Arsenal vs Liverpool preview: Are Gunners tough enough for Benteke battle?
A top four clash in uncertain times.
- Palace 1-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 0-2 West Ham (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea (C Shield)
- Arsenal 1-0 Wolfsburg (F)
- Arsenal 6-0 Lyon (F)
- Liverpool 1-0 B’mouth (Prem)
- Stoke 0-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Swindon 1-2 Liverpool (F)
- HJK 0-2 Liverpool (F)
- Malaysia XI 1-1 Liverpool (F)
It’s been a funny start to 2015/16 for these two Champions League hopefuls. At Arsenal, the annual #WENGEROUT Twitter campaign started on the first day of the season following their chastening home defeat at the hands of West Ham. This was followed by their 2-1 away win over a resolute Crystal Palace side that, while looking impressive in flashes, could have proved equally tricky had Connor Wickham’s second-half strike not crashed off the woodwork.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have been winning ugly. Their 1-0 victory over Stoke did much to shrug away the ghost of that 6-1 defeat to Mark Hughes’ men on the final day of last season, but Monday’s victory over Bournemouth at Anfield could be described as “jammy”. Firstly, for the Bournemouth goal that was disallowed, secondly for Chirstian Benteke’s winner during which Philippe Coutinho was offside and very much interfering with play.
Not that this will bother Brendan Rodgers. He has a 100% record so far, building a reserve of points as Liverpool enter a period of tricky away fixtures over the coming months – Arsenal are followed by Manchester United, Everton, Spurs and Chelsea. Meanwhile, the comfort with which his team have adapted to a more direct playing style – the focus being targetman Benteke – where “stickability” and hold-up play have become key, suggests the goals that eluded them last season will not go begging.
Arsenal will prove a tougher test than Liverpool’s opening fixtures, although Arsene Wenger’s club still have much to prove. Soft against West Ham, and occasionally fragile against Palace, much will have to be done if they’re to find some steel in their midfield to offset the highlights in Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud’s hair.
Francis Coquelin is their current defensive option in the middle of the park, and while looking shaky so far this year, he might be able to impose his presence on this game given that Rodgers has so far eschewed the bite of Lucas Leiva. How Wenger’s back four cope with Benteke’s bullying presence will be key; an intriguing tactical battle awaits in how Liverpool manage the speed and hyperactivity of an impressive attacking triumvate in Ozil, Alexi Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey, not to mention the tempo-altering Santi Cazorla.
Liverpool are awaiting news on the foot injury that forced Jordan Henderson out of the Bournemouth game. Daniel Sturridge is still a few weeks away from returning. For Arsenal there are no new knack concerns, although Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck are still sidelined.
Player to watch: Christian Benteke (Liverpool)
Strong against Bournemouth on his home debut, the Belgian scored one and crashed another against the woodwork, hinting at a changing Liverpool MO. Gone are the flurries of tiki-taka and in their place are more direct charges, crosses into the box and passes into Benteke’s feet where he is able to hold the ball up. That’s not to say that Liverpool have turned into the Wimbledon Crazy Gang team of the late '80s.
“I thought Christian was a real handful,” said Rodgers in his post-game presser. “His hold-up play is outstanding. He has a wonderful touch for a big guy and can control the game... I’ve not had another who could do that up front in the three years I’ve been here. It is one reason we brought him in. Once the players get used to that and see it, it will give us more opportunities. That will grow over the coming months.”
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 4-1 L’pool (PL, Apr 15)
- L’pool 2-2 Arsenal (PL, Dec 14)
- Arsenal 2-1 L’pool (FAC, Feb 14)
- L’pool 5-1 Arsenal (PL, Feb 14)
- Arsenal 2-0 L’pool (PL, Nov 13)
Rodgers has been pleased with his team’s start so far. “In terms of results it’s been pleasing,” he says. “In terms of our defensive organisation it’s been good. I think as we grow the fluency in our game will become better and the level of our football will improve, but that’s just time.”
Meanwhile, Wenger has been praising the development of Theo Walcott during his nine years at the club. “He is a man today; when he arrived here he was a boy, a little boy who discovered a world where he did not know anything about it.
"Of course he had to go through bad injuries and disappointments and I believe he is a man today, a man who knows what he wants and has been faithful to our club. It was a great signing.”
Facts and figures
- Arsenal have lost just 1 of their last 7 Premier League games against Liverpool (W4 D2 L1).
- Only Man United (21) have secured more Premier League wins against Arsenal than Liverpool (16).
- Liverpool have only allowed their opponents 3 shots on target in their 2 Premier League games in 2015/16 so far; fewer than any other side.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Arsenal to find their rhythm. 2-1.