The early kick off in Gameweek 25, in the Barclays Premier League, is almost certainly the biggest match in the card. Liverpool vs Arsenal is always a massive game, but this season its status is elevated further, as both sides are having incredible seasons.
Liverpool have at long last found their stride. Brendan Rodgers seriously had his work cut out when he took over the reigns at Liverpool. Amidst all the inherited debris, he had to clear out, clean up and reinvigorate all those around him.
His public image took a hit in the process. It has to be said. Whether it was reflective of the man himself, or selective media coverage, he seemed incapable of answering any question without sounding like a Northern Irish David Brent, whilst thinking to himself, “what would the Dalai Lama say now?”
We had quotes such as “I started coaching for one reason and that was to make a difference for people, not just as footballers but as human beings’’ and of course, a recycling of the old three envelope trick. He talked in press conferences of educating players and it’s been suggested that he has even shared venerable Latin phrases, in the Anfield home dressing room.
These head scratching moments have however, been eclipsed by his achievements. The squad now consists of players he is content are there for the correct reasons.
Not only has he been pivotal in retaining the services of Luis Suarez, he’s implementing a system that appears almost bespoke, in allowing the Uruguayan to shine.
He told The Telegraph:
“He is a player we want to keep here and build the team around in the coming years.”
The proof of the pudding is in Suarez’ blistering form. He won the Barclays Premier League Player Of The Month for December. His disciplinary record has improved almost beyond expectation. Perhaps the severity of his ban which caused him to miss Liverpool’s first five league games did the trick. Perhaps Rodgers’ philosophical style eventually got through to him.
Suarez’ goals have been coming thick and fast. If you cast your eye down the league table, he has actually scored, as an individual, more goals than many Premier League sides have in total.
And add to this, that this season, there has been no cloud above his head. No allegations of handling the ball over the line, no complaints of diving or biting.
Another element deserving of praise, very much to Rodger’s credit, has been the forging of the partnership with Daniel Sturridge. Things are one the up.
The concern however, with hosting Arsenal, is that so far this season, Liverpool have lost all their crucial big games (if you discount the now struggling Manchester United). Arsenal beat them 2-0 at the Emirates. Manchester City beat them 2-1 at the Etihad. And Chelsea won by the same score at Stamford Bridge.
Anfield, it will be argued, will be a different kettle of fish. And with goo reason. The Scousers’ home form is solid and with the Kop ringing again, match tickets are in short supply. The feel good factor is most definitely back.
Liverpool is a footballing city, almost unlike any other. When there is a cup final in London, you have to travel to Wembley to get a sense of it.
In Liverpool, there is a buzz in the air, the cafes and bars and streets are noticeably busier. You can buy a match day programme from a newspaper vendor in the City centre, not just outside the ground. Click here to see just how achievable being there is. The match day experience is quite unique.
For Arsenal’s part, their season has been close to imperious. They have only lost three league games. The disasterous opener against Aston Villa at home, then to Manchester United away, then to the other Manchester firm, in a bizarre game that finished 6-3.
Who’ll won this one? Well, to put it simply, if Liverpool are serious about staking a claim this term, then it has to be them.