Even before 26th May 1989, the two meetings with Liverpool were among the biggest in the fixture list.
Let’s be honest, from the mid-70s to that fateful night it was down to their dominance of English football. For once, the Premier League era has changed nothing.
OK, that’s the obligatory 1989 reference out of the way. I’ll shut up about it and get on with today’s preview.
Unai Emery holds Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool up as the template for Arsenal’s future success. After many summers of indifference, of living on a dream of success in Elysium, the Kroenkes – mainly in shape of Junior, I suspect – decided that the supportive ownership of FSG was something they wanted to emulate as well.
Both on and off the pitch, the club is way behind us supporters. On the electronic terraces, we harp on about past glories at every opportunity; yesterday’s men in today’s world, hoping for that one better day when all our glories return.
This fixture is rekindling the good old days; the winner tonight is going to the top of the Premier League.
It’s amazing how two wins fuels some optimism that we’re resurgent, heading in the right direction for a return to the good times.
As Unai told the press, beating Burnley and Newcastle United merely emulates last season; we’re no better off from the corresponding fixtures.
Way to go in bolstering everyone’s self-belief, hopes and aspirations.
There are some big decisions for Emery in his team selection. Youth has been given the opportunity and not let anyone down. Indeed, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock looked perfectly at home in the XI. Tonight, however, is a time for experience.
Or more pertinently, more experienced players. I don’t expect either to see Nelson or Willock in the starting XI.
In 1987, it was Bonnie Prince Charlie in the back pages and it honestly feels like that season is more relevant to this evening, to now, than 1989.
Nicolas Pepe is the new prince, tonight is the opportunity for his coronation. OK, so that doesn’t technically happen until he becomes king and there’s some distance to travel before that happens.
His inclusion in the team alongside Lacazette and Aubameyang is a big statement for Emery to make. Pepe loves a nutmeg, whether he is faced by a teammate in training or Burnley defenders.
He deceives the eye with the quickness of his feet on receiving passes. Defenders and startled bystanders – fans in normal parlance – look on in wonder at how the speed with which he shifts the ball in possession.
Tonight, I expect us to play the same way as the opening day. Without the problem of gaps between the midfield and attack, if possible. Too often, Nelson and Aubameyang were left isolated in the rain at St James’ Park.
At Anfield, we need more support from midfield. Dani Ceballos will offer that, I think. Pepe can waltz into mischief, creating madness and mayhem, knowing that if he lifts his head there will be colleagues waiting for the pass.
I know; it’s Anfield and hardly the place for an Arsenal attacking idyll. Especially when let’s be honest, Unai is essentially a conservative football coach. Not entirely risk-averse but not belligerent in his belief in attacking football.
The spectre of VAR hangs over those sentences. I want to believe they have the balls to correct Anthony Taylor’s obvious mistakes but it’s asking a lot.
Away from the intensity of Anfield, can they dispassionately reject penalty appeals? The ones they awarded to the Kop when they were on the pitch?
Talking Up Our Prospects
Or is the shadow of fear cast over Stockley Park? Will the video official be scared of the excoriation in tomorrow’s papers to reverse a dubious call in front of the Kop?
If it seems there is a raft of optimism for tonight’s match, I feel more hopeful that the back pages on Sunday morning won’t be talking of another Arsenal embarrassment.
For once, there is a very real prospect that tomorrow is just another day in which to savour a win. Or to revel in the joy of being kings of the Premier League for a week at least.
Maybe in another life; this is, as the sign says, Anfield; the graveyard of our ambitions. In recent years, we can hope, pride and dignity to the misery of away day hammerings.
We’ve conceded, I read, 22 goals in the past six or seven meetings; I forget which. The telling stat is that 15 of those came in the first half. 15. Fifteen.
Last season on a particularly grey day at Anfield, we prodded the hornets’ nest with a stick by scoring first. Pride before the fall, I believe the saying goes. Pride before the fools is apter. Mistake after mistake after sodden mistake as the rain teemed down.
It’s the mistakes Emery must eradicate if we’re to improve as a result of our own abilities. I’d much rather do that than be hailed as London’s best team because of a collapse of other teams. Oh, he says, remembering 2015/16…
The team I think which will be good enough to win this match on paper, at least, is:
Leno; Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Sokratis, Monreal; Xhaka (Torreira), Guendouzi; Pepe, Ceballos, Aubameyang; Lacazette
It’s tempting to think that with Adrian in Liverpool’s goal, this is as good a chance as any to win at Anfield. Has the Spaniard played the game of his career yet? We’re Arsenal and specialise in those opportunities for goalkeeping ne’er do wells.
We’ve got to show such a collective improvement on previous seasons that I think winning is a tall order. A draw, if I’m honest, is a good result.
A strong performance is equally important. Last season’s 20-odd game unbeaten run underlined the fragility of the chaos engulfing the club in the first post-Arsene season. Built on shifting sands, it was as unconvincing as it was welcome. At no point could we be confident it was going to continue.
As I write this madness, I’ve travelled along the trainline of hope, stopping at everywhere from the doldrums to ecstasy. So long as it wasn’t a round trip to misery, I shall not mind.