Arsenal’s visit to Anfield on Wednesday kick starts a run of games that will be crucial in determining the strength of Arsenal’s title challenge this season. As I wrote before the FA Cup tie against Sunderland, the destiny of the Premier League title will be decided by Arsenal’s away form given the number of tough places we are yet to visit. A trip to Anfield certainly fits that bill but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise given how bullish Arsenal fans appear to be about the Gunners coasting to victory in Merseyside.
That bullishness is partly fuelled by the sheer number of injuries Liverpool have to contend with. They are missing a host of key players and there is no doubt Klopp would rather have the likes of Coutinho, Henderson, Sturridge, Lovren, etc. available for the visit of the league leaders. But you could say the same about Arsene Wenger and Arsenal over the past month and a half but we’ve notched 5 wins in our last 6 league games despite missing Santi Cazorla, Coquelin, Alexis, Wilshere and a few others. Those injuries haven’t affected our results as much as most fans believed they would so there is no reason why Liverpool, especially at Anfield, will roll over easily despite the long list of injuries.
What also caught my eye were some comments by Jurgen Klopp during his press conference ahead of the game. He talked about how much respect he has for Arsene Wenger and how difficult it is to manage a club for 20 years at any level but the biggest surprise for me was listening to him say how his respect for Wenger’s sustained longevity and style of football at the highest level has grown even more after having experienced the Premier League himself. Some might shrug those comments off but considering his previous comments about Wenger’s ‘opera’ and his ‘heavy metal’ approach among other things, it certainly appears that at least Jurgen Klopp thinks Wenger’s remarkable consistency for 20 years in no easy task.
Anyway, ahead of the 200th competitive meeting (I could be wrong on that stat!) between Liverpool and Arsenal, I caught up with Steven McMillan from Paisley Gates, one of the best Liverpool blogs out there. Read below for his views on Brendan Rodgers’s sacking, Liverpool’s injury crisis, Mesut Özil and much more.
- Introduce Paisley Gates to our readers.
Paisley Gates is an independent Liverpool FC website that has been around in various incarnations and formats for the better part of the last ten years.
- I found it bizarre that Rodgers was backed in the summer with so much money on so many new players and then sacked about 10 games in. What’s your opinion on his sacking?
As much as I hate to admit it, I think it was justified. I was always someone to back Rodgers and what he was trying to do at Liverpool and I was more than willing to write off the last season on account of the loss of Luis Suarez and a number of factors outside of his control, but since the start of the campaign the club were steadily regressing and it was hard to see any way he was going to turn it around.
The tactics no longer made any sense, his insistence on shoehorning players into positions that didn’t fit their skill-set was looking even more daft than usual and, at least from the outside, it looked like he’d completely lost the dressing room.
It was time to pull the plug.
- Are you happy with Jurgen Klopp so far? What changes has he made in comparison to Rodgers?
The honeymoon period may be nearing the end, but I still wake up every day happy and surprised that we have a manager like Jurgen Klopp in charge of Liverpool — he’s been a breath of fresh air since he breezed in and though he’s got a huge task ahead of him, it looks to me like he’s going to be a the man for the job.
Results haven’t really reflected the changes he’s made to our game as much as anyone would like, but after the final days of the Rodgers regime, it really does look like the players are reinvigorated and focused. He has a clear plan, tactics that make real sense and he’s playing people where they should be played.
Jordon Ibe is not a wing-back. Not now, not ever.
- Who’s been Liverpool’s player of the season so far?
That’s hard to say — catch me on another day and I’d blurt out Philippe Coutinho straight off, but he’s been inconsistent at best for large parts of the season. I’m going to say Emre Can; he’s really started to come into his own now that he’s not being played as a defender.
- What have you made of the injury crisis at Anfield?
I try not to moan too much about injuries since it’s something that every team in every league has to deal with, but we’ve had absolutely no luck this season. Going to Exeter City in the FA Cup on Friday without a fit senior centre-back shows just how bad it is.
- Given the injury list, any young players to look out for on Wednesday?
Honestly, that all depends on what kind of side we can cobble together. Tiago Ilori, who just returned from Aston Villa on loan, put in a really good showing at the U21 European Championship over the summer and could be thrown back into the mixer if Mamadou Sakho doesn’t recover in time. The narrative in the media is that he couldn’t get a game at Villa Park, but no one mentions that he was injured for quite a large part of his time there. He did well against Exeter, but Arsenal is a whole different story…
- How will Klopp approach this game tactically?
I don’t think he’ll change too much; in a lot of ways I think you’ll see more or less the same line-up and tactics that worked so well against Chelsea and Manchester City with Roberto Firmino used as a false-nine instead of Christian Benteke as your typical centre-forward. Keeping things tight on the break and kicking Mesut Özil in the ass every time he even considers getting on the ball will be key.
- Your take on Arsenal as a club.
I could take them or leave them — that’s not what anyone here wants to hear, but you asked the question!
- Arsenal are top after 20 games. Are they title favourites as some fans seem to think they are?
Considering the way the season is going, I don’t think you can pin the favourites tag on anyone. If Arsenal keep playing the way they are, they’ll be right there in the mix come May, but I’d be surprised if anyone had a clear lead at the top.
- The Arsenal player who has impressed you the most this season.
Mesut Özil — 16 assists and we’re only halfway through the season?
- Your take on the quality of the EPL, given how unpredictable it is and the poor showing of English clubs in Europe?
Admittedly, I haven’t paid real close attention to the Champions League over the last couple of years considering we’ve only qualified once since 2009, but I think the perceived lack of quality — both domestically and in Europe — has been overblown quite a bit. It wasn’t all that long ago that English clubs were dominating the scene; seems to me that the playing field has been levelled a bit and everyone is having a moan.
I’m not sure about the quality in the EPL decreasing either; there’s more money than ever in the game and some of the smaller clubs have made some real shrewd moves that has upset the big boys. If nothing else, it’s more entertaining; having one team win the league at a gallop isn’t all that exciting and doesn’t exactly speak to the quality of the league as a whole, does it?
- Predictions for the game and season
Based on nothing but pure blind hope I think we’re going to sneak this one. As for the season, I just don’t know. Are we going to have enough players to see it out?