Friday, January 27, 2023

Liverpool preview: Closing the gap …

After a North London derby win last weekend, it’s another important home game, except this time against a big team as Liverpool come to visit.

Their start to the season has been poor by their standards, but as Phil pointed out on the preview podcast, they’ve lost just a single Premier League game in 2022, and that was against Man Utd who fluked a win against us too. The remarkable stat that they’ve conceded the first goal in 9 of their last 11 games should give some hope to an in-form Arsenal side, but it’s not by accident they have been fighting for the title every season of late.

Maybe they’re not quite what they were, but they’re still a superb side who won’t do what that lot did last weekend and just sit off. They will come to play, and we know from bitter experience how dangerous they are as an attacking force. The goal threat they possess will surely have been part of Mikel Arteta’s preparation for this one, and anything less than our best today will make it difficult to get the kind of result we want.

But, if Liverpool aren’t what they were, the same is true of Arsenal. For the first time in a long time I go into this game without thinking the outcome is inevitable. I had a few pre-game texts with the Mugsmasher himself, and he says he’s not feeling optimistic. Which, when you consider recent results against Liverpool, tells something about them, but also how we’re being viewed too.

There’s no question there has been progress, which is measured first and foremost by the league table. After that, you look at the top teams and you see if you can be competitive against them, and Liverpool are one of those teams. In the league last season we lost 4-0 at Anfield, and 2-0 at home. After that game at the Emirates, Mikel Arteta pointed to the difference between the teams being what they were capable of up front:

These games are won in the boxes and that was the critical difference today to not get anything out of this game unfortunately.

Alexandre Lacazette huffed and puffed for 80 minutes of that game; Gabriel Jesus is a different proposition for the Liverpool defence. Not simply because he’s better as an individual, but how he also improves the collective. There was a difference between the 4-0 and the 2-0 though, and today is another chance to show that gap is closer again. Arteta says:

It’s a fixture that everybody’s looking for, against an opponent that has shown in the last five or six years the level that they have. And we have to show those opponents again that we have reached the level and we are ready to compete against them.

It is a bit of a marker. If we get a scabby win, as we did a couple of years ago during lockdown, I will be absolutely delighted, but I’m so interested to see if we can go toe to toe with one of the best teams around. It’s a bit like the Man City game on New Year’s Day, where the result didn’t go our way, but the performance told you something was happening with this team. In the immediate aftermath of a defeat, it’s hard to rationalise that, but look where we are now, and it makes more sense.

In terms of the team today, I don’t expect anything different from the derby, except maybe Kieran Tierney starting ahead of Oleksandr Zinchenko who was missing from the squad in midweek and might well be absent. It could have been precautionary of course, but either way, I’m happy enough with our options at left back.

I don’t think for a second that the manager will have let anyone get carried away with recent form, or the win last weekend. Our progress as a team has been built on hard work, and remembering we still have plenty to do to get to where we want to go. However, confidence and momentum are things we can and should use going into this one. It will be extremely difficult, but Liverpool no longer look like a mountain we can’t climb, so fingers crossed we can reach the summit later on.

Right, we’ll have the live blog for you as always, plus the post-game stuff on Arseblog News. In the meantime, the preview podcast is available on Patreon. For now, take it easy, and I’ll catch you later for the game.

Come on you reds!

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