Arsenal host Liverpool on Sunday in an intriguing matchup that could tell us a lot about who both clubs truly are this season. Obviously, Arsenal are off to a terrific start, but the Reds have been a bogey team for the Gunners. Will Liverpool’s dominance continue or will Arsenal finally flip the script and prove they’re one of the top dogs in the Premier League this season? On the other side, Liverpool are off to a slow start. Are they a sleeping giant primed to awaken soon or are they really a bit less than this season than in years past?
We checked in with Mark Kastner (@mkstnr) from The Liverpool Offside for some insight into Liverpool’s slow start, their evolving front three, and more. We’ll post a link to Aaron’s answers on TLO when they publish. As always, if you stop by their community (which you should!) be respectful. Healthy dialogue is great. Being a dick is not. Regardless of what you may think about Liverpool fans in general, the bunch at TLO are good folks.
TSF: Liverpool aren’t in their usual top of the table position. How have the first two months of the season gone for the Reds? Is everything okay?
TLO: To analyze the first two months of this season you need to look at Liverpool last season. Reaching all three finals and taking the Premier League title to the final nine minutes of the season has had a physical and emotional toll on the team. Couple that with the shortest offseason in PL history, and, well, it makes sense the team isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Overall, the underlying numbers for Liverpool are great. They are an elite team. They just seem tired.
TSF: I know you personally take a much calmer and more reasonable stance on “the state of the club” than most. But what’s the temperature of the fanbase like generally? Is the sky falling because Liverpool have started with a bunch of draws instead of wins?
TLO: Depends on what kind of fan you’re looking at. There’s a segment of online fans that have never been happy with the club, even at the highest peaks. Those people are convinced that this is the reckoning LFC deserves for having bad owners who don’t invest in the squad, or something, I’m never quite sure what their actual point is.
The main thread throughout the fanbase is a bit of annoyance and worry. How could you not be? We know what it takes to keep up with Manchester City to win a league. This isn’t that.
TSF: How is Darwin Nunez settling in at the club? Is the attack better or worse / different or the same as when Sadio Mane rounded out the attacking trio?
TLO: Personally, I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen from Nunez. His shot volume is very high and the quality of shots have been really good. His fancy stats are there and the goals will come. Obviously, getting a red card in his first start wasn’t an ideal situation.
The vaunted “front three” of Liverpool has been on a journey of evolution since 2020 when Diogo Jota was brought in. Mane leaving has only accelerated that and it’s still too early to tell what that actually means. The attack is still good, but it could be better, if that makes sense.
TSF: Can you give me directions to the Fountain of Youth that Roberto Firmino seems to have discovered? That man is playing some of the best football he has in a while.
TLO: I’m guessing it comes from the veneers he has. I’m not sure about the science on that one, but the man loves his teeth.
TSF: What, if anything, is going on with Virgil van Dijk? He doesn’t seem to be the terrifyingly dominant centerback he was before Jordan Pickford destroyed his knee. Did he ever get back to that level? Is he even one of the two best CBs at the club right now?
TLO: Virgil is an elite CB. He’s still the best in the world at his position. However, even the best CB can’t defend well when the midfield in front of him is nonexistent in transition. If you’re curious, take a look at the build up for Brighton’s second goal last week. Fabinho, Henderson, and Thiago are all standing within like six yards of each other on the left side of the field. So. Much. Space.
I’m the least worried about van Dijk on the whole. Fix what’s in front of him and you’ll see the same player we’ve always seen.
TSF: Where are Liverpool weakest? What areas should Arsenal look to exploit?
TLO: See answer above. Pull the midfield to one side of the pitch, switch the ball quickly to the space behind either fullback, and profit.
TSF: I know you don’t like predictions, so I won’t ask you to make one. Any final thoughts / words?
TLO: It’s Arsenal vs Liverpool. Currently, I don’t think Liverpool are this bad and I don’t think Arsenal are that good. I may eat my shorts come Sunday, but this feels like an opportunity for Jurgen Klopp to put in a vintage performance and right a lot of wrongs.
Thanks a lot to Mark for taking the time to chat with us!