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Arsenal vs Liverpool

Why Martinelli, Saka and 'exciting' Arsenal have Klopp’s seal of approval

08:00 GMT 16/03/2022
Gabriel Martinelli Bukayo Saka Arsenal 2021-22
Liverpool travel to the Emirates Stadium knowing they will face a stern examination against the Gunners' up and coming attacking stars

They have not even played yet, but Liverpool have already had one outstanding result this week.

And if they can follow that up with another on Wednesday, then we really do have a title race on our hands.

Manchester City’s stumble at Crystal Palace on Monday has opened the door for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Win at Arsenal, and they will close the gap at the top of the Premier League to just a single point.

Game on, in other words.

Not that anyone at Anfield is getting carried away, mind. “It is final after final after final after final after final after final,” said Klopp on Tuesday, neatly capturing the intensity of the moment.

The mood among his players, he added, was, “not crazy good, but concentrated, focused and good.”

The trip to Arsenal represents one of his side's toughest remaining assignments. Liverpool may have won at the Emirates Stadium in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup in January, but Mikel Arteta’s side have improved significantly since then.

They arrive into this fixture as one of the league’s form sides, winning their last five matches and playing the kind of football which makes them a threat to just about any side right now.

“Mikel is doing an incredible job,” Klopp told his pre-match press conference. “Week by week, month by month, you can see the development, and it is really impressive.

“It’s a really good team, properly tuned, full of talent and full of joy. They have a clear structure, a clear idea of how they want to play football. Really interesting.”

Certainly, the Gunners are not short of firepower. Alexandre Lacazette has flourished since taking over the club captaincy from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Martin Odegaard looks to have found a home in north London following his move from Real Madrid.

The Hale End duo, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, are flying. Both are already full England internationals, and both are poster-boys for the new, exciting, Arteta era. How Arsenal fans would love to see those two stick around and lead the next generation.

The same goes for Gabriel Martinelli, who is enjoying a stellar campaign on the left flank. 

Klopp, interestingly, has been particularly gushing in his praise of the 20-year-old. “Remember that name,” he told Sky Sports after that Carabao Cup meeting in January. Before that, after a game at Anfield in 2019, he had referred to the Brazilian as “a talent of the century”.

It is no surprise, then, to note that both Martinelli and Saka have been linked with moves to Merseyside. Both have the talent and the personality to flourish under a coach such as Klopp; they are quick, lively, hard-working and have the potential to rack up goals and assists. Think what he did with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, and imagine what he could do with those two.

Arsenal, of course, have no intention of selling, but they know that a return to the Champions League is a must if they are to hold onto their best players, and then convince others to join the revolution.

It was Liverpool who effectively took their seat at Europe’s top table, pipping the Gunners to fourth spot by a point in 2016-17. They have since established themselves as one of the continent’s great sides, while Arsenal have gone in the opposite direction.

They finished eighth in each of the last two campaigns, and at one point earlier this season, it looked like the writing was on the wall for Arteta.

That he has been able to turn things around reflects well on him, and on the talent at his disposal. The likes of Saka, Martinelli, Smith Rowe, Lacazette and Odegaard have been superb, while big signings such as Thomas Partey, Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale have found their feet and added plenty.

“It’s a really exciting team,” says Klopp. “I think since I am in England, Arsenal fans didn’t always find it easy to enjoy their team, but in the moment they are in a good mood, and that’s how football should be.

“It is a massive club, qualification for [European] football in the last few years was not exactly how they wanted it, but if they were to make the Champions League this year then I think it would feel as good for them as it did for us the first time we did it.

“Other teams may not like it, but it’s a big name, back on track, 100 per cent.”

Whatever happens on Wednesday, Arsenal would remain strong favourites to qualify for the Champions League. They already sit fourth, and have three games in hand on the three teams immediately below them, with no other competitions to distract them in the meantime.

Squander it from there, and questions would certainly be asked of Arteta. Squander it from there, and the agents of Saka, Martinelli and Co. will be fielding phone calls galore in the summer.

Talent like that belongs at the highest level.