Arsenal and Liverpool’s Premier League clash this Saturday has all the makings of a goal-filled classic. This fixture tends to average just shy of three goals per match but the last five alone have produced a staggering 27, with Liverpool scoring at least thrice in all of those.
Unai Emery will no doubt have to arrest that recent porousness to ensure Jurgen Klopp’s side don’t surge to another high scoring tally, but where exactly will this game be lost and won? Football FanCast take a look at four key factors…
It’s no secret that Mesut Ozil is Arsenal’s lynchpin and a stunning performance against Leicester City last month showed how destructive a force the World Cup winner can be, even if the subsequent display of anonymity against Crystal Palace represented the other end of the Ozil spectrum in equal measure.
If Liverpool allow him time and room to get into the game then Arsenal will create chances, whether that’s on the counter-attack or while holding onto possession, and with Jordan Henderson injured it looks as though Fabinho will be tasked with enforcing Liverpool’s midfield.
It represents a big test for the Brazilian who has surprisingly struggled to hold down a regular berth in the starting XI since moving to Anfield. but one a prior spell at Monaco suggests he’s more than capable of conquering. And while Arsenal are by no means a one-man band, ensuring a quiet afternoon for their chief playmaker will certainly put Liverpool on the right path to victory.
First halves have been a completely different experience for Arsenal and Liverpool this season, as represented by the statistics. Whereas the Reds have thus far conceded just one goal in the first hour of Premier League action, Arsenal are actually yet to enjoy a lead at the interval, managing only six first half goals from a total of 24 and conceding eight times in the opening 45.
Liverpool, meanwhile, have started games strongly enough to be leading eight times upon heading back into the dressing room, only losing at half-time in one of the remaining two games. With 12 first half goals to boot all the signs suggest a predictably strong Liverpool start will leave an Arsenal team that begin games poorly facing too much of an uphill climb to get back into the game – especially considering the Reds have conceded just four Premier League goals all season.
But there’s always a flip-side and even if Liverpool do storm to an early lead, Arsenal will remain confident that they can stage a comeback.
Arsenal haven’t lost in eight Premier League games but their last defeat is of particular significance because it marks the last time Emery’s side took on high-quality opposition. In fact, Arsenal have lost both of their encounters with fellow big six sides so far this season and those defeats shared a common theme – the opposition left-back running rampant to cause all kinds of problems in the final third.
Andrew Robertson – who Transfermarkt value at £31.5million – belongs to the same bracket as Marcos Alonso and Benjamin Mendy, so it’s very much a question of whether Emery’s learned from those games and adjusted his tactics accordingly. In those encounters, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil just didn’t offer adequate protection on the right-hand side, and the issue could be even further exacerbated this time around with so many Arsenal full-backs doubt for Saturday’s clash.
In fact, both wide defenders will be put under pressure should Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continue in his left wing role this weekend in a bid to shoehorn the Gabon goalscorer in the same starting XI as Alexandre Lacazette. Trent Alexander-Arnold likes to get forward as well, so not only will Arsenal’s full-backs need to contend with two incredibly dynamic and potent wingers but also the No.2s and No3s bombing alongside them on the overlap.
Perhaps due to his contract situation, Aaron Ramsey’s struggled to establish a role for himself in Emery’s new-look Arsenal and after playing all ninety minutes against Blackpool in midweek, he looks more than likely to start on the bench this weekend. But the impact the Welshman can have, especially in an open game like this, shouldn’t be forgotten. He came off the bench to score one of the goals of the season against Fulham and in nine career appearances vs Liverpool the offensive-minded midfielder has bagged two strikes and three assists – Emery certainly won’t hesitate bringing him on in search of a late goal.
Xherdan Shaqiri, meanwhile, showed only last weekend how important he’ll be for Liverpool from the bench this season, scoring as a substitute against Cardiff City to put the game beyond doubt in an eventual 4-1 win. Klopp is expected to revert back to his usual 4-3-3 setup this weekend after using 4-2-3-1 last time out, but if Liverpool are chasing down a lead the Switzerland international is the key man in changing the shape of the midfield and putting that Plan B into effect. He’s starting to develop a real partnership with Mohamed Salah too.