Mikel Arteta’s Young Arsenal Face the Ultimate Test at Anfield Against Liverpool

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Tony Adams famously thought that it was because “we used up all our luck in ‘89”, but whatever the reason Arsenal have often struggled at Anfield. Obviously, prior to 1989 and the famous Championship win, Arsenal struggled to win at Liverpool’s home ground because every team in Europe struggled to win there, which of course only made their achievement in May 1989 all the more momentous.

However, even when Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal were at their peak, during his first decade in charge – and Liverpool were in relative decline – the Gunners often struggled to record victories at Anfield. Indeed, Arsenal’s last Premier League win away at Liverpool was nearly a decade ago, in September 2012, when goals by Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla secured a 2-0 victory.

Now, this weekend, it is the turn of Mikel Arteta’s young and recently much improved Arsenal team to try and win at Anfield.

Mikel Arteta’s Young Arsenal Face the Ultimate Test at Anfield

Anfield Game Marks the Next Stage of the Season

Arsenal’s trip to Liverpool marks what might be called the start of the next stage of the season and for club football generally. Now that the World Cup qualifiers are over (bar the play-off games that start in March), it is possible for club managers like Arteta, and of course Jurgen Klopp, to fully marshal their troops for the long winter campaign ahead.

For Arteta’s side, the first part of the season could hardly have been more contrasting. The first stage was marked by three successive defeats in the Premier League, which collectively amounted to their worst start to a domestic season for nearly 70 years. Although the defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City, the European and English champions respectively, could have been foreseen, it was the opening-evening defeat to newly-promoted Brentford that suggested Mikel Arteta had learned nothing from the generally awful 2020/21 season.

Of course, since those three defeats, they have enjoyed a far more productive two months, to the extent that they go to Anfield on a 10-game unbeaten run that has propelled them, at the start of the Premier League weekend, to fifth place in the table. That is a position that most fans would happily settle for at the end of the season, after two successive eighth-placed finishes in the top-flight.

Of course, just as they were perhaps not truly as awful as those first three league defeats suggested, the Gunners are perhaps not as good as the unbeaten run suggests. As numerous other fans have pointed out, who exactly have Arsenal played in that run? Arguably the best team that they have faced in that period is Leicester City winning 2-0 at the King Power Stadium. But even last season, when Arteta’s side were arguably at their nadir, they still won away in Leicestershire, suggesting that Arteta may just have the edge over Brendan Rodgers, if no other top manager.

However, what has been more heartening is that the Spaniard is finally settling on a side that is his own. At long last, a genuinely recognisable team and style of play is emerging. A hungry young goalkeeper in Aaron Ramsdale, who is personally marshalling a settled back four; a two-man central midfield, even in the absence of the first-choice pairing of Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka, which suggests Arteta’s experiments with a one-man or one-and-a-half-man midfield are finally over; and above all the development up front of a new ‘Fab Four’ in attack, albeit one that will never match the city of Liverpool’s own version.

Liverpool’s Formidable Home Record

Nevertheless, there can be no doubting the scale of the task that faces Arteta and Arsenal this weekend.

After losing their extraordinary 68-game unbeaten home run in the Premier League in a 1-0 loss to Burnley at the start of the year, the Reds then went on an almost equally extraordinary run of successive home defeats, which included losing to a Fulham side that were ultimately relegated.

However, with the return of fans from the start of this season, ‘Fortress Anfield’ appears to have been fully, or at least largely, restored, with a string of impressive home performances in both the Premier League and the Champions League.

If Arsenal are to have any hope of gaining anything from Anfield this weekend, it will surely come from Liverpool’s last home performance in the league against Brighton & Hove Albion.

Graham Potter’s side provided the template for Arteta and indeed any other team going to Anfield, by continuing to attack after they had gone two goals behind and – even more importantly – not collapsing completely after conceding those early goals.

It is that resilience that Arsenal will need above all this weekend. The pressure will be off them to a considerable extent, given that even the most positive fan expects little other than a defeat to Liverpool at their home ground.

Arsenal have a settled back four, with Ben White and Gabriel at its heart; a settled central midfield, even if it is made up at Anfield of second-choice squad players in Albert Sami Lokomba and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and an attack that is finally functioning again. Even all that may not be enough to gain even a point at Anfield, but if Arsenal can continue to produce performances like they have in recent weeks, that will be enough for now for most of their fans.

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