Arsenal will look to go one better than their second place finish last season and win a first Premier League trophy since 2004. In a season where Arsene Wenger will find himself out of contract at the end of it this campaign will take on even more importance for The Gunners.
Wenger himself has already gone on record and said that if his side doesn’t play well this season then this one could very well be his last at The Emirates. To a certain degree snatching second place from Tottenham on the final day somewhat papered over the cracks as their form in February and March was ultimately to be their undoing as Leicester marched on to win a historic first League title.
A big season for Wenger but arguably a bigger one for Jurgen Klopp as he begins his first full season in charge at the Anfield helm. With Liverpool finishing 8th last season but also reaching two Cup finals Klopp would have got somewhat of a free pass but if there are to finish outside the European places again then that certainly won’t be the case come May.
We don’t usually see a game of this magnitude on the opening weekend of a new season but let’s see what will be the three pre match talking points will be before Sunday’s kick off
Liverpool’s new faces
Jurgen Klopp’s side looked very impressive in their 4-0 demolition of Barcelona on Saturday at Wembley but that mood would have been somewhat tempered by a 4-0 defeat to Mainz the next day. If those two results tell us anything it’s don’t read too much into pre-season results.
That said Klopp has been working furiously to mould a team he can call his own and bar one or possibly two pieces of the jigsaw left to go the team that looks set to start on Sunday is very much what you would call a Jurgen Klopp side.
Sadio Mane was the most expensive of the new signings this Summer and much his hoped from this season, at £34m some say Southampton got the better end of the deal. Mane on his day can be brilliant but those days were a bit too few and far between for The Saints. The hope now is that Mane can show his talents on a more consistent basis.
Mane is not the only new face who could feature with Giorgino Wijnaldum also pushing for a start after his £25m move from Newcastle while Ragnar Klavan looks set to feature due to a shortage of centre backs at Klopp’s disposal.
Arsenal’s injury crisis
And it’s in defence in which Arsenal have their biggest concerns for Sunday. With Laurent Koscielny not quite match fit and Per Mertesacker also out injured, Arsene Wenger’s plans would have been thrown into disarray after the injury to Gabriel on Sunday during their friendly win over Manchester City in Stockholm.
It leaves Wenger having to shuffle what is left of his defensive pack with Calum Chambers set to be the most senior of a centre back partnership that will see England youngster Rob Holding make his Premier League debut after his £2m move from Bolton Wanderers in the Summer.
Wenger is always ready to put his trust in youth but I doubt he would have wanted to test Holding out at this level just yet. Be that as it may he doesn’t have any options so Liverpool will be licking their lips at the prospect of going up against this inexperienced pairing.
And it’s not just defence in which Arsenal are short in personnel. Oliver Giroud, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil all look set to miss the game through injury meaning from front to back Arsenal could have a very makeshift lineup with Alexis Sanchez set to lead the line. The first few weeks could be very rocky for Arsenal
The Midfield battle
One of the few positives that Arsenal can take from their pre-match preparations is that new signing Granit Xhaka will be ready to make his Premier League bow in front of his home fans. The Swiss international will be chucked straight into the deep end and will have to prove he was worth the 30 plus million that was forked out for him this Summer
Jurgen Klopp will now Xhaka well from their days in the Bundesliga and will know exactly what the former Borussia Moenchengladbach star is capable of. With Xhaka and Elneny adding the protective shield in front of a very patched up defence they will be set to go head with head with Liverpool new boy Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson.
Whoever can get a foothold in midfield will then be able to dictate the game for their side. Liverpool will look to break up play and hit Arsenal on the counter attack, with Mane and Coutinho as the outlets supplying the ammunition for Roberto Firmino. Firmino himself needs a decent season after his big money move from Hoffenheim didn’t quite match expectations last season.
Arsenal may have to have a more cautious approach due to their defensive vulnerabilities but if they can get the ball forward to Sanchez then they have a very deadly weapon of their own. They just need to make sure the Chilean doesn’t become too isolated up top otherwise it could be a long and fruitless afternoon for The Gunners.
I think because of Arsenal’s long injury list the advantage will be with Liverpool and I reckon it will be they who come away with all three points.