Liverpool may have had the upper hand in recent times but Arsenal’s midfield could prove key, writes Stephen Tudor.
Should Arsenal recall recent meetings with Liverpool at Anfield ahead of their trip to Merseyside this weekend, they will find scant grounds for optimism beyond progress via penalties in cup competitions.
The Gunners last won in the Premier League at Anfield way back in 2012 and included in those eight games since has been a good few thrashings. They’ve lost 5-1 twice. They were defeated 4-0 in 2017 when Jurgen Klopp’s exacting mandate was beginning to take shape. Indeed, under Klopp, Liverpool have averaged three goals a game against Arsenal at home.
At least Roberto Firmino is unavailable for their latest encounter. The Brazilian, who is hardly known for his prolificacy – or certainly when compared to the lethal finishers either side of him – has put eight in 13 past Arsenal in recent years. That’s three more than against any other side. This Saturday, the forward is absent due to a hamstring problem.
Balancing this out is the probability of Diogo Jota starting instead. Jota has notched three in his two previous appearances in this fixture while Sadio Mane has fired seven in 16. It’s hardly a surprise to discover that Mo Salah has ran riot at Arsenal’s expense either, scoring seven in 11.
It may sound like a simplistic and broad statement but it’s true nonetheless: Liverpool strikers just love playing against the Gunners.
Mo Salah is +410 to score two or more goals this Saturday, a feat he has already managed on three occasions this campaign.
If Arsenal’s track record at Anfield should be avoided at all costs as a motivational tool, Mikel Arteta would also be wise to ignore his team’s extended habit of dropping points after international breaks. Arsenal have only won once in their last eight games after returning from a brief hiatus, with the most comprehensive loss at the hands of Liverpool last March. Their forthcoming opponents by way of comparison, last lost following an international break all the way back in 2017. In their most recent four games returning to action their aggregate scoreline is 14-0.
Liverpool v Arsenal
— supermane10 (@supermanelfc) November 15, 2021
Liverpool have also only failed to score once past Arsenal in their last 15 league clashes and it’s hard not to surmise that Ben White and company will have their work cut out for this one. Or that Aaron Ramsdale will immediately be hauled back down to earth after his England high this week.
Still, there are plenty of positives for the visitors to focus on, as long as they bypass the big picture and look only inward.
At the start of this campaign the narrative at the Emirates was solely and forcibly doom and gloom following three opening defeats that brought no goals and only seven attempts on target. After a disappointing eighth place finish last term, Arteta’s position appeared to be vulnerable, his ‘project’ undeniably foundering.
From that nadir however, changes have been successfully implemented and Arsenal are much improved. There is a better balance to the team these days, with less reliance on Kieran Tierney down the left, a reliance that made them painfully predictable. At the back Gabriel and White have been solid and this is evidenced by eight clean sheets in 14 this season across all competitions. Arteta too has practiced what he’s preached after insisting back in August that his players show a ‘willingness to change the situation’. His in-game management is more pro-active, and substitutions are less like-for-like. As Arsenal develop their manager is growing with them.
Aaron Ramsdale has won the Arsenal October player of the month award.
🔘 4 games
🔘 17 saves
🔘 85% save percentage
🔘 3 goals conceded
🔘 2 clean sheets
— Connor Humm (@TikiTakaConnor) November 10, 2021
Emile Smith-Rowe meanwhile is rightfully grabbing the lion’s share of the plaudits right now after scoring three in three, but special mentions should go to Martin Odegaard and right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu for the attributes they offer, traits that their team wholly lacked. Because of all the above, the Gunners head to Anfield unbeaten in eight league games.
Nine of Arsenal’s 13 league goals this term have arrived in the first period. They are +450 to be leading at half-time.
Liverpool’s ‘situation’ is different; more complicated. They have largely been brilliant so far in 2021/22 but they have also conceded 2+ goals four times in their last six matches and with Virgil Van Dijk back bolstering the defence that’s a surprise as much as a concern.
To identify why these regular breaches are occurring – and undermining a ferocious attacking threat up front that has seen Liverpool take on 215 shots this term, 29% more than Arsenal – it’s perhaps too easy to place blame on the back four, or to be the thousandth outlet to highlight that Trent Alexander-Arnold routinely leaves a chasm of space behind him when he marauds forward.
Simply put, the Reds are desperately missing the muscular presence of Gini Wijnaldum, and the protection he afforded his defenders. And with Jordan Henderson a doubt for Saturday, along with a plethora of other midfielders either 50/50 or coming back from injuries, that is a genuine worry for the hosts for a fixture they have gotten used to winning in recent times.