Two of the top four in the Premier League will face off this evening when Arsenal welcome Liverpool to the Emirates Stadium. Unai Emery’s Gunners have come a long way since losing their first two Premier League games of the season and they face a major test of their credentials with the visit of unbeaten Liverpool. Just two places and four points separate the two teams going into the weekend, with both enjoying impressive unbeaten streaks which they will be putting on the line
Things have been going very well for Unai Emery at Arsenal so far, but today’s visit of Liverpool will be a good marker of exactly where the Gunners are in their post –Arsene Wenger transition.
Most fans would have taken their current position at this stage of the season, sitting fourth in the table and only four points off the top two following back-to-back finishes outside the Champions League places.
Confidence both in the team and in the stands has certainly grown in recent months, with Arsenal unbeaten in their last 13 matches across all competitions and winning 12 of those.
It is an impressive record regardless of the opposition, but question marks still remain over whether the Gunners are genuine top-four or even title contenders considering they have not been tested against one of their direct rivals since matchday two of the season.
At that stage things looked a lot more concerning, with Arsenal losing at home to Manchester City and then going down 3-2 at the hands of Chelsea the following weekend.
Liverpool are the only other team currently above them in the table, and Emery will know that his side need a big result against a big team to truly convince their fans that they are a force to be reckoned with once again.
Whether that occurs this weekend remains to be seen, but there are more reasons for trepidation than optimism ahead of this match, despite the recent run of results.
The Gunners have conceded more goals than any other team in the top seven of the table, and there are lingering concerns that they have got off lightly by only letting in 13 from their 10 matches so far. A team with the attacking talents of Liverpool seem well equipped to expose some of the flaws which have perhaps previously gone unpunished.
Even Wednesday’s EFL Cup win over League One side, Blackpool was not straightforward, although they held on with 10 men to set up a North London derby quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur.
Last weekend, a pair of Crystal Palace penalties saw Arsenal’s 11-match winning streak across all competitions finally ended at Selhurst Park.
Arsenal have won all seven of their home games in all competitions since their opening-day defeat to Manchester City, though, and they have not been beaten by a visiting team other than the Premier League champions since February’s Europa League defeat to Ostersunds.
The visit of Liverpool poses arguably their toughest test since the Manchester City clash, though, and the result today could tell us a lot about how high Arsenal should be aiming this season.
However, only once before in the Premier League era have Liverpool begun a season by going 11 games unbeaten, and victory today will ensure that Jurgen Klopp’s class of 2018-19 surpass the 2002-03 team for their best-ever start to a Premier League campaign.
The Reds may have been unable to match Manchester City in terms of goalscoring so far, but in a reversal of last season their success this term has hitherto been built on a solid defence.
Liverpool have conceded just four goals in their opening 10 games – their lowest ever at this stage of a Premier League season and more than three times fewer than Arsenal have shipped in the same time.
There are signs that the attack is beginning to warm up too, with Liverpool having scored eight goals in their last two games in all competitions after a spell of just three goals and one win in five outings.
Mohamed Salah, in particular, has begun to make a mockery of one-season wonder claims with four goals in his last three games, and he also weighed in with a couple of assists during last weekend’s 4-1 victory over Cardiff City.
It took time for Liverpool to make sure the scoreline reflected their superiority in that match, but having churned out a number of ugly wins already this season, it was a welcome mixture of good performance and a good result for Klopp’s side at Anfield, albeit an expected one.
Liverpool now sit joint-top of the table alongside Manchester City having dropped only four of a possible 30 points this season, and they should arrive in North London well rested given that they were not in EFL Cup action during the week.
A fast start could prove important against an Arsenal side that has not been leading at halftime in any of their 10 Premier League games so far this season, and Liverpool would be the most likely team to provide one. If matches had ended at the 45-minute stage this season, Liverpool would be one point clear at the top whereas Arsenal would be down in 17th place.
Recent matches between these two sides have seen goals galore too, although Liverpool have not been quite as swashbuckling on the road in recent months and have only won one of their last 13 away games by more than a single goal.
However, the Reds have already beaten Spurs and drawn with Chelsea in the capital this season, so an away trip to face another of their direct rivals will certainly not daunt them this weekend.
One thing this fixture has guaranteed in recent years is goals – the last five Premier League meetings have produced 27 in total at an average of 5.4 per game, with Liverpool scoring at least three times in each of those. The Reds have never scored at least three times in six consecutive top-flight games against a single opponent, while no team has ever managed it against Arsenal either.
The Gunners are winless in their last six Premier League clashes with Liverpool since a 4-1 victory in April 2015 – their longest wait for victory against the Merseyside outfit since a run of 12 between 1994 and 2000.
Klopp is also unbeaten in all five of his Premier League games against the Gunners, although Liverpool have won just two of their last 18 away league games against Arsenal and last season were held to a thrilling 3-3 draw including a spell when four goals went in the space of just six minutes.
There should be goals in this one, but Arsenal’s recent form has papered over some cracks in their defence and Liverpool are more than capable of exposing them. The Liverpool front three are beginning to hit their stride – as they did at a similar stage last season – and they could punish a severely weakened Arsenal defence today.