The narrative surrounding Arsenal’s style of play being more fluid than incisive is long-standing and one of football’s most ingrained. And while it certainly isn’t entirely unfounded, to pretend that Arsenal at their best cannot be hyper-direct would be to willfully ignore Aresene Wenger’s ability to poise his men for lethal counterattacking, not to mention eliciting the strengths of his current front man, Olivier Giroud.
“I think everyone who saw the [3-3 draw from last season] saw the difference between this game and all other Arsenal games,” Jürgen replied when asked about Liverpool dealing with Arsenal’s style of play. “In the last few years Arsenal had a more direct style. They have only good football players but at the end they don’t use all of them in each buildup or each offensive movement - it is a myth.
“[Direct play] is definitely a plan and they want to win games. Arsenal is usually a football player team but last time against there was a lot of long balls and always to Olivier Giroud. The second ball was to Özil; they caused us a lot of problems in the game. That was a big threat on that day.”
Klopp, as usual, is not wrong, but one can already imagine the headlines that will be generated across the tabloid media. Wenger is tactically astute and in the business of getting results. Arsenal, like most successful clubs, look to get the ball up the pitch quickly, and playing a direct style against Liverpool (and many other teams) is not above the canny Frenchman, nor should it be.
The myth of Arsenal as some avatar of total football, while not birthed on an exact day, gained significant traction after Barcelona reached the pinnacle of tiki-taka. Upon learning this new word, Punditas tried to use it as often as possible, pigeonholing anything resembling possession based football into an opportunity to use the phrase. Arsenal, possessed of a number of silky footballers, played some neat football in and around the box at the time, and said narrative became entrenched, alternately Arsenal’s saving grace or Achilles heel, depending on how hot the steaming pile of take might be.
Perhaps Klopp was daring Arsene and taking a subtle jab at a club where a vocal minority of fans are discontent and the knives are out. An early strike from Liverpool from an overexposed and / or ponderous Arsenal is what many of us are hoping for in the first ten minutes. Arsenal will be playing at home and expected to attack. In what form - controlled and explosive, or free flowing and expansive - we will find out soon enough.