It’s another early-season clash between two of the biggest names in English football, Liverpool and Arsenal. There have been some really fantastic matches between the two sides over the years, although Liverpool have had the better of things in recent seasons, especially within the safe confines of Anfield.
There’s an odd, almost grudging respect between many Liverpool and Arsenal supporters, which makes the match up unique among other “Top 6” rivalries. In preparation for the match, we invited Nathan from fellow SB Nation site The Short Fuse over to TLO Towers discuss all things Arsenal.
The Liverpool Offisde: First of all, admit it: you were happy we beat Spurs in the Champions League Final, right? Friends don’t let Spurs win things.
The Short Fuse: Of course. Liverpool had the support of every Arsenal fan that night. It was quite surprising to see them edge their way that far, but we appreciate the good work you did in keeping them in their major trophy drought.
TLO: We’re still trying to figure out why Moussa Sissoko needed to flag a taxi in the opening seconds of the final. Anyway, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about your transfer window. How would you rate it? Did you cover your areas of need? And how have the new players settled in so far?
TSF: The summer transfer window was very productive and surprising. After the Europa League Final loss, the thought was that Arsenal wouldn’t be able to bring in many players and those that they did would be younger prospects. Fast forward a few months are we’ve seen the signing of Pepe, Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Martinelli, the out-of-the-blue addition of David Luiz from Chelsea (following Laurent Koscielny’s departure), the loan deal for Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid and the purchase of the highly-rated French defender William Saliba, who will join the club next season after staying with Saint-Étienne on loan for 2019/20. The fact that Arsenal spent what they did was a massive step in rebuilding the squad and supporter’s confidence in ownership. There were a lot of big Arsenal names that exited - Ramsey, Koscielny, Cech, Iwobi, Welbeck - that the late summer signings gave the club a much-needed boost and refresh heading into this season. Arsenal did enough to cover their needs for this year, and potentially the future once Saliba joins and if Ceballos can be secured permanently.
TLO: From my view—because of the aforementioned transfer window, and the chance for Emery to continue to build—it looks like Arsenal are in the best position to reclaim their spot in the Top 4 (unluckyyyy Chelsea and United). What are the expectations for this campaign?
TSF: Much like last year, the expectations are that the club return to the Champions League spots. Fourth has to be achieved. Winning the Europa League, the FA Cup or the League Cup would all be welcomed of course, but are not the focus. Once again it looks as though Liverpool and Manchester City will battle for the top two spots, while Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Tottenham scrap for the final two spots. Arsenal have the players to make it happen and they were very close last year. The club improved their points and position from the year before, so the expectation is a continuation of that.
TLO: Unai Emery obviously had huge shoes to fill. What are the perceptions of him as a manager so far, and will the club and fanbase give him the necessary time and support to succeed?
TSF: It was always going to be difficult to follow Wenger. Some fans wanted change, any change. While others started off by disliking Unai Emery, simply because he wasn’t Arsene. Even if his style or choices is different than what many had become used to, there seems to be a willingness to give him time. As you mentioned in your responses to our questions, Klopp knew it would take years to transform Liverpool and Arsenal in a similar position. This past summer the club did a lot to offload players, and wages, and bring in new talent. It will need to happen again for at least one more summer, but I think Emery sees the end of year three next year unless somehow Arsenal completely tank.
TLO: Great, now it’s time for everyone’s favorite hot-button issue at the moment: VAR. Throughout the summer, we heard over and over how Liverpool would suffer because of VAR. And then that flipped on its head as soon as it cost Manchester City some points. So, as an opposition fan, you have to pick one tinfoil hat conspiracy: 1. Liverpool will never win the title because of VAR. 2. VAR was brought in to hand Liverpool the title.
TSF: If forced into one of those, I’ll go with the first. VAR is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve become used to it for the past few years in MLS. It’s far more likely that the new technology decides a call that costs Liverpool points and the title, rather than the Premier League’s very odd attempt and handing them the trophy.
TLO: Unless it’s a handball in the box, eh? Hahahaha! Sorry, just thinking about the Sissoko thing again. Moving on from the past to the future: who do Liverpool need to fear the most from Arsenal on Saturday? And what worries you the most about the upcoming clash?
TSF: While Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is always a threat, I’d say Dani Ceballos after the opening two weeks. He had both assists in the win against Burnley and really looks the part. Especially going to Anfield, playing Ceballos as the 10, knowing he can help defend, will be key. The thing that will worry me, all Arsenal fans, and Unai Emery is the same thing that has worried us for the past few seasons - the defense. Over-committing, failing to get back quickly enough and giving up sloppy goals. Until Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney, and Rob Holding are back and match fit, it’s about limiting chances. Which will be tough against Liverpool at Anfield.
TLO: Salah et al. are not at all excited about the possibility of countering on Arsenal, I assure you. Predicted line-up and final score?
TSF: Leno - Monreal - Luiz - Sokratis - Maitland-Niles - Guendouzi -Torreira - Aubameyang - Ceballos - Pepe - Lacazette
2-1 to Liverpool. A draw will be considered a win for Arsenal.
TLO: I think we can agree with you there! Thanks again for stopping by, and good luck—other than when you face us, of course!
The “reverse fixture” where I answer Nathan’s questions is on The Short Fuse here.