Who: Liverpool vs Arsenal
When: Saturday, August 24th @ 12:30 pm ET
Line: Liverpool -200 | Draw +370 | Arsenal +480
Here we are. Matchday 3. Only 2 teams haven’t dropped points: Liverpool and Arsenal. They play each other on Saturday. How perfect.
The two clubs have gotten to the same place in unexpected ways.
Liverpool, who led the Premier League last season in clean sheets and fewest goals conceded, lost their superstar ‘keeper Alisson in less than a half. Their stalwart defense has been leaky af. Their offense has picked up the slack, netting 6 times and leading them to a +4 goal differential.
Arsenal, whose defense in recent seasons has more leaks than the Trump White House, has only conceded once. Their “high-powered” offense has scored half as much as Liverpool. Their goal differential is half as good too.
Two Big 6 clubs with bigger ambitions. Sole possession atop the Premier League table is at stake. How will the game go?
Well, see, it’s at Anfield, soooo…
Liverpool vs Arsenal Preview
First, let’s start with the obvious: this year’s Arsenal is better than last season’s version. They’ve had another 365 to learn Unai Emery‘s system. They’ve upgraded their talent, notably on offense with Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos, and on defense with the additions of Kieran Tierney and David Luiz.
Nobody is going to confuse Luiz with Virgil van Dijk (both in play and appearance). However, he’s a seasoned (i.e. old) pro who, if nothing else, means less minutes for Shkodran Mustafi (likely off to Roma) and Sokratis.
On the backline, Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been Arsenal’s best overall player so far this season. Luiz and Sokratis have been serviceable in the middle.
On offense, newcomer Ceballos has been as advertised. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is doing PEA things, scoring two of Arsenal’s three goals. Alexandre Lacazette was dangerous in his one appearance. Pepe is still being eased in (Ligue Ugh is no EPL).
However, they’ve played two relegation candidates in Burnley and Newcastle. Liverpool, at Anfield, is no Burnley or Newcastle.
Liverpool has been shaky defensively all preseason and through their two Cups and EPL games. It’s no longer a trend. It’s who they are for the moment.
However, the Reds have had a brutal stretch of games in August. Yeah, the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup aren’t real trophies like the Champions League. But Manchester City and Chelsea certainly played like they mattered. And so did Liverpool.
A lot of minutes are on those legs the past two weeks. With the Cups, Jurgen Klopp has had little time to work out the kinks defensively and in the midfield. Liverpool will finally have a full week at Melwood to both rest their legs and tighten up their backline.
While both teams will look to be on their front foot, they’ll go about it differently.
As has been written ad nauseum, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are the fulcrum (fulcri?) of Liverpool’s attack. They boom up the flanks and fire cross after cross, or dump to an attacker and overlap. Arsenal have attempted less than half the crosses as Liverpool so far this season (14 to 28) which makes sense given how well TAA and Robbo service. They are less direct as well, playing 52 long passes to Liverpool’s 64. Arsenal will look to build up with short passes.
Expect Liverpool’s midfield, which has been suspect the first two games, to be busy in support. Klopp will likely opt for Fabinho (most tackles on squad) and Gini Wijnaldum to support TAA and Robbo defensively. VVD will likely be paired with Joel Matip this game. Matip leads the team in clearances and is second behind VVD in tackles per game as well. They’re going to want to keep PEA and Lacazette from marauding in the middle and getting shots from within the 18. They’re deadly.
Look for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (who was stronger than given credit for vs Southampton) or Jordan Henderson (likely Hendo) to help drive the squad offensively from the midfield.
Ultimately though (HOT TAKE ALERT), Liverpool is powered by their attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. While Salah looked tired against Southampton, Mane and Firmino are in mid-season form. Expect all three to utterly gash Arsenal.
The Gunners will likely focus on Salah, who is being denied touches again this season but has a Messi-like pull on the field, opening opportunities for Mane and Bobby. That’ll be especially true this game. Mane should end up with a goal or two, as Arsenal concedes more opportunities from his side of the pitch. A TAA cross headed in by Mane seems like a given.
This will be wild and loud. Liverpool have been gifted some unexpected dropped points from City, and Anfield will seize upon that and be in full force.
Klopp learns from his mistakes better than manager in the EPL. Don’t expect him to be conservative again against Big 6 clubs and drop points this season. He knows he can’t. Expect Liverpool to press like mad, force mistakes, and pounce. Also expect Liverpool’s backline to miscue once or twice and create a couple of chances for Arsenal.
It’ll be a wild but comfortable 4-2 type win for the Reds.
Finally, if you’re looking at any player props, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at +650 or Sadio Mane at +430 as first goal scorer are both strong options at DraftKings Sportsbook NJ.