only upside of a heavy defeat is that it should leave no doubt for the decision makers at the club that they need to invest in defensive quality in the January transfer market. The bookies leave us in no doubt that they expect a home win. Liverpool are currently 4/9 on betway88.com and you can get 6/1 there on an Arsenal winI have a scoreline in my head, but I can’t bring myself to say it. Let’s just say that although Arsene has left the building, his legacy lingers on. There will, I imagine, be a minute’s silence for former Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood before the game, and it’ll be downhill from there on. Football, of course, is full of surprises. I just don’t see one in this fixture.