Arsenal fans have had every right to get excited about the new season under head coach Unai Emery. The Gunners have splashed the cash to some effect over the summer and brought in new faces with a net spend of more than £150million.
With new arrivals such as Nico Pepe, Kieran Tierney and Dani Ceballos, followers of the North London outfit will argue that their confidence in their team this season is justified and that if you look at the improvement to this time 12 months’ ago you’ll see progress right there.
But the acid test comes tomorrow (Saturday) when Emery’s troops travel to Merseyside to face Liverpool at Anfield in a mouth-watering Premier League clash. Following reasonably comfortable wins over Newcastle United and Burnley in their opening two games of the campaign, the Gunners get to test their mettle against a whole different beast in the shape of Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, the current Champions League holders and who came second by only a point last season to top-flight champions Manchester City. Liverpool are not the Geordies, and they are not the Clarets.
If Arsenal are to strike fear in to the heart of the Reds, they need twin strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette to be firing on all cylinders. With Pepe’s pace down the flank and the undoubted play-making skills of Ceballos — on loan for a season from Spanish giants Real Madrid — the visitors should be able to pose a threat. And while the midfield defensive element will be fulfilled by a combination of either Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi or Lucas Torreira, it is the rear guard behind them that may be fallible.
Emery has seen skipper Laurent Koscielny depart and although Calum Chambers, back from a season-long loan at Fulham — did well at St James’s Park, he decided to bring in David Luiz from Chelsea for £8million just before the transfer deadline; and it is expected that it is the Brazilian who will partner Papa Sokratis at the heart of the Gunners backline.
Luiz is a leader and has bags of confidence playing the ball out of defence but he has mistakes in him. Sokratis is every inch a warrior but his pace isn’t the greatest and with the firepower at the disposal of Klopp’s team he may struggle. Marksmen such as Robert Firmino, Mo Sala and Sadio Mane would be a headache to any back four and this could prove to be the case in this encounter.
Once the dust has settled and we know the outcome, only then will Gooners know if they are justified in having faith that Emery can succeed at the club this season. Next up for his side? So-called rivals Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium in a week.