Arsenal faced the biggest test of their season quite early in the season, against Liverpool, away at the European champions home ground at Anfield. Whilst the Gunners did not return to North London with three points, there are some positives going into the all-important North London Derby.
In recent years, the Gunners have endured an abysmal time at Anfield, being without a win in their last seven visits now, conceding two or more goals in each match. Whilst the odds were stacked against the Londoners, there were some instances that will give Unai Emery something to build upon.
The notable inclusion of record-signing Nicolas Pépé from the start gave the visitors something to cheer about and the Ivorian didn’t disappoint, entirely. There were a few instances that really showcased what Arsenal have brought in: pace, skill and a direct approach – something they’ve needed for a long time. The former Lille man certainly gave one of Europe’s best defences something to think about – being the first player to dribble past Virgil Van Dijk in 50 premier league matches. A stat that clearly suggests that the winger isn’t one to pass up a challenge.
Pépé was unable to convert a brilliant counter-attack which saw the Ivorian one-on-one with Liverpool’s Adrian, but the signs are very promising. The ability to get into that position, taking advantage of a defensive error, combining with his pace – this is something Unai Emery will be looking to exploit this season. The 24-year old was reportedly not entirely match fit, something that can be seen from loose touches here and there, although he will be forgiven during this adjustment period.
The pressure from Liverpool was something that Arsenal would have expected, with the game-plan clearly revolving around counter attacking play. Compared to recent visits, the performance and result are not entirely devastating, especially considering Liverpool are certainly ahead of most in the league. The bright sparks from Pépé and prospect of a front three along with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacaezette is something that fans are yet to see start a Premier League match – which is what most will be hoping for this weekend against North London rivals Spurs.
Unai Emery was asked if he knew about the plea from fans to start all three attackers against Spurs, Emery said: “Yes, but be calm. My decision in each moment is thinking about how we are.
“For example with Lacazette he had a problem with his ankle. This week is the best week of the last three weeks. He’s getting better and feeling better with his ankle, it’s very positive. With Pepe, he came here later than the others but he is getting and feeling better in each match.
“Aubameyang is very important for us, he scored two goals in the first two matches, he had two or three good actions in Liverpoo. The most important thing for me is to have chances and after with players like Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe, Mkhi (Henrikh Mkhitaryan), Reiss (Nelson), (Dani) Ceballos and Mesut (Ozil) we can score with different players.”
The game-plan for Liverpool had many scratching their heads, but we should expect something more routine at the Emirates, where the Gunners will surely dominate the ball. Their neighbours have come off the back of a 1-0 loss at home to Newcastle, appearing to be in a tough spell coming into this fixture.
It’s no mystery that Arsenal are much better at playing their game: dominating possession and dictating play at their pace. This is something they couldn’t do at Liverpool but are expected to deploy against Tottenham. Dani Ceballos was exceptional in the win over Burnley, a gifted dribbler that may just fill the gap left by fan favourite Santi Cazorla. Someone that can pull strings from the middle of the park and comfortable in carrying from deep is something that Arsenal are hoping to thrive off – coupled with a front three that is as good as any in the division.
Arsenal have made a strong start to the new campaign despite the loss at Anfield. The performances have certainly given something to look forward to more, despite the ever present defensive frailties. Given Spurs’ recent games which included a fortunate draw away to Manchester City, the Gunners are certainly favourites. The prospect of another Pépé start comes with much excitement: his display against Liverpool the European champions, as his first start; was something to admire, other teams surely proving to be more fruitful opposition to come.
Whilst anything is possible, on paper – you see this going Arsenal’s way. The players will be especially fired up, with last season’s fixture being one of the best from the home side in terms of performance.