Liverpool will host Arsenal in the English Premier League tomorrow night in a fixture that could have far-reaching consequences for both their seasons
Both teams have been struggling for form in the last few weeks and both managers have been facing increasing pressure from fans and the media alike. Arsene Wenger in particular has been on the receiving end of some particularly harsh treatment from the home fans as a result of Arsenal’s collapse over the last few weeks.
The Arsene conundrum at Arsenal
The Gunners were humiliated 5-1 by Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena to all but end their Champions League hopes, while a devastating loss to Chelsea coupled with a few more poor results in the league have seen their title challenge fizzle out as well.
This has led to fans calling for Arsene Wenger to leave at the end of the season and the infamous banners calling for his head have only grown in number since the defeat to the Blues. Bearing in mind the Gunners have had such poor results of late, Saturday’s fixture is a very, very important one for them.
The loss to Chelsea was touted as the end of Arsenal’s already-faltering title challenge and the destruction in Munich has left them with an impossible task going into the second leg of the Champions League.
Too often, Arsenal end their hopes of progressing in the Champions League in the first leg before performing well in the second leg, leading to many branding it as a “heroic effort” and wondering what might have been had Arsenal turned up in the first leg.
The fact that it happens over and over again makes it hard to see it as a heroic effort as some call it and more as a bewildering lack of character and game management. This has been the case with their league campaigns over the last few years as well.
Arsenal go through a fine run of form before eventually losing steam and dropping down the table. It is then followed by another fine run late in the season where Arsene Wenger manages to inspire his team to a top four finish.
This season, the repercussions of their regular mid-season collapse could be much worse. Arsenal currently sit in fourth place, with 50 points. Above them are City on 52 points and Tottenham on 53 points – although Spurs have played an extra game already. Chelsea are beyond their reach with 63 points having also played an extra game.
Right behind them are Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool on 49 points – with an extra game played – and United on 58 points having played the same number of games as the Gunners. Even Everton – who have played an extra game – are only 6 points behind the Gunners.
One has only to look at the recent runs of form of the teams concerned to see why both Arsenal and Liverpool should be hugely concerned about their top 4 chances this season. The Gunners have lost 3 of their last 5 games across all competitions while the Reds have lost 3, drawn 1 and won only 1 match out of their last 5.
United have won each of their last 5 matches and City have won 4 and drawn 1. It is easy to see who has more momentum as we get to a crucial stage in the league season, and who is currently in a crisis.
The Stagnated Jurgen-naut at Anfield
Liverpool’s ambitions before the start of the season were much more measured than that of Arsenal’s. Jurgen Klopp was tasked with getting his side back into the Champions League but their early brilliance saw many install them as title challengers.
There is no doubt that Klopp had them playing some absolutely stunning stuff that had many managers and players saying they were the most difficult team to play against but Liverpool have completely broken down after the new year.
The Reds have won only two of their matches after the start of the new year – one of which came against League Two side Plymouth Argyle. It has been a shocking drop in form, one that saw #KloppOut trending in Liverpool after the defeat to Leicester City last week.
Why the fixture holds more significance for the Gunners?
If the Reds fail to qualify for the Champions League there is no doubt that many will see this as a failure of sorts. For Arsenal, the lack of a sustained title challenge is already a failure but a failure to qualify for the Champions League will be nothing short of disastrous.
A loss on Saturday will throw Arsenal’s Champions League hopes into possibly the most perilous situation it has been in for a long time now. Arsenal will drop out of the top 4 spots and should United win at Bournemouth, Arsenal will be firmly lodged in 6th position with a mountain to climb.
The Gunners still have to play Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United later on in the season and given their terrible performances against the big sides it is difficult to see them winning any of those matches.
Lose to Liverpool, and for the first time in years it will start to look like there is a very real chance of Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League next season. This could have disastrous results in a number of ways.
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are already looking likely to leave the club having failed to agree extensions on their contract thus far and should Arsenal drop out of the Champions League for the first time since 2000, the duo are almost certainly going to depart from the Emirates.
Arsene Wenger’s future has also been thrown into doubt. But, given the strength of their competitors this season and the fact that Arsenal themselves look bereft of confidence, Wenger could leave the club at it’s lowest point in years.
Arsenal’s constant presence in the Champions League has also enabled them to sign players of the highest quality despite being unable to spend as much money as their rivals. Take that away, and there is no reason for a player not to choose to move to one of their rivals instead – as was the case with Sanchez, Arsenal and Liverpool.
The mood among the fans will also reach an all-time low should Arsenal lose this fixture. The Emirates will quickly turn into a cauldron of hostility and even the most staunch Wenger supporters will begin to find it difficult to argue against the rhetoric of those who want the legendary Frenchman to leave.
Klopp will definitely not be placed under as much scrutiny as Arsene Wenger come the end of the season seeing as they went into the season with the aim of rebuilding rather than mounting a genuine title challenge.
Going into the match, it is hard not to see Liverpool as favourites given the home advantage and Arsenal’s embarrassing record against the top sides. Klopp’s men have also been particularly good against the big teams this season and everything points to another Liverpool victory against a top 4 rival.
Potential impact of the result
It is a massive, massive game for two sides who are struggling. An Arsenal victory means the Gunners can begin to rebuild some kind of form and get a much needed confidence boost for the final push.
A Liverpool victory means that Klopp’s men move back into the top 4 and have the foundation to fight to stay there. A draw for either means almost nothing, as their rivals will definitely make up ground on them and further the already-growing distance in other cases.
It is clear who needs a victory more tomorrow, however. Arsenal have a chance to silence some of the critics and boost their top 4 hopes. It is a must-win game for the Gunners and should they lose, the manager and players will face some very tough times over the next few months.