Anfield has not been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal in recent years. Since the start of 2014 the Gunners have collected two points from a possible 18 at Liverpool’s home, with an aggregate score of 22-8 across those six matches.
In February 2014, Brendan Rodgers’ side trounced Arsene Wenger’s men 5-1, with the title-challenging hosts storming into a 4-0 lead within 20 minutes. Arsenal’s next two trips to the red half of Merseyside produced 2-2 and 3-3 draws, before normal service was resumed in 2016/17 with a comfortable 3-1 win for Liverpool. The subsequent meeting at the start of the following season brought Jurgen Klopp’s charges a 4-0 victory, while Arsenal were demolished 5-1 last December despite taking an early lead through Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Anfield, of course, is currently one of the toughest places to go in European football – as the likes of Barcelona, PSG, Manchester City and Tottenham have also found during Klopp’s tenure. There is certainly no shame in losing to Liverpool away from home, and defeat on Saturday would by no means be fatal to Arsenal’s chances of a successful season, particularly as we are still in August. However, a positive performance at Anfield this weekend could almost be as important to Unai Emery’s men as the actual result.
Arsenal were deserved 1-0 winners over Newcastle United on the opening weekend, and they probably just about shaded last Saturday’s meeting with Burnley. Sean Dyche’s team could perhaps have left the Emirates Stadium with a point on another day, but Arsenal ensured they got over the line despite not delivering a flawless display. Six points from six means the Gunners head into Saturday’s clash with Liverpool boasting a 100 per cent record, as do their opponents.
Yet even if Arsenal fail to make it nine (or even seven) points from nine at the beginning of 2019/20, they can still gain something from Anfield. Were Emery’s men to perform well, it would give the side confidence for the campaign ahead, with Arsenal desperate to qualify for the Champions League after missing out in each of the last three seasons.
With a potential front three of Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe, there is no doubt that Arsenal have plenty of firepower going forward. However, they have often been torn apart by Liverpool in transition in recent seasons, and Emery would be wise to instruct his team to defend a little deeper than normal this weekend. It is vital that Arsenal retain a compact defensive shape when they do not have the ball, and they cannot afford any individual errors against as fine an attacking team as Liverpool.
A repeat of Dani Ceballos’ superb debut against Burnley last time out would be very useful for Emery. The Spaniard is the type of player who will always make himself available for a pass, and his composure in possession and ability to wriggle out of tight situations could see him resist Liverpool’s ferocious press at Anfield. That in turn could help the visitors work their way up the pitch, although there is only so much that one player can do alone.
Losing at Anfield on Saturday would be far from a disaster for Arsenal. However, it is important that the Gunners avoid another thrashing at a ground they have really struggled at in the last five years.