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Arsenal vs Liverpool FA Cup preview: Opportunity Knocks

The Gunners host the league leaders for a massive FA Cup 3rd round showdown

Fulham v Arsenal - Premier League - Craven Cottage Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

2023 did not end the way any Arsenal fan would have liked, as the Gunners limped into the New Year with a deflating 2-1 loss away to Fulham. But with 2024 a week gone, what better time for the Gunners to establish some new resolutions like scoring goals and getting back into the black on the Win/Loss column than on Sunday, when Arsenal host Liverpool for an FA Cup matchup.

December was packed with fixtures, and Arsenal showed their fatigue down the stretch. Not every performance was poor, but the results rarely reflected the Gunners’ efforts, ending the year with more “wouldas” and “couldas” than points. The loss at Fulham was the culmination of an exhausting slate as Arsenal looked leggy, spent, and out of ideas. With a week’s worth of rest, Mikel Arteta’s side play hosts to league leaders Liverpool, less than two weeks removed from an exciting draw at Anfield in the Premier League, for the Gunners’ first match of 2024.

Here are five talking points ahead of their Sunday showdown:

Finishing School

Not to beat a dead horse, but Arsenal’s attackers have been underperforming at an alarming rate. Sure, there are reasons for cautious optimism, as the same front three that is currently in a funk were lighting the league on fire last season, and the lack of goals this season has not been a byproduct of a lack of opportunity. All of the data points toward the attack being productive…eventually. But stats don’t account for the mental element, which seems to be the biggest issue right now.

Attacking is equal parts ability and belief. If the Gunners can get something clicking against Liverpool on Sunday, perhaps that could kick start a return to a more productive attack. But there is also the very real fear that the slump has not yet reached its nadir. Liverpool are stingy in defense, which may prove tough for an Arsenal attack in desperate need of success. On the inverse, it could also be the kind of test that brings out their best and reminds them of who they really are.

A Man, A Plan…

It’s easy to forget that Mikel Arteta is still very new to managing a football club. But then there are those moments where it is glaringly obvious, such as the predictability of the attack this season. Last season, Arsenal lit up the back of the net with their wide play, well-timed overlaps and runs, and their silky transition play in the midfield. This season, teams have caught on and have more or less neutralized the effectiveness of the attack. Injuries have only made matters trickier, as they tend to do.

For Arteta, and Arsenal, to reach another level, there needs to be an adjustment. One of the biggest criticisms of the attack this season has been in the slowness of the build up. Arteta has two of the league’s most electric wing players in Saka and Martinelli, but the tactical decision to have them hold the ball while the rest of the team pushes up field makes it far too easy for defenses to get set into a low block. There have been glimpses of what it can look like when they are unleashed in more direct play, but those have been few and far between.

Home Cooking

Until the loss to West Ham, the Emirates had been a relative stronghold for the Arsenal this season, as the Gunners had not dropped points at home since the beginning of October and only dropped points in two matches all season. The home crowd will be desperate to see Arsenal return to better form after such a rough patch. Hosting a side like Liverpool only further compounds the urgency and magnitude of the moment. Fan involvement has always been a hallmark of the PL, and the players undoubtedly feed off of that energy. For the Gunners to find their form, the Emirates needs to be the rollicking, rocking place it was for last season’s incredible run.

Selection Sunday

Unlike other PL clubs, Arsenal did not manage to draw a Championship side for what many would perceive as an “easy” draw. If I’m being honest, hosting a strong PL side can be much more beneficial given the current state of affairs at Arsenal. We have seen that the Gunners’ depth is not where it should be, so hosting Liverpool means that the starters will more than likely be given an opportunity to iron out the kinks and stay sharp. Plus, a win gives the club a shot in the arm, while a loss feels less crushing when it’s to a side like Liverpool as opposed to, say, Scunthorpe United.

Arsenal will be without Takehiro Tomiyasu and Mohammed Elneny, who have joined their respective national teams for the AFC Asian Cup and AFCON tournament. However, that means Liverpool will be missing the talismanic Mohammed Salah and ascendant midfielder Wataru Endo as well. Jurgen Klopp’s side will also be without Dominick Szobozlai who picked up an injury. Can the Gunners take advantage of the Red’s forced need for rotation?

Silverware

As easy as it may be to write off a potential loss to Liverpool, the Gunners have the pedigree and ability to fight for every possible trophy. The FA Cup has long been Arsenal’s competition, winning it a record 14 times. With injuries piling and form waning, some may see the cup as surplus to the season’s larger goals, but at this stage in Arteta’s career, the expectation needs to be that Arsenal make deep runs in all available competitions. Silverware has long since been the measure of a success for both clubs and managers, and the Gunners are still in it for three competitions, and winning even one of them can make the season an unqualified success and further propel the club as they return to the upper echelon of the sport.


This could very well be the opportunity the Gunners need to return to the type of form that has become the standard for the club the last two seasons. The last week has been met with undue doom and gloom, but in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of modern sports, it’s unsurprising. Arteta is a known motivator, and I’m sure the significance of the match is not lost on him or the players. Even a strong showing can be a catalyst, but nothing changes fortunes like a win.

WHAT: Arsenal vs Liverpool
WHEN: Sunday, January 7th, 11:30am EST/8:30am PST/4:30pm GMT
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming live on ESPN+

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