Liverpool v Arsenal preview: Unai Emery has to try and turn recent Anfield form around in Saturday's Premier League clash

Arsenal: We look at whether they can end their Anfield hoodoo
Arsenal: We look at whether they can end their Anfield hoodoo

Paul Higham looks at why Arsenal have such an inferiority complex when playing at Anfield - and how Unai Emery will look to turn that around on Saturday.

They are the current top two in the Premier League, the only teams able to win their opening two games, with all three players who shared the Golden Boot last season on show, but in this fixture, on this ground, Arsenal have suffered from a real inferiority complex in recent years.

There have been 44 goals in the last ten games between Liverpool and Arsenal, 30 in the last six contests at Anfield with the hosts banging in 22 of those in some emphatic victories over recent times - and Emery will be hoping that enough is enough.

If Emery has any hopes of building a new Arsenal this season, then perhaps his biggest test comes in just the third game of the season as he travels to a ground where recent Gunners sides have been dismantled at will.

Facing the European champions on their own patch would be a tough assignment for any team, but the Arsenal teams of the last couple of years have not been beaten, they've been hammered, by an aggregate of 12-2 over the last three visits.


Last six at Anfield

Celebrations for Roberto Firmino after he scores against Arsenal
Celebrations for Roberto Firmino after he scores against Arsenal
  • 13/14 - Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal
  • 14/15 - Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal
  • 15/16 - Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal
  • 16/17 - Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal
  • 17/18 - Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal
  • 18/19 - Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal

Not just the defeats, but the manner of the defeats Arsenal have suffered on Merseyside have been symptomatic of their problems as a whole, both at the end of Arsene Wenger's days in charge and even in the first visit with Emery - a 5-1 thrashing last season.

If a game summed up the wonderfully flawed nature of Arsenal as a football team, it was that final game of 2018 where Ainsley Maitland-Niles opened the scoring in front of the Kop after a beautifully crafted move carved Liverpool's usually water-tight defence wide open in the blink of an eye.

From that sublime goal, to the ridiculous defending that followed when they capitulated in a typically house of cards fashion that few teams do better than Arsenal. Leading for just three minutes - two Roberto Firmino goals in two minutes saw them suddenly behind and they then trudged off at half time 4-1 down and out of the game.

They enjoyed more possession that day, as they did the season before in a 4-0 hammering, but the deep-seated character flaw of this Arsenal side is their inability to defend properly, especially on this ground, which makes Saturday night's trip a defining moment already in this embryonic Premier League season.

Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas give their predictions for Liverpool v Arsenal
Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas give their predictions for Liverpool v Arsenal

A win, a draw, even just a clean sheet, will give the Gunners, their players and their fans real hope that they're finally turning a corner in their team progression - another heavy defeat will see the 'same old Arsenal' rhetoric trotted out again and limit any kind of ambition for the season beyond merely scrapping for the top four.

Can Emery change the mentality?

Unai Emery handed a home debut to Nicolas Pepe
Can Unai Emery's side stop Liverpool?

"For us we don't want to play against Liverpool ever," Emery joked after Saturday's win over Burnley.

"We'd prefer not to play against them.”

A joke, yes, but also a summing up of the mentality around the Arsenal camp when it comes to facing Liverpool at Anfield – something Emery must change, and can change with a positive performance.

The overall target is, of course, for Arsenal to become major players in the Premier League power struggle once again, something that will continually be undermined by suffering chastening defeats at Anfield or the Etihad.

Arsenal have firepower to spur, and if they chose to go toe-to-toe with the Reds then we could be in for another shootout, but Emery has hinted that he will adopt a more watchful approach aimed at limiting Klopp’s attacking options first before anything else.

"We are going to prepare both defensively and offensively,” said Emery.

"We are going to prepare first with the adaptation to them, their game plan and individual players and after to impose our game plan and capacity.”

A carryover from the Wenger era is this offensive mentality that Arsenal had to fight fire with fire, they couldn’t take a step back, be more pragmatic and focus on shutting down the opposition before then playing their own style of football.

Much like a boxer, Arsenal have never really be able to carry out a stick-and-move game plan, being drawn into swinging big haymakers the very first time they are caught on the chin. Can Emery this time get them to be more rigid, more disciplined?

Sporting Life's Premier League preview package and free tips
Sporting Life's Premier League preview package and free tips

He has the players to be devastating on the counter-attack, whether they have enough defensively to keep a side like Liverpool at bay may be the big worry and the deciding factor in whether they stick of twist.

Gunners fear Firmino

Roberto Firmino has a phenomenal recent record against Arsenal – scoring in his last four league meetings at Anfield in a row, knocking in seven goals in those four contests.

He’s terrorised Arsenal defenders over the last few years, but he’s not the only one as Mohamed Salah has scored in the last two games at Anfield and Sadio Mane the last three!

The pace and movement from Salah and Mane has been far too much for the Gunners time and time again, while Firmino’s relentless hassling and harrying of defenders is exactly the sort of thing Arsenal defenders hate.

David Luiz has been the big summer arrival in the Arsenal rearguard – he’s got bags of experience and a winning mentality, but also an attacking intent and he’ll certainly give Firmino chances to close him down during the game.

As well as defending from the front, Firmino is also a terrific link man when dropping deep in between the defensive and midfield lines, something which Arsenal just haven’t been able to cope with given the lack of a top-level defensive midfielder.

Granit Xhaka has had three miserable trips to Anfield with Arsenal over the last three seasons – having been given the runaround in three heavy defeats and being booked in all three when struggling to keep up with Firmino dropping deep and Liverpool’s energetic midfield flooding forward.

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How do Arsenal get a result?

Luiz will have to rouse a better defensive display than Arsenal have had in recent times, too often Liverpool have walked through a soft centre, where central defenders have thrown themselves into brainless challenges rather than sit and wait to see how a move plays out before trying to intervene.

On-loan Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos enjoyed a stellar full debut against Burnley last week and his ability to find a killer pass will be crucial given that Arsenal have pace and goals in two centre forwards of genuine quality. That’s before we even mention Nicolas Pepe, the £72m man who has so far made just cameo performances.

That pace, especially on the break, is key to getting through a Liverpool defence that is looking some way off what is was last season – and one which looks to be defending higher than last season, leaving them more open to being exposed by pace.

The killer pass still needs to be made, so if Ceballos can get on the ball comfortably he could be key in unleashing Arsenal’s attacking threats, which are hard for any team to handle if given enough space and service.

It could be like a basketball game if this one catches fire, given the offensive talent and defensive question marks involved, and if Arsenal can emerge unscathed then it could just be that Emery is starting to turn the corner, turning the players into contenders, and turning the fans into believers.


Liverpool v Arsenal odds (via Sky Bet)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette: Arsenal duo celebrate during the win over Burnley
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette: Arsenal duo celebrate during the win over Burnley
  • Home win - 1/2
  • Draw - 18/5
  • Away win - 19/4
  • Over 3.5 goals - 11/10

Check out more markets for the Premier League clash here

Odds correct as of 1030 BST on 20/08/19


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