Liverpool can lay down marker by ending Arsenal’s hold of Anfield

Liverpool can make a real statement in the top-four race by beating Arsenal at their Anfield fortress, writes Kieran Beckles

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers Photo: Back Page Images

Liverpool face their biggest hurdle in the top-four race to date on Saturday – and a rare Anfield win against Arsenal would underline the huge strides made under Brendan Rodgers.

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Remarkably, the Reds haven’t tasted victory over the north London club at home since goals from Sami Hyypia, Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Ryan Babel sealed a 5-3 aggregate win and booked their place in Champions League semi-finals in 2008.

Since that memorable European night, Liverpool have drawn twice and lost three times to Arsene Wenger’s men at Anfield, which is easily the best record of any of the current top three at the ground, as well as defending champions Manchester United.

Taking into account that Premier League leaders Arsenal were relatively comfortable 2-0 winners at The Emirates earlier this season, the Gunners appear exceptional value at 12/5 (11/2 for new Paddy Power customers) to continue their current dominance over the Reds.

However, under Rodgers, Liverpool have slowly started to improve their performances – if not record – against their big Premier League rivals. The Reds lost valiantly 2-1 to Chelsea and City at Stamford Bridge and Etihad Stadium this season, whilst sealing victories over Manchester United and Everton at home.

Another of Liverpool’s flaws is their tendency to drop points against top-flight clubs at the wrong end of the table despite having home advantage. This was a regular occurrence towards the end of Rafael Benitez’s reign, under Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, and even last term with Rodgers in charge.

But the 41-year-old has succeeded in making Anfield a real fortress since a nervy 1-0 win against Stoke City on the opening day, discounting hiccups against Southampton and Aston Villa.

In fact, the Reds have collected 31 points from a possible 36, with only Chelsea and City boasting better home records.

The Northern Irishman has Liverpool playing free-flowing football which guarantees the Reds score goals aplenty – and sometimes their opponents, too. Rodgers’ side have netted 33 times in 12 Anfield games, with Southampton the only side to achieve a shutout.

So it’s no surprise that Rodgers was in confident mood speaking to the media at Melwood on Thursday.

“When I came in here we were expected to win but maybe the pressure of that sometimes was too much,” he said. “Now we genuinely go into a game expecting to win – no matter who we are playing against home or away.

“We are dealing with that pressure much better. We’ve still got areas to work on but we are controlling games much better and we have that goal-scoring threat.

“Any successful team has to have real strong home form. Over the course of this season to win 10 games, draw one and lose one, that’s a brilliant record and we want to keep that going.”

As Jose Mourinho quipped in his pre-match media conference on Friday, statistics don’t play, so come Saturday, Arsenal’s hold over Liverpool counts for nothing.

But it won’t dampen the pressure on the Reds. Currently two points clear of fifth-placed Everton, Liverpool can lay down a real marker in the race for a fourth-place finish with victory over the leaders.

It would send a message to City, Chelsea, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, who must all make the trip to Anfield before the season’s conclusion. It is imperative that Liverpool’s historic ground remains a fortress in the face of opposition from the Premier League’s best sides.

Lose to Arsenal, and Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini will smell blood, and Newcastle and Spurs will buoyed in a what could be the most competitive top-four race in Premier League history.

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