EPL: Arsenal manager Unai Emery’s concession that his side “don’t want to play against Liverpool ever” was hardly the rallying cry of a confident man leading his side to Anfield on Saturday.
But the Spaniard will have a much better grasp of what the Gunners are capable of achieving this season on the journey back home.
Early summer scepticism around the Emirates after missing out on Champions League football for a third consecutive season and fans’ discontent with the level of investment provided by owner Stan Kroenke, has evaporated thanks to a fruitful end to the transfer window and two wins to start the Premier League season.
Emery has more firepower at his disposal with club-record £72 million ($87 million) signing Nicolas Pepe joining Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in attack.
On loan Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos showed his class with both assists in last weekend’s 2-1 win over Newcastle, while David Luiz’s switch across London in the final hours of the window from Chelsea provides much-needed cover at centre-back.
Arsenal’s defence should also improve in the coming months with the return of new £25 million left-back Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding from injury.
However, they will not be fit in time to try and stop the European champions inflicting another rout on Emery’s men this weekend.
In Arsenal’s last two visits to Anfield in the EPL, the visitors have been humiliated 4-0 and 5-1.
“When we play against them it is a big challenge to show how we can be,” added Emery. “That is really our challenge, a really good test. Really our target is to reduce the distance to Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea.”
– Arsenal ‘stronger’ –
Challenging Liverpool or reigning champions Manchester City for the EPL title is not yet expected of Emery, but a return to the Champions League via a top-four finish is the minimum requirement after being backed in the transfer market.
“We know what we need to do; we know there are squads ahead of us that are very strong,” Arsenal director Josh Kroenke, told the BBC this week.
“We’ve come back with a stronger squad than we finished with in May in Baku (after the Europa League final) and I’m excited to see what this group can do.
“They’re ready to get to work and they know what they need to do on behalf of all of us.” Early signs are that Arsenal are a work in progress. Two victories have been ground out against meagre opposition in Newcastle and Burnley by the odd goal thanks to Aubameyang’s prowess.
Emery could name the Gabon striker, Lacazette and Pepe in his starting line-up together for the first time at Anfield, after bedding Pepe in slowly following his participation at the Africa Cup of Nations this summer. That attack has the potential to cause Liverpool huge problems, particularly with Jurgen Klopp’s men also struggling at the back despite winning their opening two Premier League games.
Liverpool have yet to keep a clean sheet in four games this season against Manchester City in the Community Shield, Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup and Norwich and Southampton in the league.
They faced 26 shots against Norwich and Southampton alone, whilst Chelsea had 20 attempts on goal, more than Liverpool faced in any match last season.
Injury to first-choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker has caused disruption with his understudy Adrian at fault for Southampton’s goal last weekend.
And a higher defensive line has been blamed for opening up a defence that kept 20 Premier League clean sheets last season. “When I say Liverpool have got away with it, the quality they’ve played against hasn’t been top class,” former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports. “The quality Arsenal have, if Liverpool get caught in those positions and don’t run back, they’re going to have major problems.”
Given Arsenal’s propensity to concede at Anfield, attack may be the best form of defence.