The Big Match

Football: Teams fighting to stop the rot

When Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have met Arsenal, the drama has been a constant. August's 4-3 win followed the 3-3 draw in January last year.
When Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have met Arsenal, the drama has been a constant. August's 4-3 win followed the 3-3 draw in January last year.PHOTO: EPA

Liverpool and Arsenal have plenty to prove in a clash that promises drama

It might have been the best game of last season's Premier League. It may have been the finest match of the current campaign. When Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have met Arsenal, the drama has been a constant. August's 4-3 win followed the 3-3 draw in January last year.

So expectations should be high for the rematch. If there is not a repeat, it may be due to the failings in each camp.

Liverpool have not scored three times against anyone in their last 13 games. Arsenal have not mustered three in a match against elite opposition for five months. They have conceded three to Chelsea and five to Bayern Munich in the space of their last four encounters alone.

Perhaps, because they have not beaten a top-seven side since defeating Chelsea in September, they have more to prove.

Perhaps Liverpool do. After all, Arsenal occupy fourth place and finishing there would render Liverpool's season a success. They began this year in second and, if Manchester United beat Bournemouth, could kick off sixth. It has been a dramatic decline.

Yet the exceptions have come in the most demanding tests. Liverpool have beaten Tottenham and drawn with Chelsea and United (twice). They have retained their extraordinary unbeaten record against their main rivals this season. They prefer to play the best.

Arsenal can vouch for the difficulties of playing second-string centre-backs. Liverpool scored four times in 18 minutes against them in August when the callow Calum Chambers and Rob Holding were paired.

So Arsenal have to avoid repeating Spurs' mistakes. Tottenham played a high defensive line at Anfield, allowing Sadio Mane to run in behind them. Yet Liverpool have to ensure they do not repeat their own errors. They were woefully naive in Monday's defeat by Leicester, allowing Jamie Vardy to counter-attack them.

If Arsenal eschew a measured build-up and look for the swiftest way forward, the similarly speedy Alexis Sanchez could profit, especially if he is isolated in a race with the slow Lucas Leiva.

Liverpool certainly need Dejan Lovren fit to replace the Brazilian if they are not to have further reasons to rue Sanchez's decision to reject them and join the Gunners in 2014.

Arsenal can vouch for the difficulties of playing second-string centre-backs. Liverpool scored four times in 18 minutes against them in August when the callow Calum Chambers and Rob Holding were paired. They also conceded three in 11 minutes against Bayern after the pivotal Laurent Koscielny went off.

They must hope the Frenchman's return will restore solidity. They could also do with more backbone from a side that have lost their last four major away games, at Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea and Bayern.

They have issues in midfield, desperately missing the injured Santi Cazorla, and face questions over who should start on the wings. Yet it is a moot point if Liverpool's problems are bigger. And while the prize for the winner will be a top-four spot, the loser will find themselves with questions about how a promising season is going awry.

LIVERPOOL V ARSENAL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Teams fighting to stop the rot'. Print Edition | Subscribe