Liverpool get their 2016/17 Premier League campaign off to a tricky-looking start on Sunday, as they face Arsenal at the Emirates.
Arsenal vs. Liverpool
Sunday, 14th August 2016, 4pm (BST)
Referee: Michael Oliver
Nothing quite beats the return of the Premier League, with the 20 top-flight teams finally returning to action this weekend.
Liverpool’s clash with Arsenal is the stand-out fixture on Matchday One, with both sides desperate for a winning start in north London.
The Reds and the Gunners will feel they have an outside chance of winning the title, although a top-four finish feels like the realistic aim for both.
Jurgen Klopp has brought in six new players this summer, as well as Marko Grujic in January, with the likes of Loris Karius, Joel Matip and Sadio Mane set to be long-term regulars.
Arsenal, meanwhile, nipped in ahead of Liverpool to sign Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach – a signing of real intent – but it has been an otherwise quiet summer.
Arsene Wenger continues to divide opinion among supporters, and as he begins his 20th year in the Arsenal hot-seat, he is under more pressure to deliver than ever.
Sunday’s showdown should be a very entertaining game, and one that is extremely difficult to predict.
This game last season: Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool
We spoke to Arsenal fan @GarrulousGooner, aka ‘Kev’, ahead of the game:
You have a history of making a slow start to seasons, so how confident are you about Sunday’s game?
Recent opening day defeats to Aston Villa and West Ham do make me anxious, especially with probably no Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil or Olivier Giroud.
Current level: Anxious, rather than confident! (But I am a very cautious fan.)
Which LFC players, in particular, do you fear? And what do you see as the key battles?
Most games are won and lost depending on the midfield battle, and I think Sunday is a perfect example. I think Liverpool will press, as they did so well at Anfield last season, and our ability to cope with this will determine the outcome.
I think Wenger will go for Francis Coquelin or Mohamed Elneny alongside Granit Xhaka to try and protect an inexperienced centre-back pairing. But I would go for Santi Cazorla. His ability to play off two feet opens up our game and is difficult to press against.
If I had to pick a player to ‘fear’, I’d go Sadio Mane. He has proven he can score goals and will be out to impress on his debut. His pace will cause problems.
What’s your prediction?
Liverpool will come out all guns blazing and score early, but squander chances to go 2-0 up. We’ll grow into the game, control possession, and score twice, before sitting back and trying to hold on to a 2-1 victory. Liverpool will thwart us, though. 2-2.
The Reds have a number of injury concerns going into the new campaign, with some key men missing for the trip to north London.
Daniel Sturridge is expected to be out with a hip problem – it is not thought to be too serious – while James Milner may also miss out after injuring his foot against Barcelona last weekend.
Mamadou Sakho is out with an Achilles tendon problem, while new signing Matip is unlikely to start, having only recently recovered from an ankle injury.
It means pre-season defensive pairing Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan will start proceedings at the Emirates.
Klopp’s toughest decision will be who to go with in midfield, with the quintet of Grujic, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana battling for three places in the starting line-up.
Can, Henderson and Lallana appear to be the best bet, as things stand, taking into account a combination of experience, fitness and form.
Liverpool – last 5 results (all comps)
Lost 4-0 vs. Mainz
Won 4-0 vs. Barcelona
Lost 2-1 vs. Roma
Won 2-0 vs. AC Milan
Lost 1-0 vs. Chelsea
Arsenal – last 5 results (all comps)
Won 3-2 vs. Man City
Won 8-0 vs. Viking
Won 3-1 vs. Guadalajara
Won 2-1 vs. MLS All-Stars
Drew 1-1 vs. Lens
Away fans pubs: Drayton Park (near Drayton Park railway station and South Bridge of Emirates stadium); Twelve Pins (near Finsbury Park station); The Blackstock (opposite Twelve Pins)
Speaking ahead of the game, Klopp discussed the vast array of world-class managers in the Premier League, insisting that the players are the key to a team’s success:
The best thing is we don’t play,” he said. “It’s exciting for everybody having these big names in the league. But if they all have only one aim then there can be only one who is really lucky.
It’s England, managers obviously have a more, in public, special role than maybe in other countries. It’s one part of the performance but not more.
We still all have to play and work. It’s not about the names, it’s all about the performance on the pitch. That’s what I’m looking forward to – the opportunity to win something.
UK TV Info
Coverage of the match is live on Sky Sports 1 from 3:30pm, in Sky’s first Super Sunday of the season. Kick-off is at 4pm.