Rio Ferdinand gives verdict on Arsenal, Liverpool battle with key factor to decide Man City challengers

BT Sport pundit Rio Ferdinand

Pundit Rio Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand believes the Arsenal defence gives them an edge over Liverpool and means they will be the main challenges to Manchester City this season.

The Gunners were the only serious rivals to City last term but came up short. They ended up five points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s side but kept pace with the Etihad stars for around 30 games. And it has been a similar story this time around as Mikel Arteta’s men sit top of the Premier League standings after 13 games.

They are one point ahead of City and two better off than Liverpool in what looks set to be a three-horse race for league honours.

Arsenal have based their success on a watertight rearguard that has conceded only ten top-flight goals in 2023-2024 to date.

And that statistic combined with 13 different league scorers means they are a side to be taken seriously.

City remain favourites to make it four successive titles, with Arsenal and Liverpool snapping at their heels.

Ferdinand believes the north Londoners have the edge.

And, after their 1-0 triumph over Brentford, he revealed why the presence of central defenders William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes will be key.

“Me and [Peter] Crouchy were sitting here thinking about how good these two are, they want to be aggressive, they want to defend with that high line,” he said on TNT Sports.

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“They have the best defensive record in the league at the moment and Declan Rice is perfect in front of them in the middle at the moment.

“That little triangle is going to be key for them going forward and it’s how they’re going to be successful.”

Ferdinand expects Arsenal title challenge

Arsenal have become a force in the English game once again under Arteta.

It took the Spaniard some time to get his message across but they now play flowing, attractive football.

He has players such as Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli, Leandro Trossard, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus at his disposal.

And, with the class of Rice holding things together in midfield, there is cause for optimism at the Emirates.

Ferdinand is excited by what he sees and feels the Arsenal defenders have an advantage over many of their rivals.

“In today’s game having pace is how you get ahead of the other teams, especially at the back,” he added.

“It means you can play that high line and for the last two seasons, Brentford’s attack has given teams so many problems.

“[Ivan] Toney, [Yoane] Wissa and [Bryan] Mbeumo, they’ve all given teams nightmares because of their pace and aggressive run-ins.

“Today, one of them gets past Saliba – who is there to mop it up? Gabriel. He gives it back to Saliba and they work it out between them.”

Next up for Arsenal in the league is the visit of Wolves on December 2 before a trip to Luton three days later.

City may be the team to beat once again this season but Ferdinand believes Arteta’s charges will run them the closest.

“To win anything, you have to have a centre-back pairing that you can trust,” he continued.

“They’re the reason why I put them above Liverpool in the title race and they’re why they can challenge City this year.”

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