Liverpool the true testing ground for upbeat Arsenal

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah. (Reuters)
Updated 23 August 2019
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Liverpool the true testing ground for upbeat Arsenal

  • Early signs are that Arsenal are a work in progress

LIVERPOOL: Arsenal manager Unai Emery’s concession that his side “don’t want to play against Liverpool ever” was hardly the rallying cry of a confident man leading his side to Anfield on Saturday.
But the Spaniard will have a much better grasp of what the Gunners are capable of achieving this season on the journey back home.
Early summer skepticism around the Emirates after missing out on Champions League football for a third consecutive season and fans’ discontent with the level of investment provided by owner Stan Kroenke, has evaporated thanks to a fruitful end to the transfer window and two wins to start the Premier League season.
Emery has more firepower at his disposal with club record £72 million ($87 million) signing Nicolas Pepe joining Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in attack.
On loan Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos showed his class with both assists in last weekend’s 2-1 win over Newcastle, while David Luiz’s switch across London in the final hours of the window from Chelsea provides much-needed cover at center-back.
Arsenal’s defense should also improve in the coming months with the return of new £25 million left-back Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding from injury.
However, they will not be fit in time to try and stop the European champions inflicting another rout on Emery’s men this weekend.
In Arsenal’s last two visits to Anfield, the visitors have been humiliated 4-0 and 5-1.
“When we play against them it is a big challenge to show how we can be,” added Emery.
“That is really our challenge, a really good test. Really our target is to reduce the distance to Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea.”
Challenging Liverpool or reigning champions Manchester City for the title is not yet expected of Emery, but a return to the Champions League via a top-four finish is the minimum requirement after being backed in the transfer market.
“We know what we need to do; we know there are squads ahead of us that are very strong,” Arsenal director Josh Kroenke, told the BBC this week.
“We’ve come back with a stronger squad than we finished with in May in Baku (after the Europa League final) and I’m excited to see what this group can do.
“They’re ready to get to work and they know what they need to do on behalf of all of us.”
Early signs are that Arsenal are a work in progress. Two victories have been ground out against meagre opposition in Newcastle and Burnley by the odd goal thanks to Aubameyang’s prowess.
Emery could name the Gabon striker, Lacazette and Pepe in his starting line-up together for the first time at Anfield, after bedding Pepe in slowly following his participation at the Africa Cup of Nations this summer.
That attack has the potential to cause Liverpool huge problems, particularly with Jurgen Klopp’s men also struggling at the back despite winning their opening two Premier League games.
Liverpool have yet to keep a clean sheet in four games this season against Manchester City in the Community Shield, Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup and Norwich and Southampton in the league.
They faced 26 shots against Norwich and Southampton alone, whilst Chelsea had 20 attempts on goal, more than Liverpool faced in any match last season.
Injury to first-choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker has caused disruption with his understudy Adrian at fault for Southampton’s goal last weekend.
And a higher defensive line has been blamed for opening up a defense that kept 20 Premier League clean sheets last season.
“When I say Liverpool have got away with it, the quality they’ve played against hasn’t been top class,” former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports.
“The quality Arsenal have, if Liverpool get caught in those positions and don’t run back, they’re going to have major problems.”
Given Arsenal’s propensity to concede at Anfield, attack may be the best form of defense.


FIFA: Iran must allow women into football games

Updated 20 September 2019

FIFA: Iran must allow women into football games

DUBAI: The ban on women attending football matches in Iran is “unacceptable” and must be lifted, the head of the sports’ world governing body said in a statement.

FIFA’s position is “clear and firm” and that women “have to be allowed” into football stadiums in the country, according to president Gianni Infantino.

Iran’s ban on women attending sports stadiums was put in place shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite international pressure to let them attend.

Infantino’s call comes shortly after the death of Sahar Khodayari, a female fan who set herself on fire after she was denied access to a football stadium in Tehran.

Khodayari, dubbed the “Blue Girl” because of the colors of the team she supported, Esteghlal FC, was detained and charged with “openly committing a sinful act” by “appearing in public without a hijab” after attempting to enter a stadium “dressed as a man” in March.

She died of her injuries on September 9 in a hospital after setting herself on fire outside a court earlier this month.

“I am hopeful that the Iranian Federation and the Iranian authorities were receptive to our repeated calls to address this unacceptable situation,” Infantino said in a statement.

“I contacted them several times in the recent past and so has the FIFA administration. We have a delegation of FIFA members in Iran at the moment and I am looking forward to hearing good news from them.

“We understand there are steps and processes that need to be taken before this is done in a proper and safe way but now is the moment to change things and FIFA is expecting positive developments starting in the next Iran home match in October.”

Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar has asked the judiciary to investigate the circumstances of Khodayari’s death, although the department’s spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, has said that Khodayari “had clearly confessed her mistake during questioning, accepted it and expressed regret.”

FIFA has sent a letter to the to the Iranian Football Federation in June, requesting a timeline that would allow women to be able to buy tickets for World Cup qualifiers. Iran’s men’s national team takes on Cambodia in a World Cup qualifying game on October 10.