IT is only right to start this edition of PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY by sending condolences to everyone connected with Leicester City for the tragic death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
That puts everything else into context, but as the Leicester players have agreed to play at Cardiff tomorrow, the show must go on.
So, in that respect, the focus shifts to a cracking game in prospect in North London as Arsenal face Liverpool.
Are Emery’s Arsenal the real deal or the same as they ever were?
BY common consent, this is the acid test for Arsenal and Unai Emery. After defeats in the first two games to Manchester City and Chelsea, the Gunners have gone on a run of 12 wins and one draw across three competitions. They currently lie fourth in the league, which would allow a return to the Champions League, which must be the aim for the season. By anyone’s standards that is a fantastic run of form. None of the three teams above them can boast such a fine record in the same period.
City and Chelsea are of course two of those teams. Now they are preparing to meet the third of those, Liverpool, in tomorrow’s game of the day. Speak to any Arsenal fan and they will tell you that the team has ridden its luck in most of the matches during this long, unbeaten run. So is the team enjoying a lucky spell which is about to be brutally exposed or are these the signs of a stronger and more determined outfit?
The popular consensus is that there is a bit of truth in both cases. In the last few years under Arsene Wenger, the team had unquestionably drifted. The backbone was weak and players had stopped doing the dirty things. Watching them this season, it is clear that Emery is working them much harder on the training pitch. Even Mesut Ozil was seen making a couple of tackles in the recent win over Leicester! And with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front, Arsenal possess not one, but two quality strikers who can hunt out goals against any opposition with 11 between them in the Premier League. However, the defence continues to give off an air of vulnerability. If chances are coughed up against Liverpool as they have been against every opponent during their impressive run, they cannot expect Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to spurn them.
It has been suggested that Arsenal are last season’s Liverpool with a great attack and a poor defence. The Reds have improved immeasurably at the other end thanks to the additions of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson and moving Joe Gomez from full-back into the centre. But that is because Klopp has been at Anfield for three years and his side has evolved in that time. Emery has been at the Emirates Stadium for three months, so it’s asking a lot to expect the Spaniard to cure the side of all its ills. No-one is kidding themselves that Arsenal are ready to win the Premier League this season, but facing Klopp’s Liverpool will provide a barometer of where the Gunners sit in terms of their rehabilitation programme under Emery.
Player of the Day
GARY NEVILLE ‘can’t have him’, but with each passing week, Xherdan Shaqiri settles ever more into life at Liverpool. He only cost £13 million in the summer from relegated Stoke, although the Swiss came with plenty of baggage. His attitude throughout the Potters’ miserable campaign last season was criticised, with some questioning his desire to roll up his sleeves when his team really needed it.
The debate was whether Shaqiri would adjust into a squad that was challenging at the other end of the league. But the pocket midfielder looks fitter and hungrier and last week he netted his first Liverpool goal in the 4-1 win over Cardiff. That came after he set up the winner for Salah at Huddersfield and had a hand in goals in the Champions League win over Red Star Belgrade at Anfield. His creativity is providing an extra element to the Reds’ forward line, which has been missing following Philippe Coutinho’s departure to Barcelona and Adam Lallana’s continued injury troubles.
Relegation with Stoke left a scar on his CV, but the player himself is keen to remind his critics that he has won the Champions League during his time at Bayern Munich. Throw in winning leagues at home with Basel and playing for Inter Milan, and the 27-year-old knows what it’s like to play for big clubs in big matches. That experience allied to his creativity, all for a relatively cheap £13 million, must have been too tempting to resist for Jurgen Klopp as he tries to build a squad that covers all bases.
Shaqiri will relish the big stage at the Emirates tomorrow if given the chance, especially with more gifted team-mates now around him. And then he will have to really show his mettle when he travels to Belgrade on Tuesday for the return match with Red Star. That’s because Shaqiri is persona non grata over there after his controversial eagle celebration during the World Cup when he scored against Serbia, which highlighted his own Kosovan-Albanian ethnicity. And if a player is prepared to make a political stance on the pitch, it shows that he has the character to thrive at the biggest clubs in the simple matter of playing football.
Stat of the Day
10.3 – The average finishing position of the leading promoted club in each Premier League. Of the three promoted clubs this season, Wolves lead the way and they lie 10th after ten games.
Adam’s Saturday Scores:
Bournemouth 1 Manchester United 2
Cardiff 1 Leicester 3
Everton 2 Brighton 0
Newcastle 1 Watford 0
West Ham 2 Burnley 0
Arsenal 2 Liverpool 3
Wolves 1 Tottenham 1