JÜRGEN Klopp’s first full season as Liverpool manager will get underway with a trip to the Emirates to meet an Arsenal side currently ravaged by injuries, and late returns from international competition. We spoke to Andrew Mangan of Arseblog to see how the Gunners are feeling heading into the new season.
Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself
I write about Arsenal seven days a week.
We started the site back in 2002, and it’s grown arms and legs over the years. We do a couple of podcasts a week, we cover the matches in huge detail from live blogs to reports and stats, and everything else.
OK then, what do you think is Arsenal’s best and worst moment against Liverpool?
Best moment against Liverpool is clearly 1989 at Anfield. That was obviously the standout.
In terms of worst, the Michael Owen FA Cup final is a difficult one to take, that was one of the worst.
That 4-4 game with Andrey Arshavin was ludicrous, but it summed up both clubs at that time. We were scoring four goals away from home and still not winning the game, and Liverpool were managing not to lose despite conceding four at home, but it was a game that essentially cost them the title.
Who is your favourite Liverpool player of all time?
Steve Heighway. Because he was Irish and I’m Irish, having grown up in the UK, and my brother has always been a big Liverpool fan.
And Michael Thomas, of course!
What do you make of the current Liverpool side?
It’s difficult to say. I thought it was interesting what Klopp did in January, which was more or less nothing.
He kept his powder dry for summer, when he obviously wanted to bring in players who fit into the system that he wants to play, and it’s typical that the players you want aren’t necessarily available in January. I thought that was really interesting.
I think he’s tried to change the identity of the team that was under performing under Brendan Rodgers by phasing some players in and bringing in his own players and I think what we might see this season is a team more capable of playing the football that Klopp wants, compared to the one we saw last season.
What is your opinion of Klopp?
I think he’s great. I really like him. I like his outlook on the game, I like the way he wants his teams to play, he seems like a pretty decent guy – he has his moments, but every manager has those moments where you go ‘oh my god’. But, for the most part, I think he’s a good guy and a really, really good manager.
He’s somebody who I think would’ve probably fitted in at Arsenal, if Arsene Wenger had departed in a way that would have made that possible.
I really admire what he did this week with The S*n, I think that was really excellent and I wish more managers would do things like that.
Big question then, are you “Wenger In” or “Wenger Out”?
At this point it’s difficult. It really depends on what happens this season – he even said it himself. It’s probably time that Arsenal thought about change but it’s probably a really complicated thing to go through for the club, because he’s been there for so long and he’s been part of the furniture for so long that it isn’t just a case of bringing in a new guy and all the problems that Arsenal have are solved. There are structural issues that have to be managed if he goes.
I think he’s a fantastic man, a really intelligent man, I still enjoy listening to him for the most part but it does really depend on what happens this season and what he does between now and the end of the transfer window and if he’s got the right ambition for the club – if he brings in the players who can really help us challenge for the title.
There are some people who are fixed in their position – that they want him out – but if he won the league this season and then wanted to stay after then that would be fine with me.
What do you make of the business done by both clubs this summer?
I think Liverpool’s is interesting, like I said we are going to have to wait and see how those new players fit in and where exactly he fits them in and how they impact the way the team will play. He’s obviously made his mind up about some players who were there, and he’s been decisive and gone and got replacements. From that point of view you’d say it’s very good.
For Arsenal, we’ve now got a great range of midfielders. Granit Xhaka is a really excellent signing, he’s going to be somebody who’s going to make a big difference to this Arsenal team.
But, we’re looking for a striker still, we’ve been waiting for a striker for a number of seasons. We need one badly as it stands, with Danny Welbeck ruled out until next year, so the lack of a striker signing is a bit concerning.
The big weakness we have right at this moment is at the centre of defence. Per Mertesacker is injured, Gabriel is injured, Laurent Koscielny is coming back late from the Euros and we’re very very light back there, that’s the big worry. We’ll have to wait and see what happens there.
I’m pleased with Xhaka. I’m a bit worried that we haven’t done more before the start of the season, but there is another two weeks of the transfer window to go so it’s hard to make a definitive judgement just yet.
What’s the feeling like among Arsenal fans at the moment?
The focus at the moment seems to be more on what we don’t have, rather than what we do have – going back to the striker issue and the central defender issue. People are getting wound up by the weaknesses they see in the squad – and there are weaknesses – but we do have some fantastic players at Arsenal.
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are world-class players. The midfield is fantastic we have brilliant options there.
We have reasonably good wide players, and some young lads coming through in those areas, an excellent keeper and a great backup keeper, so Arsenal aren’t in a mess despite what some people might have you believe.
But they aren’t in as good a shape as they should be going into this season.
Where do you see both teams finishing this season?
It’s difficult to make predictions. I think Liverpool will be better than they were last season in the league. They don’t have any European distractions, so that’s going to be a benefit.
The Europa League is extremely draining, and any club who goes to the final really does have to balance their squad and rotate things around, and that really does have an impact on Premier League form. I expect Liverpool to really challenge for the top four this season.
Arsene Wenger for all his faults is a very consistent manager, he’s never finished outside the top four, so that’s more or less where Arsenal are going to be. If we can bring in a good central defender and a really good forward then I think we’ll be title contenders, but without that I don’t think we will be.
Finally, what is your score prediction ahead of Sunday’s game?
I’m going for a crafty 2-1 to Arsenal. I just have a feeling we’ll sneak it.
Last season everyone went into the opening game saying ‘it’s West Ham, well easily beat them’ and we got beat 2-0.
This time around everybody is going ‘oh my god, we’re never going to beat Liverpool, look at the squad’. So we might just surprise a few people and sneak a 2-1. It will be a close game though.