by Bulldog Drummond
There is a story doing the rounds that after seven years at a club Jurgen Klopp feels he has had enough, or that even if he doesn’t feel like moving on, his results drop off and so he quits and finds himself another club.
It hasn’t happened completely at Liverpool, at least not yet. But there are signs.
Klopp joined the club in October 2015 and their league finishes since have been eighth (once), fourth (twice), third (once), second (twice) and first (once). Pretty good, but when set out like that, not actually earth-shattering for a club with the view that it has a historic destiny to win the League. Of course, to be fair we must add that he also won the Champions League, but really the big celebration came because he gave Liverpool their first league title in over 30 years.
So comparisons between Arsenal and Liverpool (such as Mikel Arteta’s side reminds me of Liverpool four years ago) are only helpful up to a point.
What we do have to remember is that for six years Arsenal have been labelled as “miles behind” or maybe “years behind” the top clubs that challenge for the title. It has in fact taken just two summer rebuilds and one major tactical shift, to get the team that is now top of the league. And besides, even in these last three seasons of finishing eighth twice and then fifth, we’ve still managed to pick up more trophies than Tottenham (to choose a name at random) have in the last 14 seasons.
Of course, it can be said that really it is just Saliba and Jesus who have lifted the club from eighth to top, but that would ignore the contribution of (to give just one example) Martinelli, who from my perspective has been stunning to the point of disbelief. And come to that, the re-integration of Granit Xhaka from the wilderness.
It is because of these players, among others, that Arsenal can now play higher up the pitch – to do that one needs the right defenders to get the ball and move it forward quickly, as well as the right attackers who can run onto it.
Meanwhile, Liverpool are still being written about as a team that has been collecting over 90 points year upon year but the use of that “year upon year” phrase shows just how exaggerated the recent Liverpool era has become in journalistic heads. Since 1988 they have achieved that total just three times, but they are the 90+ team.
Perhaps what we should be learning is that just as a team can fall from grace in a couple of seasons (as with Liverpool who took just two seasons to drop to sixth place after their 18-year dominance of the top league in the 1970s and 1980s), so it only needs two summers of rebuilding for a team to rise from eighth to the top. Or at least to the top for a while.
Although to be fair, it is possible to argue that this season Liverpool have not been doing too badly – they have after all only been beaten in the league once – away to Manchester United, exactly as Arsenal. But they have had four draws: against Fulham, Palace, Everton and Brighton – and that is what has made all the difference.
There are in fact four teams in the league that have been beaten just the once this season: Arsenal, Tottenham, Newcastle and Liverpool. What separates them of course is that question of draws – five for Newcastle, four for Liverpool, two for Tottenham.
So Liverpool playing for a draw this afternoon is a distinct possibility, They can score goals (only two fewer than Arsenal this season, having played one game fewer) and have only conceded one more goal than Arsenal, but it is the mindset that makes them accept a draw rather than going all out for the winning goal, that is the difference.
Arsenal need fewer shots per goal than Liverpool in the Premier League (17.3 to 18.9) and play with far less possession (66.6% to Liverpool and 58.6% to Arsenal).
But Arsenal have a better pass completed percentage (85.9% to Liverpool’s 83.2%). These differences are not great, but they are great enough to place us top of the league and Liverpool in 10th, 11 points behind us.