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Arsenal ‘petrified’ of key battle vs. Liverpool but “monster” Declan Rice key

Liverpool’s visit of Arsenal is a huge Premier League game, and one key battle “petrifies” the Gunners ahead of the match.

The Reds were disappointing at home to Man United last Sunday, drawing 0-0, but huge improvements were on show in the 5-1 thrashing of West Ham in midweek.

Mikel Arteta’s table-topping side head to Anfield for the biggest game of the season so far, and they look a well-balanced side equipped to mount a serious title charge.

The Gunners haven’t won away to Liverpool in the league since 2012, however, and the Anfield faithful will hope to create a raucous atmosphere that again affects Arteta and his players.

With the nerves building and kickoff approaching, TIA’s Henry Jackson spoke to Arsenal fan and writer Matt Dawson (@mattddawson) to hear about the Gunners’ table-topping form, the title race and where the key battles lie.

 

How would you assess Arsenal’s season to date?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 6, 2023: Arsenal's captain Martin Ødegaard during the FA Community Shield match between Manchester City FC and Arsenal FC at Wembley Stadium. Arsenal won 4-1 on penalties. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I must admit I was a tad worried by the opening few months of the season.

We couldn’t seem to click in attack, but we’ve figured out a way so far and we look impenetrable at the back, excusing our own defensive mistakes which inevitably seem to lead to the concession of a goal.

All in all, though, you certainly can’t complain. We look like an incredibly difficult team to beat and we’re definitely a more solid outfit.

The goals will flow eventually, but Arteta has proven himself to be adaptable after last season’s more gung-ho approach.

 

What has Mikel Arteta changed tactically, if anything?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Friday, January 27, 2023: Arsenal's manager Mikel Arteta during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Manchester City FC and Arsenal FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. Man City won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This Arsenal side is a great deal different to last season.

In 2022/23, the Gunners were free-flowing and boasted one of the most exciting attacks in the country.

That excitement is still true, but Mikel Arteta seems to have preferred solidity this term.

From a defensive point of view, everything looks incredibly well organised and we’ve got the best defensive record in the division for a reason.

The triangle of Declan Rice, Gabriel and William Saliba is near unbeatable at the moment.

 

Who has stood out the most for Arsenal this season?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 6, 2023: Arsenal's Declan Rice during the FA Community Shield match between Manchester City FC and Arsenal FC at Wembley Stadium. Arsenal won 4-1 on penalties. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Rice has been unbelievable so far this season. A monster. A colossus. A titan. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe his performances since signing.

To say £100million was a bargain would be absurd, but it’s true.

This is one of the most complete midfield players in the game and he has taken Arsenal to the next level.

 

How you do assess the title race? Who are favourites?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 6, 2023: Manchester City's Erling Haaland during the FA Community Shield match between Manchester City FC and Arsenal FC at Wembley Stadium. Arsenal won 4-1 on penalties. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Many people have asked me this question over the last few weeks and somehow I always get dragged towards Man City, despite the fact they sit five points off the pace right now.

You just know that post-New Year they will pull a run together and surge past both Liverpool and Arsenal.

I hope I’m proved wrong, but that’s the gut feeling I have right now.

 

What do you think has improved with Liverpool from last season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 17, 2023: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk reacts during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. The game ended in a goal-less draw. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Similarly to Arsenal, I think Liverpool look a lot more solid at the back.

Virgil van Dijk looked a shadow of his former self at times last season, but the Dutchman is a wall once again this time around.

The fact that Jurgen Klopp’s side have the joint-best defence alongside the Gunners speaks volumes.

Liverpool’s midfield also looks a lot more vibrant. I thought the recruitment in that area of the pitch last summer was exceptional.

 

What’s one thing you would change at Arsenal?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 9, 2023: Arsenal's Gabriel Jesus (R) is challenged by Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s not the biggest issue, yet, but I feel as though Arsenal still need a 20-goal-a-season striker to truly take themselves to the next level.

There have been links to the likes of Ivan Toney and Victor Osimhen, who would both be exceptional signings.

Gabriel Jesus is a brilliant footballer and he knits everything together really nicely, but he’s not the player who’s going to guarantee you goals.

 

What’s your take on VAR?

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - Thursday, November 9, 2023: VAR check to disallow Liverpool's equalising third goal during the UEFA Europa League Group E match-day 4 game between Toulouse FC and Liverpool FC at the Stadium de Toulouse. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Don’t get me started on VAR. I think binning it off now would open up another can of worms, so perhaps some other solutions are lying in the works?

Simply using technology for goal-line decisions and automated offsides – as they use in the Champions League – could be one idea.

It could then be a case of just leaving decisions like red cards, penalties, etc. to the on-field referee.

It is clear these are becoming even more subjective as the weeks go by.

 

As for Saturday, where will the key match-ups take place?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 3, 2023: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The idea of Mo Salah taking on Oleksandr Zinchenko is one that petrifies me.

If Takehiro Tomiyasu wasn’t injured then he would likely have deputised at left-back for this one. If there is one weakness in the Arsenal side it’s down Zinchenko’s side.

Other than that, the midfield battle could be key.

If Liverpool can find a way to stifle Martin Odegaard’s creativity then Arsenal will struggle to register opportunities in the final third.

 

Finally, what’s your prediction?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates after the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 5-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’m in two minds about how this one will play out.

Judging by the respective defensive records of both sides so far this season, it could be somewhat of a chess match, but I’m still expecting goals.

I’m going for a repeat of this fixture last season, so a Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal.