The likes of Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel and Arsene Wenger all have fewer wins over Klopp than he has over them. Yet Mikel Arteta’s opening skirmishes against the Liverpool boss have gone his way even if he would admit a healthy dose of luck has been required for Arsenal to overcome the English champions.
Certainly Arteta’s first meeting against Klopp was not an exemplary Arsenal performance, the heavily-rotated Gunners riding their luck and pouncing on uncharacteristic errors from Virgil van Dijk to win 2-1 in a match where they had just 30% possession and Liverpool registered 31 shots at Emiliano Martinez’s goal.
Whether their second meeting counts as a win for Arteta or a draw between the two sides that was subsequently decided on penalties rather depends on your viewpoint but what was beyond debate after the Community Shield was that Arsenal had gone toe-to-toe with one of Europe’s finest sides and proven themselves to be up for the challenge.
Arteta might acknowledge that there is no one thing Arsenal can do that will guarantee them a win over Liverpool, indeed he noted that there are only so many times the Gunners can probe the weak points in Klopp’s side before they are mitigated.
“First of all you need a great individual performance by all of them,” Arteta said. “You need certain luck, that’s for sure, in moments in the game, and then you have to be so consistent in everything you do throughout 96 minutes because in any moment they can open you up and you can get exposed.
“You never give up. That’s another thing that is crucial against them.
“You have to expect them to be at their best. If you’re always expecting that then the level of attention is higher, focus is higher and you are more determined in every ball. Against them that’s key.
“I don’t see any complacency [in Liverpool]. They go to any ground and even when they are 2-0 up, 3-0 up, 4-0 up, they’re still going the same way. This is an incredible credit to the coaching team, the culture they have created and the spirit of that team. You can see that in the 24 or 26 players they have in the squad.
“There is not one player that plays half-half on the day, that is not very interested or just plays for moments of the game. They just go for it, every single minute of every game. Throughout the season to do that for 10 months is a massive compliment for them.”
Nowehere is that intensity more apparent than in their press. Even though it is not of quite as ferocious as it was early in Klopp’s tenure it is still one of their best avenues to goal, winning the ball high up the pitch and finishing swiftly from there.
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And yet Arsenal have shown that they can use opponents’ commitment against them. Liverpool are one of several sides in recent months to have fallen foul of the Gunners’ ability to draw pressure onto them and burst through the lines with an explosive counter.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal in the Community Shield was perhaps the gold standard for Arteta’s Arsenal. Playing the ball around their own penalty area, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin combined to release Bukayo Saka down the Gunners’ right, from where a delicate crossfield pass unleashed the club captain to curl in an elegant effort.
The rewards of such an approach were great but, as Arteta notes, so were the risks.
“Obviously we have to try to find ways how we can hurt them and positionally create problems for them but as well being very realistic and cautious that this is exactly as well what they’re trying to do,” Arteta said.
“This is how they break things down, when you feel comfortable with a little bit of space doing those things and the next minute you are punished and you are a goal down. It’s a really important balance and awareness that you have to handle during games against them.”
Even if Arsenal can once more match Liverpool on the field come Monday, the first of two games between the clubs at Anfield this week with an EFL Cup tie to come three days later, there is still much work to be done in North London to reel the champions in.
On Klopp’s appointment in 2015 Liverpool were out of Europe whilst Arsenal were still Champions League regulars. Financially the former had earned £392million for the 2014/15 season – a figure buoyed by the sale of Luis Suarez – whilst the Gunners were earning £436million.
In the years since the tables have turned dramatically. Liverpool have won leagues and European silverware whilst Arsenal are in danger of slipping away from the top table both in sporting and financial terms.
The 43 point gap between the two in the 2019/20 Premier League table typified the chasm that now separates Liverpool and Arsenal.
“They’ve raised the bar so high, not only them but Manchester City as well in recent years. That’s the level. You have to be able to compete at that level, this is our context and reality. We want to be one of those teams.
“Those basic things [no complacency, hard work] have to be implemented every day and that goes through in training, you can’t expect to do that at the weekend and train a different way. That’s how you conduct yourself every day.
“I don’t know if in football history if someone has closed a gap of 43 points if they maintain the same level in just a few months. Obviously what you are expecting to do is you to be much, much better and more consistent and a little bit they can drop the level and then that gap is not that big.
“We can control what we can control, which is our performances and our level of consistency. Obviously we will do our best to try to be much better than last year and whatever they do it is up to them.”