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.


Vardy hits double in Leicester’s 8th straight victory

Updated 09 December 2019

Vardy hits double in Leicester’s 8th straight victory

  • Leicester takes the second-place team within eight points of Liverpool

BIRMINGHAM: Jamie Vardy scored for an eighth straight game for Premier League high-flyer Leicester on Sunday with a double in a 4-1 dismantling of Aston Villa.

Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans also scored to help Leicester set a new club record of eight consecutive top-flight wins and take the second-place team within eight points of Liverpool.

Jack Grealish did make it 2-1 just before the break but the Foxes were rarely in danger.

Brendan Rodgers’ side are 14 points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United in the pursuit of Champions League qualification.

“We are up there, we are challenging and playing well,” Evans told broadcaster Sky Sports. “Probably now, today, I think people are starting to talk more about that.

“Coming away from Villa with a really good performance, I think that’s the best Villa team we have played against for quite a while and we had to grind it out and it shows we are capable of getting good results.”

By contrast, Villa is only out of the relegation zone on goal difference after slipping to a fifth defeat in seven games.

Villa was wide open and Leicester should have taken the lead after 10 minutes.

Caglar Soyuncu knocked James Maddison’s deep free-kick back for Evans, who could only shoot straight at goalkeeper Tom Heaton.

Immediately, Villa broke to spurn their own golden chance when Matt Targett crossed for Anwar El Ghazi to hit the bar from six yards. With the chance went Villa’s early hopes and they swiftly lost any grip of the game when Vardy continued his scoring streak in the 20th minute.

Wesley lost the ball and the lively Iheanacho slipped the striker in to race clear and round Heaton. Vardy miscued his kick when preparing to shoot but recovered to tap in, despite Konsa’s efforts on the line.

Vardy is now just three games away from equalling his own Premier League record of scoring in 11 consecutive games.

Villa’s problems were partly of their own making with center back Tyrone Mings unable to cover having already suffered a hamstring injury and the defender was immediately replaced by Bjorn Engels.

Villa could not handle Vardy’s pace and Iheanacho’s movement.

There was a touch of fortune but Leicester deserved to double its lead in the 41st when Maddison crossed and Iheanacho diverted in at the near post.

The Foxes were cruising but Grealish pulled a goal back in first-half injury time when he curled in from 16 yards after the visitors failed to clear a corner.

Leicester, though, wasted no time in restoring their two-goal lead four minutes after the break.