Arsenal fans could be forgiven if they have allowed themselves to get ever so slightly carried away by their recent form.
Their club’s 1-0 win at home against Watford before the international break extended their unbeaten run across all competitions this season to nine matches.
The victory over Claudio Ranieri’s men was also Mikel Arteta’s 100th game in charge of the Gunners, nearly two years after he took over from Unai Emery at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal extended their unbeaten run to nine matches after beating Watford last time out
Mikel Arteta was under pressure at the start of the season but has turned things round since
But you can bet your bottom dollar the Spaniard did not allow himself to get overexcited despite completing his managerial century with a side who are now sat fifth in the table and have the longest unbeaten run of any side in the Premier League following Liverpool’s defeat at West Ham.
‘We won a couple of matches,’ he said after Arsenal won at Leicester late last month. ‘We are not where we want to be still. There are a lot of things to improve.’
And one would imagine the message from Arteta to his players has been extremely similar ahead of Saturday as they look to put an end to a wretched run spanning nine years during their current purple patch of form.
The Gunners now face Liverpool, where they have not won since a Santi Cazorla-inspired victory in September 2012
Arteta (centre) captained and scored for Arsenal in a 5-1 defeat at Anfield in February 2014
The Gunners have only avoided defeat twice in the league at Anfield twice since then, having also lost last time out despite a goal from Alexandre Lacazette (right)
The Gunners have not won at Liverpool since September 2012, a game which Arteta started and completed as a midfielder, having watched Abou Diaby deliver what would be his best performance for the club and new signing Santi Cazorla work his magic too.
But the Gunners have crumbled in the majority of their visits to Anfield in the past nine years, the first of which came in February 2014 in another well-known match which Liverpool won 5-1.
Arteta scored a second-half penalty but ultimately saw his side overwhelmed with four Reds goals in the opening 20 minutes. Gunners fans struggle to watch the game to this day, but often joke ‘we won the second half 1-0’.
Since that day, the Gunners have only avoided defeat at Anfield twice, a 2-2 draw in December later that year and the 3-3 stalemate in January 2016.
That six-goal thriller nearly six years ago – which saw Liverpool finally get the equaliser through Joe Allen in the 90th minute – was Jurgen Klopp’s first home match against Arsenal as the Reds boss.
His side have gone on to score another 18 goals in the subsequent five top-flight games on home soil against the north London outfit, the latest of which came in September last year in a 3-1 win.
After that game, his counterpart Arteta said: ‘We’re on a different journey to them.’
So how can the Spaniard inspire Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Co to end the hoodoo?
Arteta was under severe pressure after three straight top-flight defeats at the start of 2021-22
The Spaniard was not wrong about their different paths. The Gunners’ latest development in their project took place in the summer, with six signings – all under the age of 23 at the time of arrival – brought in to rejuvenate the squad.
However, debate over whether they were pursuing the right policy in the transfer market raged after a 3-0 defeat by newly-promoted Brentford in the opening game of the new campaign, followed by 2-0 and 5-0 reverses by Champions League winners Chelsea and at Premier League champions Manchester City.
After fans urged him to resign when he was leaving the ground after the Chelsea defeat, Thierry Henry weighed in the following month, saying: ‘I don’t know if things are going in the right direction.’
In that instance, most managers would try and implement some sort of revolution in some aspect, given that your main detractors are the supporters and your club’s greatest-ever striker.
Some bosses would also have a look at what they did last time out to bring stability back, and Arteta certainly had previous in that department, succeeding fellow Basque manager Emery to help a faltering Arsenal achieve FA Cup glory in August 2020.
But perhaps a mixture of that previous experience, imbued with Arteta’s steadfast belief in his approach to all aspects of club life, convinced him to continue with his methods and not be swayed by public opinion.
Results would have to improve regardless, and luckily Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s proclivity for being in the right place at the right time as well as individual brilliance from Martin Odegaard dragged them out of the mire with wins against Norwich and Burnley.
