Liverpool v Arsenal: Pre-Match Talking Points
By Jordan Carreno
Matchday 20 see Liverpool play hosts to Arsenal at Anfield. Kick off is set for 12:30 PM EST on Saturday.
We’re now halfway through the season and what a first half it was. Liverpool sit top of the Premier League by 6 points, 7 points ahead of the “greatest team of all time”, and have the record tying best defense through half a season in the Premier League. Long may these trends continue. The second half of the season kicks off with back to back matches against big teams, but first on the menu is Arsenal this Saturday. As always, all 3 LFC Tampa Bay locations will be open, serving, and showing the match. Now, let’s get into these talking points.
The Philosophies of Klopp
Jurgen Klopp has turned into a bit of a zen master over the last few weeks. Since the Reds have taken their place at the top of the table, he has carefully navigated the press’ questions on pressure and expectations. Though at times his responses to questions in his press conference seem simplified and matter of fact, Jurgen is giving us glimpses into the current philosophies of this Liverpool side and their approach to handling the pressures of a title race.
The groundwork for the current philosophy and psychology around the club came on that very first day of Klopp’s reign. It was then that Klopp began to lay the foundation behind the idea of this journey being a collective effort from club officials to coaching staff, players, and fans. This idea of collectivism is a central idea behind the current squad’s dynamic and their approach to the season.
It can be hard to keep players satisfied with not playing week in and week out, especially when they have the class and ability to be doing such. That type of discontent can trickle down into other areas of the squad and add internal pressure that can become toxic to the team’s ambition. However, Klopp has been able to construct a team with depth that also understands that the ambitions of the collective outweigh the desires of the individual. Having this idea instilled creates very little room for that internal discontent and pressure to build.
On top of the collectivism, Jurgen has geared the focus of the team this season to be more short term. Rather than viewing the season with a wide angle, he has managed to narrow the team’s focus down to the task ahead of them. It is a cliche in football to say you’re only thinking about the next match, but Jurgen has the team bought into this idea.
Rather than the goal of the season being to win the league, the squad is just trying to win the next game. Regardless of whether or not our title rivals have won or lost, the squad still only want to win the next game. Ultimately if you win 38 games in a season, you will win the title. In that sense, there is no added pressure when leading the table as the focus remains the same.
Piling on the Pressure
Another thing Klopp has been quick to do in his press conferences of late is to spread the title race pressure around. Though Jurgen has his own team only focused on one game at a time and quick to ignore any title talk, Klopp is keen to make sure our closest rivals feel the heat. The best way to keep this pressure on is to keep winning.
Just a few short weeks ago, when Liverpool were trailing Man City in the table, there was a growing feeling in the fanbase that the Reds needed to win every game in order to keep up. Though Jurgen had done well to keep the squad focused on themselves, there was an anxiety among us fans that, quite possibly, Liverpool’s best wasn’t going to be enough. Now, with the tables turned, is the chance for Liverpool to place the same worries in our rivals’ heads.
For Man City, being the favorites while trailing by 7 points could create a sense of panic. For Tottenham, having come close before and letting it slip could also heighten the sense of anxiety. In both cases, continuing to win will keep either from getting a glimpse of hope and will help to instill a feeling of hopelessness.
Though being the leader can come with its own pressure, there is an opportunity to place the outside pressure solely on our rivals.
Setting the Record Straight
Though the Reds are unbeaten in the league, they haven’t been perfect by the strict definition of the word. Three times in the first half of the season the Reds dropped points in the form of draws. One of those draws came away at the Emirates to Saturday’s opponent, Arsenal.
In that match, Liverpool were denied an early goal to a mysterious offside decision and ended up conceding late to a great Lacazette finish which meant sharing the points with Arsenal. Unai Emery celebrated as if he had won the World Cup and Liverpool were left feeling slightly robbed. It took a bit of time and reflection to rationalize that drawing away at Arsenal isn’t a terrible thing.
With that being said, it still feels as if things need to be set straight. Though Arsenal have done well to find their feet so soon under Emery, there is no doubting that Liverpool are the stronger and more capable side between the two. That Arsenal managed to sneak a draw under dubious circumstances makes it very much feel like unfinished business. Plus, vengeful Klopp has yet to make things right with Emery following that Europa League Final loss.
As I said before the first match against the Gunners, the first 2.5 seasons under Klopp were largely about catching and passing Arsenal. Undoubtedly, Arsenal will have the same goal in mind with the situations being swapped. Being able to stay ahead of Arsenal as a club, and keeping them from playing catch up, requires beating them on the pitch. Saturday will be a chance to do just that.
We are staying in the domestic table where I’ve continued my rich vein of form. Both David and I picked up 2 points for predicting Liverpool wins with clean sheets, and so I have kept my lead. It is 25–24 as things currently stand.
Liverpool are coming into their own right now and it is going to take a real effort to knock them off track. Whilst Arsenal possess the ability to give Liverpool problems, I don’t think they’re good enough to be the ones to derail the Reds. At the Emirates Arsenal were able to feed off the crowd, which was fueled by Emery’s touchline performance, and fight their way to a draw. At Anfield things will be different. The main problem for Arsenal is that they are thinnest at their weakest area of the team; the backline.
I think Liverpool return to a 4–3–3 with the Gunners looking to try to play football and give it a go. I also suspect Klopp to return Keita and Fabinho to the side with Gini Wjinaldum sitting in the 6 behind them. Look for Liverpool to overwhelm Arsenal on the smaller pitch of Anfield and take advantage of their shaky backline and less experience midfield. The Reds nullify Arsenal’s attack by doing an excellent job to ensure the ball is hardly in their attacking third. An early goal in transition sets the table and Liverpool impress everyone with a fairly comfortable performance. 3–0.
David’s Prediction: Is it another appearance for Granit Xhaka on Arsenal’s backline? This is a group that’s struggling with opponents far inferior to the Reds, so Saturday could get ugly. Their struggles are all in the back, which bodes poorly when you’re up against a team averaging a little over two goals per and that’s starting to hit full stride. I expect Salah and Mane to have a field day and for Keita to get his first in a red shirt. Arsenal find a consolation goal to keep Aubameyang going but that’s where the good news ends for them as the Reds take it 4–1.