Liverpool (AFP) – Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes Arsenal still represent a major test for his side’s credentials despite no longer being a Champions League team.

Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League last season and failed to qualify for European football’s elite competition for the first time since Arsene Wenger took over as manager in 1996.

But Klopp maintains they are still one of English football’s best sides and expects a tough game despite securing home and away wins over the Gunners last season.

“Arsenal are still an outstandingly strong side,” Klopp said.

“Alexis Sanchez is probably back for the first time on the pitch, so that gives this team another boost and that is, of course, an advantage for Arsenal.

“It’s a very, very, very important game. Last year we had an outstandingly good record against the top six.

“It is Arsenal: big experience, big quality, speed, technical skills, different systems, good players in each position on the pitch.”

Liverpool swaggered to a Champions League play-off victory over Hoffenheim on Wednesday with a fine attacking performance.

Question marks remain over the strength of the Merseyside club’s defence, although Klopp claims he is satisfied with the performance of his backline so far this season.

“I am fine with defence, I am fine with the offence,” added the Liverpool boss.

“We’ve won three games and should have won the first one at Watford without a perfect performance. Now we play Arsenal and that’s the situation.

“We work with the things we have, we work on the mistakes we make, we work to make the strengths even stronger. That’s what we do all of the time after we’ve recovered from the last game.”

– Reds without Countinho –

Liverpool will again be without attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho who has not yet recovered from a back problem.

The Reds will also check on the fitness of midfielder Emre Can and right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold after the pair picked up knocks in the victory over Hoffenheim.

Wenger insists he never had any fears that Sanchez would down tools to force through his exit. Manchester City target Sanchez raised eyebrows by sitting out the first two games of the season with an abdominal muscle strain.

But Wenger believes Sanchez’s commitment to the cause at the Emirates means he would never consider going on strike.

Wenger said: “Alexis wants to play. It is difficult for me to know about the individual cases, but sometimes players have been promised things that have not been kept.

“I can only tell you what happens here and Alexis works hard and is focused to play. His interest is to do well.

“I think what is good is our mutual interest in that he does well for us.

“On top of that, I deeply feel that he deeply loves to be here and he loves the club.

“He now arrives at a stage of 28, 29 and looks at the quality of his contract.

“In a professional job I always think that you have to make sure with your commitment that the guy who pays you gets what he’s paying you for.

“Alexis is in that mode and I think he will be until the last day he is here, he will give his best.

“I don’t consider their contractual situation to decide who plays and who doesn’t play.”

Arsenal will also be boosted by Laurent Koscileny’s return to shore up their defence. Koscielny has not played competitively for Arsenal since the defender was sent off in the final league game of last season against Everton.

Wenger added: “It’s been very hard, because I didn’t even consider him for friendly games, as I had to play some defenders.

“But I think what hurt him a lot was to miss the FA Cup Final. He had a reaction in the final game of the season against Everton that was unlucky.

“He’s a very quiet guy and sometimes he can get rushed because he thinks always he has the speed and the pace to win the tackle. But in this case he didn’t.”