Ahead of Liverpool’s match with in-form Arsenal, we spoke with Patrick Timmons (@PatrickTimmons1) about what to expect on Saturday. Arsenal sit in 5th place with 38 points behind Liverpool who top the table with 51 points.
“Unfortunately I can only see a Liverpool win”
What are your expectations for Saturday’s match?
Admittedly, I’m a pessimist. However, I think that most Arsenal fans will agree with me on this one. Unfortunately, I can only see a Liverpool win. We’re coming into the game with one win from our last four games in all competitions and we have injury problems all over the pitch, but specifically in our defence – which has been shaky at the best of times this season.
With Liverpool’s form this season, I think it will be incredibly tough to get anything, so I’d be content with a good performance and respectable scoreline, as long as we pick up maximum points in our next four Premier League fixtures: Fulham, West Ham, Chelsea and Cardiff.
Hard To Predict
What is your predicted XI for Arsenal?
With Emery, it’s very tough to call, as very few are guaranteed a start, but I’d guess: Lacazette – Aubameyang Ramsey Xhaka-Guendouzi-Torreira Kolašinac-Koscielny-Sokratis-Lichtsteiner Leno
Since Lacazette returned from injury in April:
Lacazette: 2,066 minutes, 16 goals, 10 assists. 79 minutes per G/A.
Aubameyang: 2,402 minutes, 22 goals, 6 assists. 85 minutes per G/A.
It shouldn’t be one or the other, it should be both. It’s that simple.
— Patrick Timmons (@PatrickTimmons1) December 27, 2018
Weak XI To Struggle
Both Liverpool and Arsenal have been in great form, do you believe that Arsenal can end Liverpool’s unbeaten run?
I’d love to say that I do, but sadly I think it’s too much to ask. If our whole squad was fit and Özil was playing his best football, we’d be in with a shot but sadly that’s not the case. We’ve become incredibly reliant on Bellerin as an outlet and as an attacking threat because we don’t have a single natural wide player at the club. Mkhitaryan, Özil & Iwobi are all better in the number ten role, Aubameyang & Welbeck are better up front.
As a result, we lack width apart from and possibly Kolašinac. Also, without Özil in the side, there’s a huge lack of creativity. Lacazette’s playmaking is incredibly underrated but even he is only playing about 60 minutes every week. Meanwhile, Mkhitaryan is injured, Iwobi is out of form and Xhaka has been deployed as a centre-back at times. Subsequently, I think we’ll struggle to get the three points, especially with the weakened eleven that I predicted above.
“Liverpool at Anfield. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.”
Going into the match, Liverpool are Premier League leaders. Does this bring added motivation to get a positive result?
Of course, and I’d say that all other 18 sides in the division would echo the same opinion. Everyone wants to be the team to cause an upset, especially when Liverpool are still unbeaten. In the Premier League, nothing is a guarantee. In the last two weeks alone we’ve seen Manchester City lose to both Crystal Palace and Leicester, while the latter also beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. As a result, every team you play from here on in will want to be the one to end your unbeaten run.
You’d expect the players to be up for the game and generally, our big game performances have been decent this year, as of late. We lost our first two games of the season to Manchester City and Chelsea but we were adapting to Emery’s tactics at the time as it was a drastic change from the Arsène regime.
However, since then we’ve beaten Spurs and drawn to Liverpool and Manchester United. Admittedly, United have been far from their best this season but we have a diabolical record at Old Trafford and we could easily have gotten the three points if it wasn’t for poor finishing and sub-par officiating.
In the Liverpool game, we were lucky with a mishap from the linesman resulting in the incorrect cancellation of Firmino’s goal in the first half but I thought we also gave a very good account of ourselves, given how early we are into Emery’s reign. Against Spurs we were superb and it’s undoubtedly our best performance of the season thus far.
The players should understand just how big a game this weekend’s fixture is. Liverpool at Anfield. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. Presumably, the fact that you’re too will also motivate the players too – at least I hope so.
Too Early To Tell
After a less than promising start, Unai Emery has been nothing short of fantastic. Do you believe that he can be for Arsenal what Klopp is for Liverpool?
It’s still very early in the process. It’s important not to get carried away. In a sense, the last few weeks have acted as a reality check. We’ve had a solid season so far, given the circumstances but there are still major issues. Some of which can be fixed with signings but others need to be worked on from within. Obviously, Klopp’s mould would be one to look at. Not in terms of copying style of play, just overall.
The difference he has made since his appointment has been nothing short of sensational. Some fans will ridicule his lack of silverware to back it up, but when you look at the squad he inherited, I presume that all Liverpool fans have to pinch themselves when they see their current situation. Top of the league without a defeat at the halfway mark, following a season where you were 90 minutes away from winning the Champions League.
From Sakho and Lallana being first team regulars to arguably the best centre-back on the planet at the moment and a Balon d’Or candidate. He’s transformed Liverpool as well as sticking to all of the values which make the club great, and of course, I hope I’ll be able to say something similar about Unai Emery further down the line in his Arsenal career.
Liverpool Outweigh Arsenal In His XI
What is your Liverpool and Arsenal combined XI?
Mané-Aubameyang-Salah Özil-Fabinho-Torreira Robertson-van Dijk-Gomez-Bellerín Alisson
A No Brainer
If you could sign just one Liverpool player, who would it be?
People will obviously point at Salah’s output, Firmino’s ability to get the best out of others, etc. But for me, it’s a no-brainer. Virgil van Dijk. The impact that he’s had since signing has been nothing short of unbelievable. Your defence prior to his arrival was shaky at the best of times. However, at this current time, it’s arguably your biggest strength.
When the front three haven’t been firing, the defence has kept you in games long enough to get a win, which is very important. I think what’s most impressive is how much he improves everyone who plays alongside him. Lovren & Gomez have improved drastically since January, as have both Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, and it’s no coincidence that Virgil was brought in at the same time.
We’re crying out for something similar at Arsenal. Individually, I think some of our defenders are quite good, but the cohesion mixed with the system not suiting all of them makes us leak goals at the best of time. We need someone who can gel the defence and add leadership more than anything, so for me, van Dijk is the obvious answer.
“Something isn’t right”
Özil has been largely affected by the hiring of Emery. Do you believe the two can find common ground or will he be allowed to find a new club?
I want to start off by reiterating just how much I love Mesut Özil. I think he’s a phenomenal footballer and we’d be crazy to sell him, especially with the lack of noticeable creativity in the squad that I mentioned above. However, something isn’t right.
To be rotating one of your best players to the extent that Emery is just doesn’t make sense. It’s not like his replacements (Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan) have been undroppable in terms of their form. Financially, to have a player earning £350,000 just for cameo appearances is ludicrous. If Unai is trying to prove a point about work ethic, then he already has.
Something has to change. Obviously, my preference would be to keep Mesut. Despite barely featuring, he’s still created more chances than any other Arsenal player this season, which is telling. However, unless Emery is willing to change his ways, it makes more sense to sell him. The current situation is having a negative effect on the team, some fans’ view of the management & the public’s view of Mesut Özil himself.
If Unai isn’t willing to play him consistently then it makes more sense to sell him and replace him with someone to the Spaniard’s taste. I hope that a compromise can be reached, but honestly, no one can fully understand the full situation from the outside and time will tell the full story.