London – In the 130-second press conference that followed Arsenal’s latest capitulation at Anfield Arsène Wenger admitted his team were physically, technically and mentally inferior to Liverpool. It was a damning critique no doubt but, had he held court longer, the Arsenal manager could have given a fuller account of Liverpool’s dominance under Jürgen Klopp.
The Liverpool manager tactically outsmarted Wenger in taking his Premier League record against Arsenal to 10 points from a possible 12. Not that Klopp’s three-man midfield and three-pronged attack should have come as any surprise to the Arsenal manager after selecting Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka as his supposed midfield shield.
The victors were sharper and stronger, a reflection perhaps of a pre-season schedule geared to winning the all-important Champions League play-off and passage to the lucrative group stage. Their mental edge, Klopp claimed, stemmed from players wanting to prove to themselves they could replicate the highs of the Hoffenheim performance four days after it. It is also a sign of the unity Liverpool possess under their manager, something Arsenal patently lacked throughout their 4-0 defeat.
Another department where Klopp overshadows his Arsenal counterpart was demonstrated by the performance of Emre Can: individual development. The Germany international was outstanding in Liverpool’s midfield, as was the case in the Anfield defeat of Hoffenheim, where Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum also overran their abject opponents. Can’s contribution, creatively and defensively, underlined why Klopp would rather keep the player for what could be the final season of his Liverpool contract than bank a fee with his Anfield future unresolved.
Throughout the Liverpool squad there are individuals whose form and influence have risen markedly under Klopp. If the reason for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s discontent at Arsenal is his sluggish personal development, and not the contract terms on offer, then he would be forgiven for eyeing the opposition ranks with envy last Sunday. Can has flourished this calendar year despite playing with injury last season and harboring some reservations over his role in the team – a factor in his new contract remaining unsigned.
“It was a big, big performance against Arsenal,” said the 23-year-old, who has entered the final year of his deal. “A big compliment to the team. I think everyone did great and I think you can’t play much better than that. Don’t forget we were playing against Arsenal. When was the last time that Liverpool won against Arsenal 4-0? The performance was just great. Of course it will give us confidence and now we go into the internationals and everybody’s happy. It’s a good start now but we have to keep working.”
Juventus have been regularly linked with the former Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich midfielder. However, Klopp hopes a realization of his importance to the team, one that has returned to the European elite, and the potential for further development will encourage Can to commit to a new deal that the manager wishes had been resolved months ago. There was no evidence of the midfielder having problems with his offensive instructions against Hoffenheim and Arsenal, or in the aftermath of Sunday’s resounding victory.
“The manager expects that from us midfield players and I tried to do it,” Can said. “Of course I can’t do it every time but I tried to do it more often than last year. It’s worked good so far. I think you could see on Wednesday that we played a high tempo and again against Arsenal. You could see that we worked very well in pre-season from the two games. Everybody feels good, everybody feels in good shape and that’s very important.
“If you see the bench, we are strong, we are deep. We are strong in the squad. Divock Origi was not in the squad against Arsenal and he’s a great player, so you see just how strong the squad is. We have confidence and we are playing good football. Our performance was good but we need to keep it up. It’s just the start.”
The Guardian Sport