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Friday, March 24, 2023

Arsenal under Arteta following a similar trajectory to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool

A much-talked about scene in the ‘All Or Nothing: Arsenal’ docuseries depicted Mikel Arteta hauling speakers out to the North London club’s training pitch to play ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ This was designed to prepare Arsenal for a daunting trip to face Liverpool at Anfield. This weekend, the scenario will be flipped.

This season, Arsenal are the ones leading the way at the top of the Premier League table with Liverpool struggling for consistency. Jurgen Klopp’s team have plenty reason to fear the Gunners ahead of Sunday’s away fixture at the Emirates Stadium. Another Arsenal win would add to the growing sense they can challenge for the title this season.

Arteta surely feels a great deal of vindication over the way things have come together for Arsenal over the first two months of the 2022/23 campaign. The Spaniard faced criticism for some of his decisions last season and the season before, but the Gunners are now a reflection of their Spanish manager.

The process certainly hasn’t been straightforward, but Arteta has rebuilt his team one area at a time. First, he focused on giving Arsenal a stronger defensive basis before introducing the likes of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka in the wide areas to provide forward thrust in the attacking third. 

Gabriel Jesus arrived from Manchester City to give Arsenal a new frontman and the Brazilian has added another dimension to Arteta’s attack in the same way Mohamed Salah took Liverpool’s frontline to a new level following his signing from Roma in 2017. In fact, a lot of parallels can be drawn between the trajectory of Arteta’s Arsenal and the one Liverpool followed under Klopp.

Klopp initially struggled to point the Anfield club in the right direction. Liverpool only managed an eighth-place finish in the German’s first season at the club and followed this up with back-to-back fourth-place finishes. This represented progress, but as recently as 2018 there were doubts over Liverpool’s ability to challenge for the Premier League title and win trophies.

With every passing season, though, Klopp added key players to his team and forged relationships between those players. Unlike Arteta, the German focused on sparking life into his attack and signed Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk as the final pieces to complete his team. Arteta did things in the opposite order, adding Gabriel Jesus as the final piece this summer, but process was still there.

Of course, Arsenal have still to prove they can last the course in a Premier League title race. The Gunners sit at the top of the table after eight fixtures, but tests against Liverpool and Chelsea loom over the next month. If the Gunners can get to the World Cup break as leaders, they will be considered genuine contenders. 

“I think it started in that dressing room when you get the right people and the right players and they start to connect with each other,” Arteta recently said when asked to explain the process Arsenal have gone through to build their current table-topping team. “It takes it to another level with all the members of staff that are a huge part of the team and it doesn’t matter at what level, it can be at the highest level. 

“When they start to connect, you can then deliver that to the pitch and start to transmit certain things on the pitch and then when you connect the way we have done with our fans and it becomes something really powerful. I think this is the biggest success that this group of players are having.”

Klopp also placed an emphasis on the character of his group as a whole to turn Liverpool into Premier League and Champions League winners. The Reds fight for their manager on the pitch and it’s been clear in some of the performances produced by Arsenal this season that they are doing the same thing for Arteta.

Sunday’s match will be revealing. An Arsenal victory would add even more weight to the argument that they are ready to challenge at the top of the Premier League table. A defeat would suggest they still have some progress to make and underline Liverpool’s quality despite their recent struggles. No matter what happens, though, Arteta is following the precedent of a manager who has walked a similar path.

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