Opposition Closeup – Arsenal, Lineups and the Gooners to Watch!
Welcome everyone to the third (league) game of the season. Farrell and I will look at Unai Emery’s Arsenal, who come to Anfield for the first time this season. A game in which Liverpool fans will be hoping for another goal glutz from the Reds. A certain Bobby Firmino’s hat-trick in this fixture last season certainly leaves a sweet feeling, doesn’t it?
Players to Watch: Dani Ceballos, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Ceballos had an unimpressive cameo in Arsenal’s first league game against Newcastle but largely made up for it with his controlling midfield performance against Burnley, delivering daring runs in the centre of the park. His corner led to Arsenal’s opener and his recovery of the ball in the second half gave Aubameyang the opportunity to put the Gunners on top once again and seal the three points.
With such a performance against Burnley, Emery may already be tempted to inquire about a permanent transfer from Real Madrid.
Given the recent weak performances from midfield, the Reds will need to keep a close eye on the Spaniard to ensure he doesn’t run the game for Arsenal.
With 34 goals in 51 Premier League games, so far, Aubameyang is one of the league’s most efficient forwards.
Having scored both winners against Burnley and Newcastle to kick start Arsenal’s 100% start, the Gabonese striker shows no signs of halting the form that saw him claim joint-top scorer last term, alongside Liverpool forwards Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah.
Other Players to Note
It is worth mentioning former Liverpool target, Nicolas Pépé, who broke Arsenal’s transfer record at £72 million, and represents the club’s serious intent to break back into the top four.
A pacy forward who can play on both wings, the Ivorian is an exciting purchase for the Gooners. Though he has yet to make his mark on the league, with only a few substitute appearances to his name, one would expect it to be a matter of time before he shines in the biggest league in the world.
Following a visit to the South Coast, a game in which the Reds largely controlled up until a moment of madness from Adrian reduced the deficit, Liverpool will vie for pole position with fellow league leaders, Arsenal.
With the London club having made a swathe of transfers to not only address defensive concerns but also bolster an already impressive forward line-up, it may be arguably presumptuous to expect another 5-goal drubbing, as occurred in the Gunners’ last visit to Anfield.
WHERE ARE ARSENAL NOW?
With two closely fought wins against Newcastle and Burnley, Arsenal will arrive at L4 having matched Liverpool’s 100% record in the league. Though for both clubs, this match-up will represent the first proper test of the season, a point Unai Emery was keen to highlight in his pre-match presser on Thursday.
“That is really our challenge, a really good test. For the supporters, for all of us, going there with six points is good.
“Really our target is to reduce the distance to Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea.
“When we play against them it is a big challenge to show how we can be. [Saturday] is going to be a very good match.”
In signing David Luiz and Kieran Tierney – with William Saliba set to join after his season-long loan at St. Étienne – Emery has directly addressed Arsenal’s glaring defensive frailty, with Nacho Monreal an ageing full-back at 33 and Laurent Koscielny having moved on to Bordeaux.
Arsenal currently occupy second place in the Premier League (behind Liverpool on goal difference) with six points in two games.
Given the last meeting between these two sides, one may be inclined to advise a more cautious approach. However, club hero Charlie Nicholas has petitioned for a more ambitious tactical setup from his former side.
“I think Arsenal should play a back four with two protectors in front. I don’t want Granit Xhaka in the team, I would prefer Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi.
“Then I would want Alexandre Lacazette through the middle and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe to provide pace on the counter and make things happen, with Dani Ceballos just behind them.
“I’d have that line-up to give Arsenal a back six and then a front four that could cause Liverpool problems on the counter-attack.”
With Liverpool still getting to grips with a higher defensive line than that which was utilised last term, Emery would perhaps be wise to test Liverpool’s fragile offside trap.
That being said, with Tierney sidelined till October and David Luiz still adjusting to Arsenal’s back-line, it is a considerable risk to take against one of the most deadly attacking sides in Europe. Especially without a full-strength starting line-up to call on.
Nonetheless, given Liverpool’s intimidating record at home (41 games unbeaten), Emery would arguably have very little to lose in pursuing more aggressive tactics away in Merseyside.
A midfield three of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pépé and Dani Ceballos – who impressed in the Gunners’ 2-1 victory against Burnley – certainly sounds more formidable than the last midfield lineup fielded against Jürgen Klopp’s men. Given the German’s tactical change has made life more difficult for Liverpool’s midfield in the club’s first few competitive matches, it is another potential weakness to exploit next to the Reds’ shaky high-line.
Arsenal XI – 4-2-3-1