Arsenal vs Liverpool: Klopp's project is complete, can we emulate it?
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
It's pretty dire right now around Arsenal. After the weekend's traumatic result (not something I want to delve into very deeply), we sit four points off 7th place, a potential Europa League spot, thus making it a very tough ask for us to qualify for any European football whatsoever. No European qualification would mean further financial depletion in a time of economic crises. Further financial depletion means we are further from where we want to be, and our rebuilding project is further from completion. The prospect of sinking into the comfortable realms of mid-table mediocrity for years to come looks antagonisingly real. What once looked like an anomaly, an outlier season in the history of this football club, could easily become the norm. It's not good.
Our opponents tomorrow night know the stages of a structural rebuild at a club very well, and they've come out the other side of this turmoil and turbulence in flying colours. Jurgen Klopp stepped through the doors at Anfield on the 8th October 2015. He inherited a squad lacking a identity and lacking quality in all areas. Players such as Joe Allen, Christian Benteke, Jon Flanagan and a 35-year-old Kolo Toure were mainstays in the side. Despite finishing the season in 8th and losing a Europa League final (and thus missing out on Europe altogether), Klopp was backed, both financially by the board and emotionally by a fanbase tired of their club labouring below their natural level. He had a vision of where he wanted to take the club and everyone was prepared to invest everything into him because they saw his potential, even if it was to take some time to come to fruition.
In just three years, the German innovator had transformed the club. He had taken them back into the Champions League, and then led them to the final of the prestigious competition. Two years later, they're both European and English champions. The only surviving members of his initial squad are Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren, James Milner, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi. He oversaw a mass overhaul in the playing staff, identifying those who weren't good enough for where he wanted to be, and recruiting very effectively on a relatively limited budget (look at net spend before you talk about Van Dijk and Alison).
This model has to be something we look to emulate. We should take inspiration from how they've rebuilt their club, and look to rectify our issues in a similar way. We posses a young and hungry coach who has the personality to lead a cultural rebuild, as well as the coaching capacity to work wonders with a strong group of players. Back him financially, enable him to mould his squad into what he thinks we require and we should see results. Give him time and be patient.
As for the game tomorrow, despite some poor results since being crowned Champions, don't expect Liverpool to 'be on the beach'. They need three wins from three to surpass Manchester City's record points tally, and Andy Robertson came out today and declared the Reds "want to produce a performance of Premier League Champions tomorrow night". Fuck.
As for our line-up, I expect some changes, particularly after Sunday's defensive horror show. Whilst a change of shape is tempting given our creative difficulties, I can't see it happening. Emi Martinez will obviously retain his place in goal, meanwhile our back three needs mixing up. Sead Kolasinac simply cannot play again, given his limitations on the ball there. For me, I'd drop Kieran Tierney back into that left sided centre-back role if Arteta is so insistent on using a left-footer there. Unfortunately we have no option but to stick with David Luiz, whilst Shkodran Mustafi needs dropping after returning to his old ways in the last 20 on the weekend. Rob Holding should replace him and be given an opportunity.
As for our wing-backs, after another encouraging display from Hector Bellerin, he should start tomorrow, whilst with Tierney's reshuffling, Bukay Saka should return to his natural left hand side. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos were two of our brighter performers on Sunday, so will start once again as our double pivot.
As for our front three, unfortunately our limited options means there can be no rest for our physically declining Alexandre Lacazette. Alongside him, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will start, leaving a huge creative burden on Pepe once again.
When Raul Sanllehi and Edu take their seats in the director's box tomorrow night and see the Liverpool players walk out and receive a guard of honour, I hope they're thinking, 'this should be us in five years time.'
My Line-Up: Martinez, Holding, Luiz, Tierney, Bellerin, Xhaka, Ceballos, Saka, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Prediction: Arsenal 1-2 Liverpool