Liverpool know all too well that every point accrued is important considering they fell one short of the Premier League title last season despite having a club-record 97.
Given an early season opportunity to make champions Manchester City give chase, the Reds look to continue their 100 percent start Sunday at Anfield versus Arsenal, who are trying to show themselves top-four worthy.
(Potential Starting XIs)
With No. 1 keeper Alisson sidelined at least until the end of the month with a calf injury, Jurgen Klopp’s side are not going to be concerned about style points as long as they keep accumulating three points at a time. That was the case last Saturday at Saint Mary’s, where goals by Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on either side of halftime provided a buffer for Adrian’s late howler in a 2-1 victory over Southampton.
To be fair to the Reds, they were coming off a draining UEFA Super Cup win midweek over Chelsea in Istanbul that went 120 minutes and to penalties. At the same time, their Champions League title in June provided an understanding and acceptance Liverpool will need to occasionally grind out results to maintain an elite level of success.
“Mentally, this group of players is top drawer. The manager is one of the most mentally persistent managers out there, for sure, he keeps us going,” said Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who signed a long-term extension Thursday, to Liverpool’s official website. “We know what the demands are on each other. And I think that has grown in the team, there are more and more leaders coming out of this side – not just Hendo, Millie, Virg.
“Everyone is starting to take responsibility for what they need to do on and off the ball. It’s a team that’s really going in the right direction. But it’s early in the season; we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground, keep plugging away and keep churning out results.”
The big mystery surrounding Liverpool’s first XI for this match involves the midfield, which has been standard given the depth at the position. Klopp swapped out two of the three starters versus Southampton, which means Fabinho and Jordan Henderson could return to flank Giorginio Wijnaldum at the expense of Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner.
The other position Klopp has yet to settle is at centre back, where Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have alternated in partnership with Virgil van Dijk. Matip got the start at Southampton after both played in Istanbul, while Gomez was in the first XI for the win over Norwich City.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery is still trying to determine his best first-choice XI, though the Gunners are the only team to match Liverpool’s six points through the first two match days.
After a command performance by Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos in his first start last weekend’s 2-1 victory over Burnley that included assists on goals by Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the 23-year-old may have cemented a spot in the middle of Emery’s 4-2-3-1 set-up.
“With him, it’s for us to use his qualities in the best position in our team with our ideas,” Emery noted to the club’s official website about Ceballos. “I spoke with him – before coming here – to play like an eight and a 10. Today he started like a 10, but a lot of times he was changing with Willock into the eight position, where he can feel better on the pitch.”
Aubameyang has scored in both matches, and there is growing anticipation that Emery will hand record £72 million signing Nicolas Pepe his first Premier League start in the cauldron of Anfield. Pepe played the entire second half against Burnley after replacing Reiss Nelson and proved threatening on the right flank.
As always, Emery would not commit to anything regarding his lineup but did sound pleased regarding the 24-year-old’s progress since arriving in north London.
“For Saturday, he is maybe ready to have more minutes,” Emery said Thursday. “I am going to decide tomorrow, but really his progress has been positive and has been good for the team and for him. The most important piece of the adaptation is to help him to feel easy and be comfortable with us.”
Also uncertain is if midfielder Mesut Ozil will make his season debut. The former Germany international – along with Sead Kolasinac – was the target of a failed carjacking near his suburban London home and has been practicing with the team for the last two weeks.
David Luiz, though, is expected to retain his spot in central defence alongside Sokratis after making his Arsenal debut in the win over Burnley. Summer signing and expected first-choice right back Kieran Tierney, however, is not expected to be available until October as he deals with a groin injury.
Liverpool put the Gunners to the sword in last season’s corresponding fixture, routing Arsenal 5-1 during the holiday fixtures as Firmino had a hat trick while Mane and Mohamed Salah added the other two goals. It was the second straight season the Gunners absorbed a four-goal loss at Anfield and third in six during an 0-4-2 winless spell in the red portion of Merseyside.
The Reds have piled up 22 goals in that span with only eight in response by Arsenal.
Odds and Ends, per Ladbrokes
To Win: Liverpool 1/2, Draw 7/2, Arsenal 5/1
Both Teams to Score: Yes 8/15, No 13/10
Over/Under 2.5 goals: Over 4/9, Under 13/8
First Goal Scorer Liverpool: Origi, Salah, Mane 7/2; Firmino 9/2; Shaqiri 6/1
First Goal Scorer Arsenal: Aubameyang 13/2; Lacazette 15/2; Pepe 10/1; Mkhitaryan 11/1
Anytime Goal Scorer Liverpool: Salah 21/20; Origi, Mane 6/5; Firmino 7/5; Shaqiri 15/8
Anytime Goal-Scorer Arsenal: Aubameyang 21/10; Lacazette 5/2; Pepe 16/5; Mkhitaryan 7/2; Ozil 5/1
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 3, Arsenal 1.
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Liverpool 2, Arsenal 1.
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: Sadio Mane.
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS
Aston Villa (0-0-2) vs. Everton (1-1-0)
Brighton and Hove Albion (1-1-0) vs. Southampton (0-0-2)
Manchester United (1-1-0) vs. Crystal Palace (0-1-1)
Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-0-2)
(Sadio Mane photo courtesy Liverpool official website)