What Does Liverpool’s Draw With Arsenal Mean For Our Title Challenge?

This is one of the most confusing seasons for Liverpool supporters since the Premier League began. On the one hand, we’re performing better than we’ve done in literally any other season since the competition was launched, remaining unbeaten after eleven games despite trips to Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal in there, as well as a home game against Manchester City. On the other hand, that City team is performing at an unbelievable rate, carrying on from where they left off last time out and on course for another campaign that sees them break the one hundred points barrier again. The Reds could legitimately find themselves in a position where they get one of the highest points totals of all time, only to miss out on lifting the trophy because of Pep Guardiola’s men. We really should all be enjoying ourselves watching one of the best teams we’ve had since Kenny Dalglish’s heyday in the 1980s, but we feel as though we can’t because we fear that City will never stop winning.

There’s also the added factor of the recent revelations regarding Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain’s financial dealings, with suggestions being that they’ve flouted Financial Fair Play rules in order to hoover up all of the best players and the powers that be knew all about it. The weirdest thing about that is how few people seem to care. My own tweets about it have received replies from people suggesting that I’m ‘jealous’ and that it ‘doesn’t matter how much money teams spend because Leicester City won the league’. Never mind that the Foxes were 5,000/1 shots, needed absolutely everything to fall in their favour and we’ll almost certainly never see anything like that again in our lifetimes, nor that it’s not a case of ‘jealousy’ but of wondering what the point in the rules are if the rich are allowed to flaunt them at will. Back to how Liverpool supporters are supposed to be feeling, though, and the Arsenal match felt like a case in point. Ordinarily a point at the Emirates is a decent result, but now it feels like a missed opportunity. So what does the draw mean for our title challenge?

We Can’t Worry About Manchester City

I understand why people are obsessing over Manchester City. This feels like the first time in the Premier League era that Liverpool have had both the manager and squad to challenge for the title and it’s just our luck that we’ve done it at a time when a side from down the M62 has used Sheikh Mansour’s riches to become virtually unstoppable. It’s natural, therefore, that we are as interested in their results as our own. Yet if people are going to talk about them then it’s only right that we do so in the context of the matches that they’ve played up until now and the form of the teams that they’ve faced. Here’s a look at their league fixtures to date:

  • Arsenal (a)
  • Huddersfield Town (h)
  • Wolverhampton Wanderers (a)
  • Newcastle United (h)
  • Fulham (h)
  • Cardiff City (a)
  • Brighton & Hove Albion (h)
  • Liverpool (a)
  • Burnley (h)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (a)
  • Southampton (h)

Now let’s compare and contrast with our Premier League fixtures thus far:

  • West Ham United (h)
  • Crystal Palace (a)
  • Brighton & Hove Albion
  • Leicester City (a)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (a)
  • Southampton (h)
  • Chelsea (a)
  • Manchester City (h)
  • Huddersfield Town (a)
  • Cardiff City (h)
  • Arsenal (a)

When people say ‘the table never lies’ they’re chatting absolute nonsense, unless they say it at the very end of the season. For starters, those above fixtures don’t take into account the matches that both teams have had to play in between the league games. Would you rather your side had to go up against Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Chelsea in cup competitions or Lyon, Oxford United and 1899 Hoffenheim? Then there’s the fact of when City played certain teams compared to when we have. Arsenal with a brand new manager in the first game of the season or the eleventh? In other words, when they’ve been working with the new boss for a matter of weeks or after they’ve built up a head of steam?

None of that is to make excuses but rather to point out that we’ve endured significantly harder fixtures than the defending champions have since the campaign started and yet find ourselves just two points behind them. In terms of the matches that we’ve both shared identically, we’ve only got one result different from theirs which came at the Emirates and was as a result of genuinely appalling officiating. Yes, they’ve been scoring many more goals than us but the chance of that actually managing come the end of the season are slim. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pay it any attention whatsoever, but I do believe that the manner in which some people are obsessed with it after eleven games is just odd and is playing in to a negative mindset that’s pervading the fan base at present.

