By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
The first big test of the new Premier League season awaits Liverpool on Saturday as they host Arsenal at Anfield in the late kick-off.
It is a clash of the only two sides that have taken six points from six from their two respective top flight games so far. Liverpool have also played in a UEFA Super Cup clash in Istanbul, where they claimed their first piece of silverware this season.
The two clubs had contrasting summers – the Reds were relatively quiet in the transfer window, adding only backup goalkeeper Adrián and youngsters Sepp van den Berg and Harvey Elliott to their squad.
The Gunners were due to have a quiet window also, with financial restrictions supposedly hindering their transfer plans. This proved not to be the case, however, as Kieran Tierney, Dani Ceballos, David Luiz and Gabriel Martinelli joined. William Saliba was also signed and went out on loan. Nicolas Pépé was the marquee addition – costing £72m.
But it was the loanee from Real Madrid who has made the biggest impact so far. Ceballos set up both of Arsenal’s goals in their win over Burnley last time out, with the Spaniard adding a lot more creativity to their midfield.
As mentioned, both sides have won both of their Premier League games so far. Liverpool’s 4-1 victory over Norwich City looks convincing on paper, but there were more than a couple of shaky moments as the defence struggled in their Premier League opener.
Similarly ropey was the win at Southampton last weekend. They were lucky to be ahead at half time, but Sadio Mané’s strike made it happen. Once Roberto Firmino had doubled the lead it looked a formality, but Adrián’s howler allowed Danny Ings to halve the deficit and made the last ten minutes very worrying. The away side came through and registered a narrow victory.
This came after their slim 1-0 victory over in-crisis Newcastle United on the opening weekend. The Gunners weren’t great and it took a mistake from Jetro Willems to give the north London club the opportunity to score.
Adrián will once again start between the sticks. Alisson is still out with a calf injury sustained in the game against Norwich, while his Spanish understudy also shook off an ankle complaint to start at St. Mary’s.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Virgil van Dijk pick themselves, but Jurgen Klopp must choose between Joel Matip and Joe Gomez to complete the back four.
Fabinho will certainly return after being rested last weekend. Captain Jordan Henderson likely also starts in midfield, with one of Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who signed a new contract on Thursday – completing the trio in the centre of the park.
Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané will cause the Arsenal defence problems. The latter has started the new season in inspired form, and looks set to cause problems for Arsenal again.
Unai Emery has far more issues within his squad. Emile Smith-Rowe is out with a groin issue. Kieran Tierney and Konstantinos Mavropanos also have groin complaints but are long-term absentees. Hector Bellerin’s knee issue also keeps him out of this one.
Granit Xhaka has returned to fitness, though, and will probably join Dani Ceballos and Matteo Guendouzi in midfield. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, David Luiz, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Nacho Monreal will probably form the defence ahead of Bernd Leno in goal.
Lacazette and Aubameyang – Arsenal’s only goalscorers so far this season – will make up two of the front three, while Nicolas Pépé could start for the first time since his move from Lille.
On paper, Arsenal should cause Liverpool more problems than either of Norwich or Southampton.
The Reds will need to be much better defensively if they are to fend off a strong Gunners attacking line. Aubameyang will be looking to make it three from three, and his pace and deadly eye for goal could mean he does it. Ceballos has already proven at this early stage that he can provide the service – he must be kept quiet.
Arsenal’s defence, however, is far from water-tight. If on form, Liverpool’s front three will tear it to pieces. Guendouzi is a good young player, but he and Xhaka cannot offer their defence the protection that Fabinho provides for the Anfield club.
At Anfield, Jurgen Klopp’s side should have enough to secure the victory. Arsenal could well score, but if Liverpool are firing then the hosts should score a few past a shaky rearguard, just as they did in this fixture last season.
Predicted score: Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal.