Liverpool vs Arsenal at Anfield is always a big game. In the last few seasons Arsenal has been the one fighting for the top 4 and Liverpool has been challenging for the title. With the roles reversed this season, we wanted to check in our friends at the Arsenal blog The Short Fuse to see how this season is going for them.
The Liverpool Offside: Setting aside the serious stuff, which we’ll get to, but how much fun is it supporting Arsenal this season? It looks like it’s a lot of fun.
The Short Fuse: Incredibly. I’m a very optimistic Arsenal fan, so even in the seasons where the club finished 8th, I was always finding the positives and very willing to give Mikel Arteta all the time needed. Regardless of how this year ends up, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable season. Arsenal have rebuilt the squad to now be primarily made up of young, exciting players, several of which I think are looked upon favorably by neutrals (Saka, Odegaard, Zinchenko, Jesus, Martinelli, etc.), plus the crowd at the Emirates has been extremely supportive. I never thought they would challenge for the title coming into the season so it’s surpassed expectations.
TLO: Arsenal are in pole position in the title race as we near “the run in”. How do you feel about the run in and do you think Arsenal are going to do the thing?
TSF: Just nine to go after the win over Leeds. 27 points and nearly 20 ahead of third place, so a top-two finish is almost guaranteed. Arsenal has a slightly more difficult league schedule than Manchester City, but they still have to rotate between the Champions League matches. Right now I give them a 60% chance, but if they leave the Etihad with a three-point lead I would raise that to 80-90%.
TLO: Take me back to August for a second. Did you think that this Arsenal squad was capable of being this good? Which players have had the biggest impact on this season?
TSF: Back in August we did our annual pre-season predictions at The Short Fuse. I predicted Arsenal to finish third and mentioned that if the new additions of Jesus, Zinchenko, & Saliba worked out then they were in a very strong place. Despite Jesus’ injury, all three have really lifted the squad, Zinchenko was a steal, and Saliba’s long path to Arsenal finally paid off. In the last two seasons, Arsenal scored 55 and 61 goals, respectively, this year they already have 70. Saka, Martinelli, and Odegaard all putting in 10 or more has been the extra level the club has lacked in previous years.
TLO: Arsenal are obviously very good this season and Liverpool aren’t. However, Arsenal haven’t won at Anfield in over a decade. What sort of psychological toll does this fixture play on the minds of fans and the team?
TSF: I think it will play into a little bit, even if they don’t say it. On top of that, most of those defeats were by multiple goals. So while Liverpool and Chelsea might be down this year, there is still a leeriness when heading into those matches based on the past decade. But last year Arsenal lost to Tottenham in a big match at the end of the season which decided fourth place but then responded this year with two wins over their rivals. Arsenal will feel like they are capable of getting a win at Anfield, and while expecting a strong crowd, will probably be going into the match eager to prove how far they’ve come this year.
TLO: Any wrinkles in the least changed side in the league this season for Sunday?
TSF: Versus Leeds Leandro Trossard started on the right side of the attack, but I expect Bukayo Saka to return to the starting XI. And Rob Holding is expected to start with William Saliba ruled out. Otherwise, it should be the normal starting XI.
You can read the reverse set of questions here.