Mikel Arteta’s and Jurgen Klopp’s sides go head to head on Sunday in what is being built up as the team most likely to challenge Manchester City for the Premier League title.
Arsenal are back.
The Gunners’ clash with Liverpool is being viewed as an acid test for Mikel Arteta’s men after a flying start to the season. But whatever the result at the Emirates – and I think Liverpool may just flex their muscles in North London – there is no doubt that the future’s bright.
Arsenal have won seven of their eight Premier League games to force the early pace at the top of the table – and I am still trying to work out how they managed to lose at Manchester United having dominated for most of the game at Old Trafford. They were superb when beating Spurs 3-1 in the derby last weekend.
And I think they have shown enough already to suggest that this isn’t just another false dawn. Do the Gunners have enough to actually win the title for the first time since the 2004 Invincibles? I don’t think so. I still have Manchester City and Liverpool marked down as the two best teams in the country by a distance. While Liverpool’s early results have disappointed everyone at Anfield, I still view Jurgen Klopp’s side as the team that will end the season closest to the current champions.
But the Merseysiders have to get themselves into gear – and a trip to the Emirates will be viewed as an opportunity to do just that by Klopp. Arsenal, though, could be the best of the rest. Arteta has built a squad packed with outstanding individual talent – and in Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko he has recruited two players from his old mentor Pep Guardiola who know what it takes to win things. There seems to be a togetherness and spirit at Arsenal that we haven’t seen since Arsene Wenger’s glory days.
They have grown together, come through times of adversity, and forged a team that should take the club back into the Champions League for the first time for seven years. The redemption of Granit Xhaka is indicative of Arsenal’s reemergence this season. The Swiss midfielder has been a bit of a liability since arriving from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2016. Which, tellingly, was the last time Arsenal finished in the top four.
Xhaka always seems to be walking the tightrope between a booking and a red card. And when he was booed off by fans after being substituted three years ago, his time at the Emirates appeared to be up. I can’t remember a player recovering from that kind of humiliation before. But Arteta saw that behind Xhaka’s frustration was a player. Xhaka appears to have been given more freedom to get himself further forward this season instead of being reigned in by the need to shield the defence and make tackles that often bordered on desperation. To see him with a huge grin on his face as he picked up his man-of-the-match award against Tottenham was a nice moment.
Arteta, however, will know there the harder yards are ahead – starting with Liverpool. Something has to give with Liverpool. There is too much quality in their team to think otherwise. Klopp will know that his players can’t afford to lose more ground on City if they are to keep Guardiola’s men honest. My view is that Liverpool thrive on momentum. They love games coming thick and fast because once they get on a roll, they become an unstoppable force.
Liverpool have got the kind of schedule they thrive on between now and the break for the World Cup. It’s an opportunity to remind people – themselves included – that they were just two games away from becoming the greatest club side in English football just five months ago. It might be a classic at the Emirates.