Arsenal can't feel the fear in first acid test

There is no doubt that Sunday marks the first real test of Arsenal's title-winning credentials, although they have been spared an even sterner examination later in the month
Arsenal can't feel the fear in first acid test

ACID TEST: Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. Pic: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

There is no doubt that Sunday marks the first real test of Arsenal's title-winning credentials, although the death of the Queen has spared them an even sterner examination later in the month.

Mikel Arteta's Gunners began the weekend as Premier League leaders and swatted Norwegian champions Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League on Thursday with a victory that brought their 2022-23 record to played 10, won nine and lost just one, a tally that put them ahead of champions Manchester City by a single point.

Liverpool, in contrast, can be found languishing in ninth spot, although their only league loss, at the hands of Manchester United, was against the only team to have bested Arsenal so far. Eleven points will separate the two sides at kick-off but no-one is pretending in north London that Jurgen Klopp and Co will provide anything other than a 90-minute assessment of whether the Gunners really do have what it takes to go all the way for the first time since 2004.

Arteta saw his players thrive under pressure in last week's north London derby, which saw Tottenham manager Antonio Conte throw in the towel with 20 minutes remaining as his side were 3-1, and a man, down.

Klopp and his players are unlikely to be so accommodating despite their lowly league position and Arteta conceded that derby levels of concentration and commitment will be required once again.

“To win those matches you really need to believe that you can go there and win and compete against those teams - and if you don’t have that component then you have fear," he said.

"And fear is the worst enemy, especially against the top teams, because this is what they use a lot of the time just to win football matches. And you cannot go with any of that into Sunday’s game, the same as we didn’t go when we played Spurs."

The Spaniard also knows however that should Arsenal get the better of Liverpool the door will be wide open to take maximum points from the whole of October. 

The Premier League assignments against Leeds, Southampton and Nottingham Forest that follow are hardly daunting, especially as a home game with City that was originally scheduled for October 19 has been moved down the calendar so a Europa League date with PSV Eindhoven, postponed because the monarch's death left too few officers to police it, can be fulfilled the following day.

A derby date at Chelsea, on Sunday November 6, therefore represents the next time when the words 'acid' and 'test' can be applied to Arteta and his players.

The Bodo/Glimt tie turned out to be a routine dismissal of limited opponents by a largely second-string starting line-up, with perennial Premier League substitute Eddie Nketiah netting the first goal in a 3-0 success.

A half-hour cameo by Gabriel Jesus, who came off the bench to make sure Gabriel Martinelli remained fresh for Liverpool, offered the fans extra reassurance that it might just be a similar scoreline on Sunday however.

The Brazil striker, surplus at City through the arrival of Erling Haaland, has thrived in being given star billing as the Gunners' first-pick forward.

It was his trickery and energy in the box that created Thursday night's third goal, converted by Fabio Vieira, but it was his willingness to help out in other areas of the pitch, including his own penalty area, that had Arteta purring. Liverpool are unlikely to have forgotten that Jesus netted against them last season, in the 2-2 draw with City at the Etihad in April, and four times in total before departing for the capital.

Arteta has also added Oleksander Zinchenko to his playing pool after City decided they didn't need the left-sided Ukrainian either. That prompted a €90million outlay but having two players with experience of going all the way in a Premier League title race cannot be sniffed at.

"That is the next step and winning against those teams requires yourself individually as a team to be at your best," Arteta said. "And as well a level of belief.

"And probably the positive experiences you had against them to raise that belief. And we have got players now who have been participating in those matches."

Arteta referred back to the two matches last season when Jesus and Zinchenko were both City options. The first was a 5-0 humiliation in Manchester early in the season, when all seemed to be going wrong; the second a 2-1 home defeat that saw Pep Guardiola's side require a contentious red card for Gunners defender Gabriel plus a very late winner.

"There were two very different games," Arteta said. "One that we played 70 mins with ten men and were 2-0 down already, and the game at home we were on top and we played with ten men and we ended losing the game. The boys believe that we can play at that level and it will require us to play at that level to beat Liverpool."

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