“Yes, there might be a few nerves but our job is not about history, it’s about today.” - Arsene Wenger
SETTING THE SCENE
In truth, the “scene” was pretty horrible after the first 20 minutes at Anfield on February 8 this year.
Having taken 25 points out of a possible 27, Arsenal had arrived on Merseyside as legitimate title chasers. But, with less than a quarter of the game gone, they were 4-0 down and in disarray against a Liverpool side who, unbeknownst to us all, were about to go on a run that so nearly created history.
The game would end 5-1 and it proved to be a turning point for both teams. Liverpool would challenge until the final few games of the season, Arsenal fell away in the league but recovered enough to retain fourth place and lift the FA Cup. (In fact Liverpool’s only defeat until they lost to Chelsea on April 27 would be their elimination from the latter at Emirates Stadium.)
That same doggedness surrounds Wenger’s men right now. A similarly dispiriting defeat at Stoke at the start of December is starting to look a little out of place given the results surrounding it.
But, on Sunday, Arsenal must draw on those resolute reserves as last season’s defeat at Anfield could be lingering at the back of their minds.
“They played on another planet against us last season in that game,” said Wenger. "We were outplayed and maybe it was the game we deserved the most to lose last season. But let’s not forget that one week later, we beat exactly the same team in the FA Cup. That shows you that it’s just down to the performance of the day.
“We’ve won five of our last six games and now we want to continue our strong run. We had a good game against Newcastle and this game on Sunday is another chance for us to show that we can have the continuity in finding a good balance between attacking well and defending well because Liverpool are always very strong at home. That’s why we want to continue to be faithful to our philosophy and play our game but also be solid defensively."
Santi Cazorla is one of the reasons for the recent resurgence. The Spaniard celebrated his 30th birthday last Saturday against Newcastle by conducting another virtuoso display of poise and precision.
Players of touch and technique can often dip in form. Especially when they have come from overseas and have been burdened by tournaments nearly every summer.
Cazorla, however, arrived to a fanfare and his dancing feet have rarely been off-beat for long throughout his two-and-a-half year spell in north London.
“He’s a player with a good technique,” said Wenger. “The better your technique is, the more natural it is to play and the less effort you need to put in to control the ball and pass left or right.
“With Santi, you don’t know if he’s left or right-footed and his passion for football helps him to recover as well. He has a good stamina so he can produce the effort.
“Overall, he is the player who has played more games than anybody else for Arsenal in 2014. As we arrive at the end of the year, I want to congratulate him for that.”
As for the team news, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nacho Monreal and Theo Walcott face tests over the weekend. Calum Chambers is back after suspension.
With the illumination of time and distance, it is now possible to suggest that last year’s result actually ran against the grain of recent history. It was only Liverpool’s second win in the last 14 Premier League games between the two sides and represented their first home win in six attempts against Wenger’s men.
Still, Liverpool used the game as a step up and, had they won the title, it would have been post-rationalised as a pivotal 90 minutes.
But, in truth, Brendan Rodgers’ side have failed to build on last season’s run.
They have spent most of the campaign in the bottom half of the table and will arrive on Sunday in 11th place.
Simplistically, the change is all about goalscoring. Luis Suarez helped fire them to 101 goals in 38 Premier League games last term before he was sold to Barcelona in the summer. In 16 games so far this season Liverpool have mustered a mere 19.
The Suarez fee was spent on several new signings, many of whom are yet to settle. However Wenger baulks at the suggestion that Liverpool have suffered a similar fate to Tottenham, who bolstered their squad with indifferent amounts of success with the proceeds of selling Gareth Bale.
“It’s difficult to compare,” said Wenger. “Both teams lost a world-class player, that’s where the similarity is. After, you have to give time to people to settle. It is not in a second that that happens, and let’s not forget, they lost another important player in Daniel Sturridge.”
At his pre-match press conference, Wenger stated that the Christmas period starts here. It is never a decisive time but a fallow set of festive games can see you playing one almighty game of catch-up in the New Year.
Arsenal can ill-afford that but then this game has its own significance. Wenger’s men were beaten heavily at Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool last season. But only in the last of those were they blown away when they were starting to truly fancy their chances in the title race. The fall was from a much greater height than those other two games.
Perhaps this year’s vintage are yet to hit their stride. For every Newcastle (h) or Galatasaray (h), there has been a Stoke (a) or Swansea (a).
However the roles could be reversed at Anfield this time as you sense the greater vulnerability in Rodgers’ men.
And this time, perhaps Arsenal can capitalise for their own long-term benefit.
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