The usual five talking points ahead of today’s game away to Liverpool
Does Pepe start?
Nicholas Pepe has been phased in so far, coming off the bench to replace Reiss Nelson in the two matches played up to now. Notably though, he came on at half time against Burnley last week. The club record signing, he was bought to close the gap that has developed between Arsenal and the league leaders in recent seasons. In fairness to Nelson, he hasn’t pulled up too many trees so far, so it would be a surprise if Pepe didn’t get the nod.
Defend as a team
If Emery retains his 4-2-1-3 formation, whether Pepe starts or not, the wide players are going to have to track back to cover Liverpool’s marauding full-backs. Both Robertson and Alexander-Arnold create chances from wide. Arsenal need to be switched on today or they will be punished.
Of course, one cannot rule out a more defensive formation, with an extra defender – presumably Calum Chambers – being dropped into the centre of the backline. This would involve the sacrifice of a forward, and given Lacazette’s propensity to battle, then you’d imagine it would be Nelson or Pepe. The question then is who deals with the danger from wide? Arsenal will be imbalanced given that both Mane and Salah come in from the wings, and the wing backs will be overloaded given what we know about Liverpool’s full backs as outlined just now. Their best chance is matching Jurgen Klopp’s side man for man – I don’t see a 5 – 2 – 1 – 2 working for this game. But of course, with Unai, who knows?
Based on his outstanding display last weekend, surely Dani Ceballos will retain his place as the attacking member of the midfield trio. So that leaves two positions to fill, with Xhaka, Torreira, Guendouzi and Joe Willock in contention. Xhaka seems to be Emery’s love-child, so will surely return to the starting eleven assuming he is fit again. If Torreira is considered match fit, my guess is that he will be picked, but he’s seen so little playing time, I can’t see Emery thinking he is. I reckon Willock will be dropped and Guendouzi will get the nod.
The Ozil Question
Unless a deal is done to sell or loan the number 10, Ozil’s next start in an Arsenal shirt will surely be in the first Europa League game of the campaign. But will he make the bench at Liverpool? If the States for the 2020 season is his most likely destination, when would that deal need to take place? Presumably Washington DC don’t want to be paying for the player until they get him in for pre-season which will be well into next year. That would mean Arsenal might as well use the player until then given they are paying him. Of course what we don’t know is whether or not Don Raul is working some magic to offload him to a European club before the deadline for sales in early September. If there is any hope of that, we won’t be seeing Ozil in an Arsenal shirt today.
Give me a draw now and I’d bite your hand off. This is one of Arsenal’s two most difficult fixtures out of the 38 in their Premier League schedule. The absolute minimum we can ask is that the players make it a competitive game, unlike last season’s 5-1 defeat in the corresponding fixture. Realistically, we cannot expect defensive miracles, but if Liverpool can be restricted to two goals, then given the potential attacking threat of Emery’s side, there is the chance of taking a point, and maybe even three. Arsenal have pulled off some great results at Anfield in the past, but it’s been a while since the last one. A good result today would be a huge boost to the optimism about the season ahead. A defeat would be no great surprise. But even if Arsenal do leave the north west pointless, let us hope the manner of their defeat at least gives us some kind of hope that a corner has been turned.