Mikel Arteta previews Arsenal's game at Liverpool
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Arsenal hero Paul Merson claims that his former side should look to exploit Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk ahead of their mouth-watering clash on Saturday. The Dutchman spent the majority of last season side-lined with a knee injury, although he has been thrust back into the action this campaign.
Arsenal and Liverpool have experienced very different international breaks as the Reds were hit with their fair share of bad luck.
Injury after injury has produced a growing list of players on the side-line, which is likely to see an under-strength side fielded on Saturday.
That means more responsibility on the shoulders of senior stars such as Van Dijk as they seek to keep out an Arsenal side who have won their last four games in all competitions.
The centre-back’s increased responsibility is exactly where Merson feels as though the Gunners should capitalise, amid the belief that he is not yet back to his dominant best.
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“When was the last time Arsenal went to a place like this in this kind of form? There’s no excuses not to have a go,” he wrote in The Daily Star.
“Liverpool are conceding too many goals and have just lost to West Ham. It’s a big game for them too because you don’t want to be falling further behind Chelsea.
“I don’t think Virgil van Dijk is fully fit and until he is, he can’t play the way he normally does without Liverpool letting in goals.
“They’re getting caught out a lot. Arsenal need to take advantage.”
Van Dijk was restricted to just five league appearances last campaign after sustaining an agonising knee injury during the Merseyside derby.
Up to that point, he was undisputably one of the most majestic centre-backs in the Premier League, and although his comeback has been welcomed by Liverpool this term, their dominance has stemmed from attack instead.
Mohamed Salah has been in unbelievable form, scoring 10 goals and assisting seven across the first 11 games, but his two goalless league outings before the international break may be something else for Arsenal to capitalise on.
Although Merson points to Van Dijk as an area of weakness, the Gunners have only notched 13 league goals this season – that’s less than Brentford and Aston Villa.
Where they excel, however, is in keeping teams out.
So far, they have conceded just 13 in 11 league games, despite shipping five in one match at the Etihad earlier in the season.
In that sense, keeping the Reds at bay may be a favourable strategy, but using Anfield and Van Dijk’s alleged fitness issues as a platform to get goals flowing would also be some statement. Based on events in recent weeks, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seems the most likely candidate to make that happen.
“He [Aubameyang] has had chances and things will happen again,” said Arteta during Friday’s press conference.
“He already scored quite a lot of goals but we always demand more and we want more. He needs to continue showing the attitude he’s showing but also the implication he has on everybody around the team and the club as well.”
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