13 August 2016

Liverpool at Arsenal 08.14.16

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-3 (h) 01.13.16
0-0 (a) 08.24.15
1-4 Arsenal (a) 04.04.15
2-2 (h) 12.21.14

Last three preseason matches:
Liverpool: 0-4 Mainz (a); 4-0 Barcelona (n); 1-2 Roma (n)
Arsenal: 3-2 City (n); 8-0 Viking FK (a); 3-1 Chivas (n)

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Klavan Moreno
Henderson Can Wijnaldum
Mané Firmino Coutinho

We're here. After much-needed respite following last season's a-match-every-three-days grind and the disappointing finish to both league and cup competition. After a promising summer, with encouraging signings and encouraging preseason performances and results.

Now, real football's back.

And, because Liverpool, we've no idea how it's going to play out. Liverpool could be very good. Liverpool could be very similar to last season. Liverpool are already coping with injuries. Liverpool are going to be challenged immediately, with one of the more difficult fixtures to start the season.

Yep, football's back.

As Sturridge likely fit enough for just a spot on the bench, it seems the only line-up question is Henderson or Lallana. Liverpool will play 4-3-3, the formation we've seen for the majority of preseason. Liverpool will probably go with Klavan over Matip, as he's had more time partnered with Lovren over the last few weeks. Firmino will play as the false-ish nine, flanked by Mané and Coutinho. Clyne and Moreno will start because they're Liverpool's only two available senior full-backs. Can will sit in front of the back four, with two from Wijnaldum, Henderson, and Lallana in front of him.

Despite how important Lallana has been under Klopp – he's become both the epitome of Klopp's gegenpressing style and Liverpool's struggles in front of the opposition goal – I suspect he'll be the one on the bench, at least to start the campaign. Wijnaldum, Liverpool's second most-expensive signing of the summer and so impressive going forward, seems a certain inclusion. Henderson provides a bit more protection and calm possession than Lallana, which'll be needed away from home against last season's runners-up, and is still Liverpool's captain. And Lallana's a handy option to have off the bench, able to come into either midfield or attack if Liverpool need to change the game.

Meanwhile, Arsenal remain Arsenal. They will be very good. They're always very good. They've been very good over the summer, unbeaten in five preseason matches. Despite making the fewest signings of any of the "big clubs," they've had a good summer just by adding Granit Xhaka, exactly the type of player they've lacked.

And, because Arsenal (and just like Liverpool), they'll be missing key players. Mertesacker and Gabriel are out injured – a very big concern against Liverpool's promising attack – as are Wilshere and Welbeck. Özil, Koscielny, and Giroud didn't play in preseason, late to return after the Euros.

Which makes Arsenal's likely XI Cech; Bellerin, Chambers, Monreal, Gibbs; Elneny, Xhaka; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Iwobi; Alexis. It could be Debuchy or youngster Rob Holding in central defense rather than Monreal. Coquelin or Cazorla could start in midfield; Cazorla or Joel Campbell in attack. Maybe Arsenal rush back Koscielny, Özil, and/or Giroud given this fixture's importance, although that's not really Wenger's style.

Regardless, they'll be Arsenal, looking to keep possession, slice and dice through you, breaking lines and accumulating shots. Which could suit Liverpool, giving Liverpool space to counter-attack, with the pace of Mané and the creation of Coutinho and Firmino getting chances against a makeshift defense. If, of course, Liverpool's defense can keep Arsenal out long enough to provide those counter-attack chances. Which, as we all know, is a pretty big "if."

Liverpool certainly could have done with an easier fixture to start the campaign. They've won at Arsenal just once in the last 15 seasons: under Dalglish in the second match of 2011-12, a promising beginning to what was ultimately a very disappointing campaign. Last season saw a 0-0 in the third match, with Arsenal unbelievably keeping Liverpool out in the first half and Liverpool unbelievably keeping Arsenal out in the second half.

But it's not the worst thing to be so challenged at the inception. Set a marker, start as you mean to continue. And, not to be completely cliché, but it's the Premier League; anything can happen. See: Hull 2-1 Leicester.

It's the first game of the season; there will be 37 more over the next 10 months. But it's massive: because it's the first, because of the fixture, because of Liverpool's potential. I'm already counting the minutes, which always seems a recipe to disaster.

Goodbye, sanity and serenity. Welcome back, real football.

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