By Tamhas Woods
October will mark his twentieth anniversary as Arsenal manager, but Arsene Wenger faces a future which remains uncertain. The voices of discontent are still unabated after a season which saw Arsenal go without a single trophy in one of the most open and unpredictable title races in living memory.
Though a league double over champions Leicester City was achieved, it was a simple lack of consistency, with occasional displays of defensive naivety, which caused the Gunners’ eventual failure to win a first title since 2004. This summer, the teams immediately around Arsenal are already strengthening at a rate of knots, and with Wenger’s days numbered, it may well be at least another twelve years until Arsenal get such a gilt-edged chance to win the title.
Can Arsenal open 2016/17 with a win? For the latest Arsenal match odds, visit Matchbook.
Anything other than a solid opening month to 2016/17 is liable to make Wenger’s position untenable, and in that respect, matters are further complicated by the arrival of Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on 14th August.
With a final finish of eighth and a failure to win the Europa League in 2015/16, Liverpool will begin the new season with a fresh zeal and a desire to right the wrongs of their last campaign. Though Arsenal are firm favourites to win on day one, Europa League runners up Liverpool are never a side to stay down after a monumental disappointment – least of all under the charismatic Jürgen Klopp.
Since the start of the new decade, both clubs have experienced varying degrees of turmoil after hugely rewarding periods in the 2000s. As such, any gambler who believes in the power of trends would be well-advised to only take note of the past six seasons.
Arsenal Win + Both Teams to Score (33/10)
Though there is no room for complacency, the league table doesn’t lie. Arsenal are the superior side by far, and with home advantage, there can be no excuses for failure. Almost certainly, any repeat of August 2015’s 0-0 home draw against Liverpool would only serve to nudge Wenger one yard closer to the abyss.
Though possessed with the firepower to prevail, Arsenal may find defending effectively a difficult task for one significant reason. This will be Jürgen Klopp’s first visit to the Emirates Stadium as Liverpool manager, but it is not in his nature to compromise on the high-pressure, counter-attacking gameplan he holds so dear.
Last season, Arsenal struggled at times when the opposition adopted a similar approach. With all this taken into consideration, an Arsenal win without a clean sheet becomes a very tempting prospect to back.
Over +3.75 Goals in Total (63/20)
Depending on the form of each team’s respective strikers, and the venue, recent clashes between the two sides have produced a full spectrum of high-scoring results. For instance, April 2014 saw a title-chasing Liverpool roar into a 4-0 lead at Anfield before half time, en route to a 5-1 win.
Exactly a year later, Arsenal came impressively close to emulating that feat at the Emirates Stadium, with Brendan Rodgers’ side by then bereft of Luis Suarez’ services, showing just how quickly circumstances can change. For a very recent example of how a clash the two teams’ playing styles can create mayhem, reds of the north and south alike need only to recall January’s tumultuous 3-3 draw at Anfield.
Even when comprehensively beaten by Liverpool, the Gunners have seldom had trouble breaching the Liverpool rearguard. Arsenal will, however, need to be wary of Klopp’s counter-attacking specialists, particularly James Milner, who was (unexpectedly) a standout player for Liverpool last season.
1st Half – Over 1.5 Arsenal Goals (9/2)
Though a wager that only the most ardent of Gunners would entertain placing, this is a fixture rarely short of goalmouth action. The current Liverpool XI, for all their promise and endeavour, remain susceptible to the occasional horror show, and the opening day of a Premier League season never fails to produce some dramatic scorelines.
Ultimately, Liverpool must not be underestimated, but uncertainty in the camp is inevitable in the early days of 2016/17. For all his faults, Wenger has the (now unrivalled) Premier League experience to exploit this and begin his twentieth full season in a strong manner.