‘I must say that probably it has been the best 10-15 days I have ever had since I have been in football,’ the Spaniard said after the Norwich game. ‘I am not saying that they were the easiest, but probably the best.
‘It is a joy to watch how everyone was behaving around the context that we had around. What I am describing is probably what you guys don’t see, what is happening internally.’
Many could not have envisioned Arsenal’s form going on an upwards trajectory in the long-term either despite beating the Canaries. But it is unquestionably what has occurred.
But Aubameyang (centre) scored against Norwich to hand them their first points of new term
Martin Odegaard’s free-kick at Burnley saw the Gunners record back-to-back 1-0 wins
As Arteta predicted, the Gunners’ project then appeared to explode with a win against Spurs
One of Arteta’s best comments this calendar year came in March when he claimed Arsenal were ready to ‘explode’ into life.
He may have been six months out, but his project certainly seemed to do that when they downed Harry Kane and Co with a sublime 45 minutes at the Emirates Stadium as Aubameyang, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka all scored.
Determination and luck have played their part too. The Gunners rescued a point by the skin of their teeth against Crystal Palace through Alexandre Lacazette’s 95th-minute equaliser after Benjamin White’s effort was saved, and they were fortunate that Brighton were off colour in front of goal at the Amex the week before.
But resounding performances away at the King Power Stadium and at home against Aston Villa have perhaps been the best proof of what Arteta’s Arsenal are all about, and who will star in it for years to come.
Luck has been involved too, with the ball falling kindly for Lacazette for a 95th-minute equaliser against Crystal Palace
Emile Smith Rowe has shone recently with goals against Aston Villa, Leicester and Watford
Aaron Ramsdale has already become so key alongside Smith Rowe and Saka. They have blossomed in similar fashion to centre backs White and Gabriel Magalhaes, while the balance is provided in the full back area with Takehiro Tomiyasu the more defensively-minded compared to fellow summer signing Nuno Tavares.
Thomas Partey provides the experience alongside Albert Sambi Lokonga in the midfield, while Aubameyang and Lacazette have proved experienced reference points on both the training pitch and during matches.
Having spent the last few years crying out for an identity, the Gunners appear to formulating one quite nicely. But an identity was in place in the latter years of Arsene Wenger’s reign, and that did not halt the onslaught on their Anfield away days.
So what must the Spaniard do to ensure the hoodoo at Liverpool – who sit a place and two points above his side going into Saturday evening’s fixture – finally comes to an end? Well, looking at what he said last September after the Gunners surrendered a one-goal advantage may provide a good starting point.
‘Having the lead we should have handled the situation a little bit better, we conceded the goal too early straight after that,’ Arteta said.
‘When we had the clear chances to make it 2-2 we didn’t score. Obviously if you want to get something out of the game you have to do that.’
Arsenal have excelled at one of those points, but had the opposition been better they would have failed at times in the other.
Only once have the Gunners let a lead in the league slip this season, the 2-2 draw against Palace. That is a testament to the performances of their defence this season.
Lacazette was guilty of missing two one-on-one chances against Alisson at Anfield last year
Yet at the other end of the field, Aubameyang and Co have been guilty of passing up a number of opportunities to make wins against Norwich, Burnley and Watford in particular more comfortable.
Lacazette was meanwhile the guilty party at Anfield in September 2020, missing two one-on-one chances against Alisson.
It is unlikely Liverpool will be as forgiving as the sides towards the bottom of the table and in all probability will show the sort of brilliance that saw them turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 advantage in 147 seconds against the Gunners at Anfield last year.
The Reds have not been quite so destructive at home in the Premier League this season, winning just two of their five top-flight fixtures on home soil.
But they remain unbeaten at home and therefore still represents Arsenal’s most challenging test so far this season, and with a win, they could not only leapfrog their hosts into the top four, but could also demonstrate they are ready to take the next step under Arteta.
It is unlikely Jurgen Klopp’s men would forgive a repeat of such a failure on Saturday