Liverpool’s push for a first English Premiership football title in 29-years faces another test when they host Arsenal today but the evidence suggests their formidable defence could be their key to ending a frustrating wait for a championship in the Premier League era.
The roar that swept like wildfire around the ground when Manchester City’s defeat to Leicester City was confirmed on Wednesday told its own story – Anfield really is beginning to believe.
For while Jurgen Klopp’s unbeaten Liverpool were easing to a 4-0 win over Newcastle United to bring the dream of that elusive 19th English title into sharper focus, champions City were suffering a second straight defeat in less than a week.
So, at halfway, the gap between Liverpool and City, who slipped to third spot, now stands at seven points – and a comparison between their defensive records offers one of the major reasons why.
For Liverpool, boosted by signings of exceptional centre back Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson, have conceded just seven goals in 19 matches this season, 16 less than at the same stage last term.
City, in contrast, have shipped 15 goals and will arrive at Southampton tomorrow without a clean sheet in their previous nine games in all competitions.
Liverpool’s attacking prowess has been long admired but fullback Trent Alexander-Arnold points to how it now goes hand in hand with defensive stability at Anfield, where they have won eight of their nine league games, conceding just two goals.
“We have shown we’re tough to beat and not only that, we’re tough to score past. Not many teams come here and can score past us,” the 20-year-old told the club website.
“We have kept a lot of clean sheets, especially at home. It’s something we pride ourselves on as defenders and throughout the whole team. “That’s the foundation we’ve got to lay, then provide the balls for the attackers to go and do what they do best, scoring us goals.”
Fifth-placed Arsenal were the last team to nick a point from Liverpool in a 1-1 draw at the Emirates last month, but Unai Emery’s side have since lost their way, dropping seven points in their last three games on the road.
An error from Stephan Lichtsteiner cost Arsenal dearly as they were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw against Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday.
Arsenal were without four centre back options at the Amex Stadium and Emery will hope Nacho Monreal and Shkodran Mustafi could return for the weekend’s clash. After conceding five goals in back-to-back defeats by Crystal Palace and Leicester, Man City manager Pep Guardiola is also concerned about his team’s defensive discipline. “We started the season with clean sheets, we conceded five goals in I don’t know how many games. It was incredible how stable it was,” Guardiola said. “But right now we are conceding goals and it’s one of the big issues. We have a specific quality of players.
“We have players to play with a ball and it’s not a team built to just defend a lot of the time. But you have to make that effort to change that dynamic.”
Tottenham Hotspur stepped up their title drive this week, scoring 11 goals while defeating Everton and Bournemouth to move into second place, and they could wrap up the year with a sixth straight league win when hosting Wolverhampton Wanderers today.
Manchester United caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will look to continue his 100 percent winning start as they take on Bournemouth at Old Trafford tomorrow.
Following a 3-1 win over Huddersfield Town, United remain sixth, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, who visit Crystal Palace tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Arsenal coach Emery believes Liverpool can match the achievement of Arsene Wenger’s “Invincibles” by going through a Premier League season without losing a match.
The Gunners travel to leaders Liverpool today with Jurgen Klopp’s men six points clear at the top of the table, having won 16 of their 19 league matches so far this season and drawing the other three.
Wenger’s side were undefeated as they won the Premier League in the 2003/4 season but Emery believes Liverpool, who have won their last eight games, could follow suit. “At the moment they are doing it and they can do it,” Emery said when asked if Liverpool could go through a Premier League campaign without defeat.
“They can do that because they are doing it at the moment. We played against Liverpool three years ago with Sevilla in the final of the Europa League and I look at this progress and they are a very good example.”
Emery, who succeeded the long-serving Wenger after the end of last season, added: “The progression with Liverpool is clear. Three years ago, they were out of the Champions League through the Premier League and through the Europa League, because they lost against us (Sevilla).
“This progress is also one example for us, now, in our moment. But we need to be very, very demanding of ourselves to do this step quickly in our way. But we need also time and sometimes the patience is very important for us.” Arsenal head to Merseyside having dropped points in a Boxing Day draw at Brighton – a result that highlighted their problems in defence.
“We need more, but we need more from everybody and we need more also in our demanding ideas and we need to continue working on things,” said Emery.
“Mistakes are not only one player or two players or three players, but maybe also in the ideas. But at the moment, in the first half of the season, we are happy with 38 points. We need more. But it’s not bad, these points on the table.
“We need to improve defensively, because we are scoring a lot of goals and before yesterday we were second in the table for scoring. But we need to get better in the defensive moments and concede less goals and less chances for the opposition.
“Also, in the last matches we are having a lot of injuries in the defensive positions.”
English Premiership Fixtures (all 5pm unless otherwise stated)
Today: Fulham v Huddersfield Town; Leicester City v Cardiff City; Brighton & Hove Albion v Everton; Watford v Newcastle United; Tottenham Hotspur v Wolverhampton Wanderers; Liverpool v Arsenal (7:30pm).
Tomorrow: Crystal Palace v Chelsea (2pm); Southampton v Manchester City (4:15pm); Burnley v West Ham United (4:15pm); Manchester United v Bournemouth (6:30pm)