Preview: Arsenal take on Liverpool as Gunners eye top spot

Who: Arsenal vs Liverpool
Where: Emirates Stadium, London, UK
Time: 4:30pm (15:30 GMT)

When Liverpool last visited Emirates Stadium for a league game, they were 15 points clear of Arsenal and pushing for a historic quadruple.

A lot has changed in the seven months that followed that game last season.

The Gunners enter Sunday’s match 11 points clear of Liverpool, knowing that a win will take them back to the top of the table.

Following a turbulent start to the season, Liverpool currently sit 10th with just two wins from their last five matches.

The two clubs are on opposite ends of their evolution journeys. While Jürgen Klopp’s bandwagon appears to have hit a dead-end after six years, Arsenal has turned a corner under Mikel Arteta and his young squad appear to be on the precipice of restoring glory to Islington.

Arsenal’s resurgence under Arteta is reminiscent of Klopp’s early years at Liverpool: Exciting additions who hit the ground running, players returning from the brink to become important cogs and the re-awakening of a fanbase that had become disillusioned with the club.

The matchup of two clubs that are run on the same philosophy promises to be fascinating.

Establishing title credentials

Arsenal have won seven out of their opening eight games. But there is still some hesitation to dub the team title contenders.

The club’s tendency to crumble at crunch time – evident in the manner they acceded fourth place to Tottenham last season – raises doubts over their ability to sustain the charge.

Last week, Aaron Ramsdale spoke about how teammates have “a fire burning inside” because of the previous season’s debacle.

It’s still early days but this fire seems to have sparked a newfound solidity in Arsenal.

The additions of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City have added steel to Arsenal’s soft underbelly. While their performances towards the start of the season were put down to weak opposition, the win over Tottenham last week strengthened their credibility as contenders.

Defeating Liverpool would cement this tag.

Liverpool have had Arsenal’s number in the past

Liverpool are out of form but have history on their side.

The last time Arsenal defeated them in the league was in July 2020, by which point the Reds had already wrapped up the title in the COVID-enforced extended season.

Prior to that, Arsenal’s last win had come in April 2015.

In all, the two sides have met 60 times in the league, with Liverpool winning 25 against Arsenal’s 16.

Under Klopp, Liverpool has scored three or more goals against the Gunners on a staggering 11 occasions.

While Liverpool’s defence has looked shaky this season, it can draw confidence from the fact that the Gunners have failed to score against them in their last six encounters in all competitions.

The battle of the centre-backs

Since his move to Liverpool in 2018, Virgil Van Dijk has firmly established himself as the best defender in the league.

But he now finds that position under threat. His rival for the crown is the 21-year-old French centre-back, William Saliba.

Van Dijk’s faltering start to the season has coincided with Saliba’s imperious start to life in the Premier League. The cocktail of aggression and assuredness at the back has already made him a fan favourite at the Emirates.

Van Dijk has looked well short of the high standards he’s set at Liverpool. The Dutchman is the backbone of this Liverpool side and his weakness at the back this season has led to the team’s fragility.

Jesus must have closely studied the manner in which Brighton’s Leandro Trossard repeatedly ghosted past the Dutchman last week at Anfield.

Klopp’s selection headaches up front

Klopp swapped his usual 4-3-3 in the midweek Champions League game against Rangers for a 4-2-3-1, with Darwin Nunez playing in front of an attacking line featuring Mohammed Salah, Diego Jota and Luis Diaz.

Against much stronger opposition, it remains to be seen if Klopp continues with this formation.

There is a decision to be made on personnel too, with Nunez and Roberto Firmino vying for the spot up top. While Nunez has had a slow start to life at Liverpool, he looked sharp against Rangers and could be a tormenting presence for the Arsenal backline.

Firmino is Liverpool’s top scorer this season and the subtlety of his movement could allow him to slip between Arsenal’s imposing centre-backs. The Brazilian loves playing the Gunners and if he scores today, he’ll become the top scorer in the history of this fixture.

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