Ignoring The Context, It’s Not A Bad Result

Given we took the lead at the Emirates, I was frustrated as anyone that we dropped two points on Saturday. When we went 1-0 up I thought that our defence would do what it’s done all season so far and remain resolute, especially given the Gunners took off Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in favour of Aaron Ramsey and ended the match with Danny Welbeck up-front. Alexandre Lacazette’s finish was worthy of winning a match, let alone drawing one, but I was still a bit gutted that none of our defenders thought to get back on the line and cover for the goalkeeper who had rushed out to close down the angle. Given City were inevitably going to take all three points from Mark Hughes’ truly miserable Southampton side, three points felt like a must.

Yet the season is very much a marathon rather than a sprint. Given how much trouble Arsenal’s front three was causing us during the opening forty-five minutes, we could just as easily have struggled to get any points from the game whatsoever. We might all still think of Arsenal as the Wenger-era side that would fold and capitulate at the first sign of trouble, but this is very much a team in the image of a manager who knows how to win games. Let’s not forget that his Sevilla side won three Europa League trophies back-to-back, including one at the expense of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool. With all of that in mind, it was a good point to take back to Anfield and means that we sit just two points behind City.

We’re ‘Handily Placed’

Before a ball was kicked this season we all knew that Manchester City were going to be very difficult to overhaul. They set a Premier League record when they broke the one hundred points barrier last time around and were always likely to do something similar this time around. When the fixtures computer chose to present them with about as perfect a set of matches as Pep Guardiola could’ve hoped for our task became even trickier. When you throw in Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea deciding that this would be one of those years when they actually bother to turn up, it was clear that our task in the first instance would be to simply keep up with them both. Despite what it feels like right now, both of them will drop points before the season is over. Neither us nor City have faced Manchester United, for example, with José Mourinho likely to be desperate to take points off the pair of us. They haven’t faced each other yet, either, and at least one of them will have to drop points when they do as that’s how the rules work.

The crucial thing is that we keep pace for the time being and be there for when one or both of them slip up. With that in mind, a point at the Emirates is a perfectly acceptable result. Chelsea beat Arsenal at Stamford Bridge but they’ve still got the return leg to come, so we have no idea how our draw looks compared with their result in the equivalent fixture. What we need to do is to keep performing as best we can and not get too carried away with results one way or another. A loss for us at some point in the coming weeks or months won’t automatically mean that all hope is lost; let’s not forget that City dropped two points against newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers. Equally, of course, the results of City and Chelsea shouldn’t be celebrated or mourned too much when they happen. We haven’t been to Molineaux and so until we have we don’t know whether a draw is a good or bad outcome for the defending champions. At the time they left the Midlands we were two points ahead of them, now they’re two ahead of us. There are twists and turns aplenty left in this title race.

The ‘Mini-League’ Might Dictate Where The Title Ends Up

The other reason why our result against Arsenal might not be a bad one is that the mini-league between the top six might well dictate where the Premier League trophy ends up when the season draws to a close. There will likely be a few shock results before all is said and done, yet the reality is that the top six teams are going to take close to maximum points from the rest of the division this time around. The likes of Everton, Leicester City and Watford might well have something to say about that, but generally speaking there seems to be a genuine disparity between those at the top and the rest this season. With that in mind, then, ensuring that we don’t lose to any of City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs could be crucial as far as any hopes of winning the Premier League title are concerned. Heading to the Emirates and coming away with a point whilst feeling a bit disappointed about the result is a very nice position to be in, when you think about it.

Right now, we have no actual idea where the trophy will end up. Those that are negatively minded might look at Manchester City’s results of late and feel as though they’re relentless enough to mean that it’s as good as guaranteed to be in the Etihad’s trophy cabinet before the campaign comes to a close, but that does a disservice to the results of both Liverpool and Chelsea. We’ve taken on opponents that Pep Guardiola’s team hasn’t yet and vice-versa. Until all matches are done and it becomes a mathematical impossibility for us to lwin the title it’s daft to be constantly panicking about each and every result; if for no other reason that that means we’re not enjoying watching this truly superb side that Jürgen Klopp has put together. Whether it’s a matter of ‘crying it in’ or what I don’t know, but I’m massively bored of seeing so many people writing the season off when we haven’t even hit Christmas yet. The weekend’s result felt like a missed opportunity, but it’s not time to organise Manchester City’s coronation just yet.

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