Mikel Arteta's new-look Arsenal face tough test as they look to fix poor record against Liverpool at Anfield - Opinion
An unlikely win for the in-form Gunners will see them jump above Jurgen Klopp's side in the Premier League table but as Ibrahim Mustapha explores, the threat of Liverpool’s forward line – in particular, the seemingly unstoppable Mohamed Salah - is a very different prospect to the likes of Burnley and Watford.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta during a training session at London Colney on October 25, 2021 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
When Arsenal arrived at Anfield on February 8 2014, the Gunners were unbeaten in their previous six league trips to the red half of Merseyside, winning three.
Sitting two points clear at the top of the Premier League table at the time, Arsene Wenger’s side as it was, had also won six of their last seven league matches.
Few were to anticipate what followed as Arsenal were ripped to shreds in an unforgettable opening 20 minutes in which Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool scored four times - and could easily have had more - in an eventual 5-1 humbling that saw the Gunners surrender first place and slip down the table, eventually just scraping fourth while their opponents went on to cruelly miss out on the title to Manchester City by just two points.
Since that day, even though Arsenal finished above Liverpool the next two seasons and won four FA Cups since, the Reds have been on an upward trajectory with a Champions League and Premier League win under Rodgers’ replacement Jurgen Klopp.
While Liverpool are among the favourites to win either or both again this season, Arsenal have floundered in recent years, firing Wenger and his replacement Unai Emery and, after slipping out of the Champions League, are currently are without any form of European football for the first time in 25 years.
The two teams renew acquaintances at Anfield this week with Arsenal’s league scores there since that infamous 2014 humiliation reading: 2-2, 3-3, 1-3, 0-4, 1-5, 1-3, 1-3 as Liverpool tend to show very little mercy to their rivals on home soil.
Few would look beyond another comfortable win for Klopp’s team to make it six in a row and eight unbeaten but Mikel Arteta’s new-look Gunners will be hoping they can spring something of a surprise to finally end this sequence.
Arsenal actually head into the game unbeaten in 10 in all competitions, which is a respectable recovery following the disastrous start to their league campaign.
In fact, the Gunners will be just two points behind their opponents at the start of play and should they pull off the unthinkable, will leap above Klopp’s side into the top four.
Martin Skrtel of Liverpool celebrates his first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on February 8, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Image credit: Getty Images
After a big summer spend as he tries to claw the north Londoners back up towards competing for top honours alongside the Reds, Arteta has recently found something of a consistent formula with his team selection and formation, opting for a fluid 4-4-1-1 set up and seemingly settled backline that has kept five clean sheets so far this term.
Of course, the threat of Liverpool’s forward line – in particular, the seemingly unstoppable Mohamed Salah - is a very different prospect to the likes of Burnley and Watford but the form of the improving centre back partnership of Gabriel and Benjamin White provides every reason for encouragement.
The only question mark defensively is whether Arteta starts the returning Kieran Tierney at left back or continue with the raw but nonetheless impressive Nuno Tavares – the threat of Trent Alexander-Arnold will surely be a factor in his decision.
In midfield, whoever makes the cut from Thomas Partey, Sambi Lokonga and Ainsley Maitland-Niles is going to have their work cut out against the Reds midfield, although with the fitness status' of Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita currently unclear, Liverpool may well have their own concerns.
Arteta will be hoping the form of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe will continue, especially with both on the scoresheet for England during the international break – the latter also has three goals in his last three league matches.
Arsenal will have noted that Liverpool’s defence has not been as impenetrable as it was in previous years and the likes of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will do well to look at the weaknesses exploited by West Ham, Brighton and Brentford recently.
Klopp and Arteta go head to head once again
Image credit: Getty Images
Harking back to that 5-1 thrashing in 2014, in which incidentally, it was Arteta who scored Arsenal’s consolation goal from the penalty spot, the now-Arsenal boss will be well aware of how a fast Liverpool start killed his team that day.
Recently, it has been the Gunners who have been starting matches at high-speed to nullify opponents and if they can do the same against the 2020 league champions, their chances of coming away with something will be greatly increased.
Liverpool will of course remain big favourites and will want to show that the setback against West Ham was merely a small bump in the road as they chase down Chelsea and Manchester City.
For Arteta, the match will be another chance to test himself against one of the best in the business and see what stage his team are at in their development.
After their recent good run, Liverpool away is the toughest challenge they could ask for and the outcome of the game should provide a notable insight into Arsenal’s current progress.