Jurgen Klopp did his best to temper expectations but his wry smile told another story. Liverpool versus Arsenal has come to guarantee goals and the indications are that another explosive collision is in the offing.
‘I wouldn’t expect it, to be honest,’ said Liverpool’s manager. ‘But both teams are offence- orientated at least! If you look at how they set up, they have good footballers in each position and real speed up front. Real speed —wow! That makes it tricky to defend. There are a lot of things to consider.’
That is precisely what Klopp has been doing. As a reward for beating Southampton last Saturday, 72 hours after they had won the Super Cup in Istanbul, Klopp gave his players two days off, which he never normally does. He, however, was back behind his desk on Monday.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool face first big test of the season when they host Arsenal on Saturday
He might be content with Liverpool’s start to the season, which has yielded maximum points and a trophy, but there is something in his demeanour that suggests he is not entirely happy.
Liverpool, certainly, are not functioning with the same dash as when at their peak and the defensive side of their game is causing issues. They are yet to keep a competitive clean sheet and the threat arriving from north London is significant.
There was another smile from Klopp when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s name came up — he signed the Gabon forward for Borussia Dortmund in 2013. ‘It’s four years since I worked with him,’ said Klopp.
‘Everyone knows everything about everybody, that is how it is these days and there are no surprises. Auba has actually no real weaknesses — apart from his fashion style! He is a brilliant footballer — and the connecting point as well.
‘Nicolas Pepe only played 20 or 25 minutes in the first game but he is another one with proper speed, who offers runs in behind. So that is something we have to consider. We know that, we have to work with it, deal with it.
‘We’ve done it in the past. We have to do it again and create our own moments.’
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It is almost two years to the day since Liverpool thrashed Arsene Wenger’s side 4-0, while last year’s win was similarly emphatic — a 5-1 skewering that featured a Roberto Firmino hat-trick. Aside from that, there was a 4-3 win at the Emirates in August 2016 that announced the arrival of Sadio Mane, while the first meeting was a 3-3 draw under Anfield’s floodlights in January 2016. It is why many people are envisaging the same again.
‘We’ve worked on a lot of tactical stuff in training,’ said Klopp, explaining what he did with a rare clear week. ‘It’s about defending, attacking, everything. We said at the beginning of the week that it was really important that we use it, and I needed 100 per cent concentration in all the sessions. That’s what the boys showed. But at the end of it all, we still have to face Arsenal.
‘It’s a big, strong opponent — and I am looking forward to it.’
Whether Arsenal boss Unai Emery feels the same is open to debate. When Arsenal were pummelled last Christmas, the performance showed the mental fragility of their squad and for all that their start has been promising, nobody will be convinced about Arsenal until they have secured a stand-out result.
‘We’re in good spirits and we’ve had good preparation,’ Emery said. ‘We need more with some players getting fit to help us, but the players who are ready can show the difference now (from last year) against Liverpool, away at Anfield, to a very good team. It is good motivation for us.’