by Ritchie Slack (@Slack_9)
Liverpool take on Arsenal on Monday night and Klopp’s men will be looking to avenge the Community Shield defeat to the Gunners last month – but now Anfield awaits…
Liverpool fans will be anxiously waiting the team news regarding new boy Thiago Alcantara, who was is in line for his first start as a Red since his £20m move from Bayern Munich. But now the Spaniard is a doubt for the fixture after Klopp confirmed both Thiago and Alisson have missed recent recent training sessions at Melwood.
According to Paul Joyce, of The Times, and Melissa Ready, of the Independent, Alisson has an “unspecified issue which has restricted his involvement” and back-up keeper Adrian is expected to play should the Brazilian number 1 not be available. With Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson also being ruled out following the knock he took in the victory over Chelsea last week, Klopp may have to shuffle the pack again.
Liverpool are still without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Joel Matip is reportedly out for a month. However, Joe Gomez trained on Friday and may play alongside Van Dijk; if this game comes too early for the Englishman, the Brazilian Fabinho, who showed his expertise and versatility by partnering the Dutchman last week and turning out a MOTM display, will surely fill the void.
Klopp certainly has options, even if he wishes to rotate the likes of Curtis Jones, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Grujic who all played well against Lincoln on Thursday. Wijnaldum is more than capable of doing the business in defensive midfield. And there is the option of playing the man with three lungs, James Milner; the exciting and inexorable Naby Keita is also in with a shout. Klopp’s squad has never been so deep.
We would expect the German to revert back to the ruthless front three – Firmino, Salah and Mane – but with the performance of Taki Minamino, who registered two goals in midweek, be prepared for a surprise. Divock Origi also proved that he is still the man who can seemingly stroll in a lower gear for most of the game, but still score vital goals and roll out assists in any competition. New £45m man Diogo Jota made his debut in midweek as a substitute against Lincoln and will be eager to hit the ground running.
As for Arsenal, they too will no doubt go back to full strength after the League Cup win against Leicester; Gabon born dangerman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will want to continue his fine 2020 form at Anfield, a ground his Arsenal side have not won a league game for four seasons. Andy Robertson’s national teammate, Kieran Tierney, is set to return to the line-up after pulling out last weekend during the warmup with a tight groin and will need to be at his loosest best to stop the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mo Salah (who has scored four times in his last three home games against Arsenal).
Arsenal have a plethora of players unavailable through injury with Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Cedric Soares, Pablo Mari, Shkodran Mustafi, Emile Smith Rowe, Calum Chambers and Gabriel Martinelli missing from Arteta’s travelling side.
The Gunners have not won back to back victories over Liverpool since 2012, but a 2-1 defeat for Liverpool at The Emirates in July shows Arsenal are more than capable. Liverpool are chasing records themselves: If they do avoid defeat it will be 61 league games at Anfield without losing, only Chelsea (86 games) have gone unbeaten at home in the Premier League for longer.
Arsenal will not be playing the open and expansive football they have done in recent seasons. There is no doubting that The Gunners are improving significantly under Mikel Arteta’s tutelage; their low-block tactics in the Community Shield highlighted their organisation and defensive tactics have been vastly upgraded; perhaps gone are the days we see Bobby Firmino dancing around four Arsenal defenders and leave them scrambling on the floor.
Liverpool will have to be prepared to find other routes of exploiting spaces if the same defensive approach is taken on Monday night: enter Thiago (maybe?). Liverpool now have the option of creating space through the middle, with the likes of Thiago and Keita able to find gaps and holes if the Liverpool wings are shut down. Although only a month has passed since the Wembley outing, but a lot – an awful lot – has changed.
Both teams are sitting pretty with two wins from two and although they will face each other later in the week (in the fourth round of the League Cup), this game at Anfield will be the priority. Anfield under the lights await and another big test for the redmen – arguably the toughest yet.