Belfast Telegraph

Gunners must step up against big rivals: Emery

Liverpool v Arsenal, Premier League: Anfield, Tonight, 5.30pm

Clear aim: Unai Emery wants to improve against top-six foes
Clear aim: Unai Emery wants to improve against top-six foes

By Mark Bryans

Unai Emery says Arsenal must improve their record against the Premier League's best sides if they are to force their way back into the top four.

The Gunners finished fifth last season, just a point behind neighbours Tottenham, as Emery came close to securing a return to Champions League football in his first campaign at the helm.

Arsenal face Liverpool this evening, visiting Anfield for the first time since they suffered a 5-1 defeat there last term.

Emery's side also lost at Chelsea and Manchester City during the 2018-19 campaign, with draws at Manchester United and Spurs meaning they were unable to beat any of their fellow top-six sides away from the Emirates Stadium.

Struggling on the road against their closest rivals is not a new phenomenon for Arsenal, whose away form in general has been poor for the past three years.

Emery takes his team back to Liverpool with both sides looking to continue their winning starts to the season, and he knows improvements are required to overturn recent history.

Asked if Arsenal's record against the top six needs to pick up, the former Paris St-Germain boss replied: "We need to improve because, when we are playing against them, it's three points that you can take and they cannot take.

"But after that you also need to achieve the three points in other matches against other teams. In 38 matches, you are going to play 19 matches home and away - against the top four and every team."

Despite recent woes, Emery insists those results do not impact on his approach as he seeks a victory that would see Arsenal end the weekend at the top of the table.

"Really, really it's not relevant for me," said Emery, whose side conceded two penalties at Anfield last season. "What is relevant for me is that each match is different. Each match can be similar to last year, (but) we are different players, a different team.

"Other teams are also different and some different circumstances can come in each match. I hope on Saturday not to receive two penalties against us, for example.

"I am preparing for the match with our best circumstances possible to achieve the victory."

Mesut Ozil could make his first appearance of the campaign, while Granit Xhaka is also in contention after missing the win over Burnley with back bruising.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, wants the early closure of the English transfer window to be scrapped.

Earlier this week, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino called for a realignment with the rest of Europe, whose business does not have to be concluded until September 2.

With defender Dejan Lovren still attracting interest from continental clubs, Klopp faces having to deal with a potentially difficult situation with his now fourth-choice centre-back as he has no option to replace the Croatia international.

That is why he believes it is now time to revisit the decision, brought in last year, to close the window before the first match of the Premier League season.

"I don't care when it closes, I only think it must close at the same time (as the rest of Europe)," he said.

"When they spoke about, 'Let's finish it before the season starts then everyone knows their squad' - that's a good idea. But then the rest didn't do it and that makes no sense. Can somebody explain what the benefit is for the Premier League? We don't really have a problem but for other teams, their key players are still on the market and everything can happen.

"You want a team not only together but together and focused on the future, but that is not possible as long as there is a door open. I don't understand why this decision is not already reviewed at least. At first it was a good idea but it didn't work out so let's change it again."

The Reds boss refused to comment specifically on whether he would consider selling Lovren.

However, it is understood they would entertain bids of £15m-plus but are not interested in a loan deal. The only time Lovren has featured in a matchday squad so far this season was as an unused substitute in the Community Shield.

Premier League fixtures, 3pm unless stated: Norwich City v Chelsea (12.30pm), Brighton v Southampton, Manchester United v Crystal Palace, Sheffield United v Leicester City, Watford v West Ham, Liverpool v Arsenal (5.30pm).

Tomorrow: Bournemouth v Manchester City (2pm), Tottenham v Newcastle United (4.30pm), Wolves v Burnley (4.30pm).

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