SWITZERLAND, AUGUST 24 – The Premier League title race between Manchester City and Liverpool, one of several compelling features of the 2018/19 season, overshadowed an exciting battle for the Golden Boot.
No less than four players – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Sergio Aguero – went into gameweek 38 with a genuine possibility of claiming the individual prize at the end of the final round of games.
As it turned out, the African trio ended on 22 goals apiece, while Aguero finished with 21 goals. It was only the third time a three-way tie would occur in the English top flight, but it highlighted the competitiveness that existed throughout the season. The three players were also the best in Africa last season with Salah going away with the award.
The tied trio from last season face off at Anfield on Saturday evening, and while a few things have changed since May, several elements have stayed the same.
Aubameyang has netted two goals in as many gameweeks so far this term, and has picked up where he left off last season. What ought to frighten Arsenal’s rivals about Auba’s start is the fact that the North London giants aren’t even in full flow yet, due to the fact Unai Emery’s outfit have won their opening two games against Newcastle United and Burnley without having played particularly well.
For a bit of context, not since the Gunners’ pair of victories in 2009 against Everton and Portsmouth have they won their opening two league games of the campaign. It should be no surprise that the club’s pre-season expectation has translated into early success on the pitch, either.
For the first time in years, Gooners felt positive about their season before the sound of the first whistle, largely as a result of their shrewd recruiting this summer.
Emery’s charges strengthened their spine by adding David Luiz from Chelsea and sealing the loan deal of Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid. Their record purchase of Nicolas Pepe from LOSC Lille further emphasized this year won’t be ‘business as usual’ for the three-time Premier League champions.
If the Ivory Coast international clicks with dynamic duo of Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in the Arsenal attack, we can expect a return to the Champions League after a four-year absence.
On the face of it, the support cast in North London are stronger than they’ve ever been, and it’s reasonable to accept even more goals from Auba.
Since making his debut for last year’s beaten Europa League finalists in January 2018, the Gabon international has scored 43 goals in 67 appearances in all competitions, with 29 non-penalty league goals in that time – four behind Salah and two higher than Mane.
Arsenal’s optimism, however, pales in comparison with Liverpool’s, given their early-season showings.
Even though Jurgen Klopp’s team have picked up maximum points with wins over Norwich City and Southampton (which has now seen them win 11 league games in a row), their performances haven’t been up to scratch. Against Chelsea in the Super Cup as well, the Reds only looked good in spells, and had Mane to thank on a night they ought to have lost, given the balance of play.
Their pre-season displays as well as results were disappointing and the former has continued into the new campaign. Norwich had chances to hurt last season’s title challengers, while the Saints, like Frank Lampard’s troops days before, were unlucky to lose to the Anfield giants.
Even though Mane seems set to usurp his Egyptian teammate as Liverpool’s leading man, it remains to be seen just how prolific the pair will be this season. In truth, it’s still too soon to be making absolute statements this early into the campaign, but Auba’s head start is certainly worth mentioning.
In last season’s corresponding fixture, Liverpool thrashed the Gunners 5-1 to record a comfortable win over their London opponents.
However, Arsenal are certainly in a better place than they were last December, while Klopp’s team don’t look as defensively solid this year as they had in the previous campaign.
With Virgil van Dijk and co. so far failing to match last year’s performance, Arsenal’s leading forward will look to take advantage as he and his teammates seek a positive performance or result on Merseyside.
However, Mane and Salah will certainly have a thing or two to say about that as they fight to retain their places as the league’s leading men, African or otherwise.