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

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.


Gasol clinches rare NBA-World Cup double as Spain down Argentina

Updated 16 September 2019

Gasol clinches rare NBA-World Cup double as Spain down Argentina

  • Toronto Raptors center Mark Gasol becomes the second player to win an NBA title and a FIBA world gold medal in the same year

 

BEIJING: Three-time All-Star Marc Gasol became only the second man to win an NBA crown and the World Cup in the same year after Spain brushed aside Argentina 95-75 on Sunday.

Spain, who survived double overtime against Australia to reach the final, led throughout in Beijing to win international basketball’s biggest prize a second time.

The only previous occasion was in 2006 with the two Gasol brothers, Marc and older sibling Pau, on the team.

Pau did not feature in China because of injury.

The latest triumph was particularly sweet for the 34-year-old center Gasol, who three months ago also played a key part in the Toronto Raptors’ run to the NBA title.

Gasol, who had 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, joins Lamar Odom, a double winner in 2010 with the US and Los Angeles Lakers.

Surprise finalists Argentina had not triumphed since they hosted the inaugural World Cup in 1950.

As a contest, the final was over by the fourth quarter — although the Argentines did rally belatedly to reduce Spain’s previously mighty lead.

Fans of both teams had made it feel more like a football match, decked out in their national colors, chanting loudly and refusing to sit down.

Spain, for whom Ricky Rubio of the Phoenix Suns has been one of the leading players of the tournament in China, surged into a 14-2 lead.

In front of a capacity crowd, Argentina’s 39-year-old talisman Luis Scola could not escape the attentions of Pierre Oriola.

Led by their slick-haired Italian coach Sergio Scariolo, Spain were up 21-14 going into the second quarter and increased their advantage to 43-31 at halftime.

With Rubio prominent, drilling 20 points, Spain never looked like surrendering their lead, repeatedly thwarting Argentina’s suffocated offense.

France roared back after halftime to defeat Australia 67-59 and claim a second World Cup bronze in a row — and extend the Boomers’ long wait for a major medal.

Turkish-based guard Nando De Colo led all scorers with 19 points for France and Nicolas Batum had nine points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals.

The French, one of the tallest teams at the tournament, defeated reigning two-time holders the US in the quarterfinals, but then lost heavily to Argentina.

“For us it’s something very, very special and important we did it after a very difficult first half,” French coach Vincent Collet said.

“Many teams could have given up, even easy shots we were missing in the first half.

“We started to move the ball better in the second half and that’s why we won this game.”

It was hard on Australia, who similarly led for long periods in their semifinal against Spain.

It is still the best finish for the Boomers, who had never gone beyond the quarterfinals at 11 previous World Cups, but they are yet to claim a medal at the worlds or Olympics.

Deposed champions the US, who were missing their elite names, finished seventh, their lowest position in tournament history.

They did, at least, qualify to defend their Olympic title in Tokyo next summer. With 32 teams, this was the biggest Basketball World Cup ever.

The next one will be in 2023 in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines.