When Liverpool and Arsenal meet, goals are normally guaranteed.
Any preview that starts with that line normally leaves a writer ashen-faced following an inevitable 0-0 stalemate – but this fixture has serious form.
From their last seven league meetings, these two sides have shared 35 goals between them, although Arsenal haven’t claimed a win since the halcyon days of the Arsene Wenger era (a 4-1 triumph in April 2015).
Goals though look guaranteed once again on Saturday after Unai Emery decided to improve his defence by spending £72million on Nicolas Pepe this summer, while Liverpool’s front three look primed for another Anfield mauling.
Both sides have two wins from two, and ahead of their ‘top of the table’ clash, here is Sportsmail’s tactical preview as two attacking forces go head-to-head.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Unai Emery’s Arsenal go head-to-head at Anfield on Saturday
Both teams have started their new Premier League campaigns with 100 per cent records
From their past seven league meetings, these two sides have scored 35 goals between them
The importance of wide areas
The arrival of Nicolas Pepe in north London for a budget-breaking fee from Lille certainly had Arsenal hearts racing like it’s 1989 all over again.
The Gunners are yet to see Pepe start alongside Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this season but there is a chance the trio could line-up for the first time at Anfield, completing a not-too shabby £174m strike force.
Caution has often been Emery’s chief adviser however, and with a 5-1 thumping last season probably still causing late-night palpitations for the former Sevilla coach, he may stay his hand when it comes to throwing Pepe into the mix at Anfield.
There is also a tactical dilemma at play here too; how does Emery fit in Aubameyang along with Pepe? Last season’s joint-golden boot winner has been shovelled out wide in the past but his goalscoring pedigree lies in central areas – his winning goal against Burnley notwithstanding.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be moved out wide to accommodate Nicolas Pepe
Both Aubameyang and Pepe are more inclined to come in from the touchline in attacking phases, which could leave the Gunners open in transition when Liverpool break at speed.
As they showed in devastating fashion last season, Liverpool full backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are crucial to the Reds attacking momentum – amassing 23 assists between them. This season, Robertson has already had the most touches by some distance compared to his team-mates (211 – Virgil van Dijk is next on 158, shortly followed by Alexander-Arnold).
Neither Pepe nor Aubameyang are suited to covering wide roles, meaning a starting berth for more willing runners — Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson included — may not be wide of the mark.
Notably, Arsenal also like to build through wide areas, a point again reflected by the fact that full backs Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nacho Monreal both lead the way for touches on the ball for the north Londoners (180 and 177 respectively).
Both sides have potent attacking frontlines, but it may be how effective they are defensively that could decide the game.
Liverpool’s full backs are a threat and the Gunners wide forwards will need to work defensively
Coping with Liverpool’s front three
Aubameyang shared last season’s golden boot with Liverpool hit-men Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, and despite a busy summer for both at the African Cup of Nations, the duo already look set for another rewarding campaign.
Mane claimed that he has not had a holiday for ‘seven years’ earlier this month but the Senegalese winger looks sharp despite his lack of rest. He made his first league start against former employers Southampton last week, netting twice, while Salah started his campaign with a goal on opening night against Norwich.
But the player Arsenal will need to take the greatest care over is Salah and Mane’s relatively unsung third amigo, Roberto Firmino. The 27-year-old has a superb track record against the Gunners, scoring eight from eight appearances against them including a hat-trick last year at Anfield in a 5-1 drubbing, but it’s his attacking positions this term that will cause the most concern.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah both look sharp after their busy summers at AFCON
Firmino currently averages the most shots per game for the Reds (3) and takes up the most potent positions in attacking phases, with an expected goals figure of 1.38 (compared to next best Salah whose figure is 0.86) from his opening two fixtures.
Should Firmino turn those numbers into a greater attacking return the Gunners may face a renewed triple threat on Saturday.
Last season, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis failed to cope with Firmino’s movement but Arsenal’s backline will have a different look this weekend.
David Luiz has brought experience from Chelsea, while Stephan Lichsteiner — who was hopelessly exposed by a Mane on the right flank — has since departed.
The concern for the Gunners will be that Burnley caused them plenty of difficulties last Saturday – amassing 18 attempts and causing uncertainty from set-pieces.
Dealing with Liverpool’s attacking prowess will require a ‘stop at source’ approach – which will put greater emphasis on limiting Liverpool’s full back, and crucially, their midfield influence.
Roberto Firmino loves to play Arsenal and the signs suggest he could well be a threat again
Ceballos vs Fabinho in midfield
The one constant in midfield this season has been Fabinho for Liverpool, which underlines his growing importance to Jurgen Klopp’s set-up.
Virgil van Dijk has rightly taken a lot of the plaudits for the insurance he has brought to Liverpool’s rearguard, but Fabinho’s ability to dictate play and orchestrate Liverpool’s press from deeper positions has also improved the Reds’ ability manage matches effectively.
His task on Saturday will be to nullify the all-round threat posed by Dani Ceballos. Against Burnley last weekend, Ceballos completed more passes than any other player on the pitch in the final third, completed the highest number of dribbles and tackles within Arsenal’s team and recovered possession most frequently.
Dani Ceballos was excellent against Burnley and Liverpool will need to suppress his influence
His all-round masterclass led to three, separate standing ovations from the Emirates crowd, and the on-loan Real Madrid midfielder will offer Emery far more flexibility in the heart of midfield.
Joe Willock partnered him alongside Matteo Guendouzi in central areas and that led to a fluency between Emery’s staple 4-2-3-1 and an attacking 4-1-4-1, with Ceballos as much a threat in attacking areas as he is potent in recovery. He already has two assists to his name.
Ceballos will be critical to Arsenal’s ability to transition between attack and defence on Saturday while preventing the Reds from doing the same. For Klopp, the question will be whether to add more solidity and nous in midfield through Jordan Henderson and James Milner, or seek to pin the Spaniard back by including the attack-minded Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
For Arsenal, Emery may be inclined to offer more insurance for Ceballos by restoring Lucas Torreira or Granit Xhaka, and solidifying the base of his 4-2-3-1 midfield.
Fabinho has become a midfield mainstay and he will be critical to Liverpool’s defensive shape
Reds defensive vulnerabilities?
Van Dijk has transformed Liverpool from a gung-ho attacking unit into a lean, efficient, points-securing machine.
The Reds conceded just 22 goals last season, the lowest in the top flight, and their new-found defensive reassurance helped inspired a Champions League victory. It is little surprise, therefore, that Van Dijk has been tipped to win the Ballon d’Or.
But Liverpool have not looked as defensively sound as last season in their opening two league matches. The sample size maybe small but it will offer some concern.
For 20 minutes against Norwich, there was genuine concern that the Canaries would cause a shock.
The newly-promoted side showed a defensive naivety that led to conceding four quick-fire goals but they continued to carve out opportunities – with 12 attempts on goal.
Holland international Virgil van Dijk transformed Liverpool into a defensive force last season
Against Southampton, the Reds were subject to 14 shots on their own goal, while tellingly, they allowed the Saints to accrue an expected goals tally of a whopping 2.64 (Liverpool’s total was 1.46).
Arsenal will not be as profligate in front of goal as the Saints and if Liverpool continue to hemorrhage opportunities as they have done so far this season, they will be punished.
Part of this supposed ‘vulnerability’ could be down to the Reds high defensive line. This is nothing new, but they currently top the league charts for catching the opposition offside (9). This is a new development, and one that perhaps hasn’t been helped by the goalkeeper situation at Anfield.
Alisson’s absence is crucial for the way Liverpool approach the game, and that was underlined by Adrian’s shocking error for Danny Ings’ goal at St Mary’s last weekend.
Without Alisson, Liverpool lose their ability to recycle possession and trigger attacking moves through their goalkeeper, while defensively, they are without one of the best sweeper-keepers in the world, vital to buttressing that high defensive line.
Former West Ham goalkeeper Adrian is a reliable deputy, but he is certainly not of the same calibre as Alisson nor the same type of goalkeeper. As a result, his inclusion will come at some cost.
But the Reds have shown vulnerabilities and the loss of Alisson could be a crucial