THAT beating we took on Monday was a real kick in the pants. Let’s downplay nothing. As the manager noted ‘we started badly, it was bad in the middle, and bad in the end’. It’s hard to recall feeling so debilitated by a Liverpool result.
What hurts so bad is the sure knowledge that we have again been made to feel foolish in even daring to believe that the modern Liverpool might be able to win an English league title. The manner of the victory over Tottenham three weeks ago was so assured that it didn’t feel fanciful to imagine us reprising our pre-Christmas form and stringing 10 straight wins together. Briefly, everything again seemed possible.
That our latest bid for redemption sees us again matched up with one of those top sides we seem to fare better against is now, frankly, just tiring. I’m not sure I have the emotional energy to get behind a cause that so consistently flatters to deceive. It’s like you’re laughing at me, Reds. You’re barely trying to keep a straight face these days.
I’m not on board with the weird complacency that’s says ‘it’ll be just like Liverpool to go out and beat Arsenal’ as if: a) that is an outcome that can be taken for granted, b) that it would represent something mildly disappointing. For the avoidance of doubt, and all seething resentments aside, let me put on the record of my life that I would tear my soul to assure the Reds three points on Saturday night.
Jürgen Klopp was disappointed but typically philosophical despite the nature of Monday’s debacle. It is one of the reasons I remain firmly aboard the Klopp wagon. He was making no excuses, so I’ll have a go for him. The 16-day enforced break between the Tottenham and Leicester games did Liverpool no favours. It may yield returns further down the line, but in the immediate present I think it only served to disrupt new found momentum. At Leicester, Liverpool looked a side for whom the (re)start of a season had come one week too soon. In much the same way in which (ironically) this weekend’s opponents didn’t look fully synced to their immediate task when Liverpool ripped them apart in 15 scintillating goal-filled minutes at the Emirates last August.
Plausible? Maybe. I’m only part convincing myself, so the actual game on Saturday will be more than instructional.
We expect to see Dejan Lovren back in the Liverpool side and for Jordan Henderson to again miss out with injury. Emre Can slots into the captain’s number six position and in theory we replicate the performance that so convincingly saw off Spurs.
Is it this simple, though? Emre has unlearnt the six role after excelling in it last season, and Klopp may feel he is another accident waiting to happen against Arsenal’s runners. Short of asking Gini Wijnaldum to guest as the defensive screen, the manager could be tempted by the three at the back option he has only really previously showcased in dire circumstances.
If Klopp is to consider this fairly extreme solution he’ll have some soul searching to do in terms of manning the full-back positions. Though James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne have been largely more than competent in their berths this season, neither are wing-backs. That would imply potential starts for either/both of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alberto Moreno.
I’d caution the manager to watch a rerun of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool getting caught kecks down with a 3-4-3 formation away to Arsenal about two years ago. Arsenal Wenger seemed to have perfected a plan to exploit all the space Liverpool were vacating on their defensive flanks and the result was a 4-1 hiding.
Klopp’s primary task will be to cool jets. To not let a sense of panic become endemic. Liverpool are just four points off second place as things stand and a really good season is still there to be claimed. Let’s hope the collective – manager, players, stadium – are able to take this game more in their stride than has felt possible for quite a while. A draw would be no disaster and a defeat against a good Arsenal side does not represent a collapse. The real work yet to be undertaken this campaign starts in earnest at home to Burnley next weekend.
Ten of Liverpool’s dozen remaining games are against Premier League makeweights. There are many winnable points available yet to be won.
I’m not quite ready to write off Arsenal as a bonus game yet, but I am part counselling myself here. The strains of a season on the brink are threatening to send me and many others to the drink. Let’s dust ourselves down once more, shake off the torpor, breathe out, and get our game faces on.
As always, we’re in this together.
The Reds to go again, again: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Can, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho, Mane, Firmino.
Kick-Off: 5.30pm live on BT Sport 1
Last Match: Arsenal 3 Liverpool 4
Referee: Robert Madley
Odds: Liverpool 23-20, Draw 11-4, Arsenal 67-25