The match at Emirates Stadium on Sunday should prove informative about the prospects of both Arsenal and Liverpool.
For Premier League leader Arsenal, it’s the latest test of its ability to mount a credible title challenge against the only team that has managed to disrupt Manchester City’s dominance over the past five years.
For Liverpool, tentatively finding form after such a turbulent start to the season, it’s a chance to provide a platform on which to build Jurgen Klopp’s recovery plan.
The stakes are much higher for the team from Merseyside – not least because City lies in wait a week later.
Further dropped points ahead of the visit of Erling Haaland and Co. to Anfield would leave Klopp on the verge of crisis in a season when the title already looks beyond Liverpool.
The German has been cautious in his commentary this week – even after the confidence-boosting win over Rangers in the Champions League on Tuesday.
“I can’t wait for the moment when I can read newspapers again because I didn’t read them for weeks,” Klopp joked. “The criticism is completely fine. We are not over the moon about our situation. But we played some really good games – it’s not like it’s 10 years ago, it’s not too long ago.”
Liverpool has only lost once in the league this season but already trails Arsenal by 11 points.
The only wins have come in the 9-0 demolition of Bournemouth and via an injury-time strike against Newcastle.
Last week’s 3-3 draw at home against Brighton typified the raggedness of a team that was on course for an unprecedented quadruple going into the final weeks of last season. The loss of Sadio Mane, who joined Bayern Munich in the off-season, has had an effect, with replacement Darwin Nunez taking time to settle.
Injuries in midfield have left Liverpool looking light in that department, while Virgil van Dijk’s usual authority in defence has been lacking. In five of seven games in the league, Liverpool has conceded first to underline the vulnerability at the back.
How van Dijk handles Haaland will be fascinating – but before that he will have to try to curtail a former City striker who is enjoying a resurgence at Arsenal.
Gabriel Jesus looked to be a bargain when signed for US$50-million in the off-season and he has been a key component for Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta this term, scoring five times in eight appearances.
The Brazil international was on target again as Arsenal defeated Tottenham 3-1 in last week’s North London derby.
Seven wins from eight matches has confounded expectations and even left City in Arsenal’s wake.
The one loss – to Manchester United – has not derailed momentum, while victory against Tottenham answered a lot of questions about the team’s ability to cope with the pressure at the top.
Even in the face of Liverpool’s struggles, another win on Sunday would perhaps be even more impressive as evidence of Arsenal’s readiness to replace last year’s runner-up as the new challenge to City.
Taking a knee
The Premier League will reaffirm its commitment to fighting racism and discrimination with players taking a knee before the next two sets of matches.
All games between Oct. 8 and Oct. 16 will be dedicated to the “No Room For Racism” initiative.
Ahead of the start of the season, club captains collectively agreed to stop taking a knee before every match and instead select certain points in the calendar to make a statement.
Boxing Day, the final day of the season and the FA Cup and EFL Cup finals will also see players make the gesture.