LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 28, 2020: Liverpool’s substitute Diogo Jota during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

How Arsenal’s “love of self-destruction” will give Liverpool 15-minute window to punish

Liverpool return to action with a trip to Arsenal this weekend, so we’ve got in touch with the Reds’ rivals to get the lowdown on their season.

It has been almost three weeks since Jurgen Klopp‘s men last took to the field, winning 1-0 away to Wolves.

The hope is that Liverpool will be refreshed both physically and mentally, as they look to enjoy a barnstorming final two months of the season.

On Saturday night, the Premier League champions visit an Arsenal side sitting ninth in the table, with Mikel Arteta still adjusting to life at the Emirates.

With kickoff in north London fast approaching, we spoke to writer Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) to hear about the Gunners’ campaign, why Liverpool have fallen short and much more.


How would you assess Arsenal’s season to date?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 28, 2020: Liverpool’s Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' (L) challenges Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

A season of two halves, really.

Up until Boxing Day, it was genuinely very poor. We were in relegation form and even the underlying metrics suggested that was not an unfair position for Arsenal.

The win over Chelsea on Boxing Day and, more significantly, Emile Smith Rowe’s arrival into the team, changed things. It led to a change in formation and we knew we were really missing that player to link midfield and attack.

Since then, we have added Martin Odegaard, too, and suddenly Arsenal are actually able to create chances again.

Things are much better now, but there is still some development to happen – between the boxes the Gunners are genuinely a really good team now, we just need to sort out what happens in both 18-yard areas!


Is Arteta the man to take the Gunners forward?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, July 14, 2020: Arsenal's manager Mikel Arteta (R) and Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp chat before the FA Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I really wanted Arteta, but I wavered badly around November and December.

The improvement since then means I am back on board and if you are going to hire a rookie coach, you have to accept that they are going to learn along the way and education is laced with errors.

Arteta has shone in terms of communication, which Arsenal fans sorely needed. We went from a gifted orator like Arsene Wenger to Unai Emery who, even in his native tongue, speaks in riddles.

I also really support what he is trying to do, in terms of addressing the lax culture at Arsenal with improved discipline.

But they have become a cup team because they turn it off and on like a tap and that really needs to stop – they need to be more consistent and they badly need that cultural reboot.


Who have been Arsenal’s three best players so far?

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Saturday, June 20, 2020: Arsenal's Bukayo Saka during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Arsenal FC at the AMEX Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Bukayo Saka. The boy is a revelation and has been in several positions. He is beginning to demonstrate end product now, too.

Kieran Tierney, much like your own Andy Robertson, is such a huge part of the way Arsenal attack, and he just seems to have boundless energy.

He’s become a cult hero because of his relatable qualities, but he is a seriously good footballer and Arsenal‘s attack is not the same without him.

Smith Rowe changed Arsenal‘s season. That is, partly, because Arsenal had absolutely nobody linking midfield and attack so anyone that could do the job semi-competently would have represented an improvement.

But he is just a really smart player. He isn’t the type of No. 10 that just stands there and waits to make through-balls, he links everything together.

He is just everywhere – wherever there is space to be exploited on or off the ball he will see it and either run or pass into it. He is a very clever player, given his age.


Any who have been poor?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 19, 2020: Arsenal's manager Mikel Arteta speaks with Dani Ceballos during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Arsenal FC at Goodison Park. Everton won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Dani Ceballos hasn’t kicked on like we all hoped when he re-signed for Arsenal this season. He is a talented player but a bit of an individual, he just likes too many touches and often drops too deep in games.

The Spaniard is technically very sound, but Arsenal struggle to dominate games when he is there.

Willian has improved recently but the bar was very low. Given that he is 32, on huge wages and has a three-year deal, he might turn out to be Arsenal‘s worst-ever signing.

He isn’t a bad player – he has shown that during his career – but Arsenal has been a miserable fit for him.


Switching our attention to Liverpool, why do you think they have struggled this season?

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS - Wednesday, October 21, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the opening UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. (Pic by Gerrit van Keulen/Orange Pictures via Propaganda)

Injuries, pretty much plain and simple.

I know everyone likes to make the comparison with Jurgen Klopp‘s last season at Borussia Dortmund, but I really don’t think that’s it.

The thing is, Liverpool coped without Virgil van Dijk at first, but then the defensive injuries kept stacking up and hey presto, the form got worse.

The loss of Diogo Jota was so poorly timed, too, given that Roberto Firmino‘s output has been dipping for a little while.

Liverpool are going to have to do a rebuild soon, considering the number of players who are now close to 30, and I think Gini Wijnaldum will be a tough player to replace.

But honestly, I think the Reds will challenge for the title next season.


Why do you think they will be title contenders again?

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Monday, March 15, 2021: Liverpool's Diogo Jota (C) celebrates with team-mates Thiago Alcantara (L) and Sadio Mané (R) after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by Propaganda)

I do think the rebuild might be more problematic because it’s difficult to see where Liverpool’s next Philippe Coutinho or Luis Suarez is to fund it, now that Real Madrid and Barcelona are broke.

I still think Liverpool are a better team than Man United, though, and that would bear out with a fully fit squad and in a more ‘normal’ season.

I think Chelsea will come into the picture with Man City and Liverpool next season, but I still think you will be in that conversation.


Looking ahead to Saturday, who do you fear most?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 6, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané (L) celebrates with team-mate Mohamed Salah after the fourth goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 4-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’m most fearful of Arsenal‘s love of self-destruction against that Liverpool press.

The Gunners still only really play in spells and we will have at least 15 minutes where they can’t get their heads together, and I fear what Liverpool can do with a good 15 minutes.

That said, I do think Arsenal tend to switch on a little more for these games.

I still worry about Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah against pretty much all of our defenders, possibly with the exception of Gabriel.


Where do you see the key battles taking place?

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 2, 2020: Arsenal's manager Mikel Arteta pictured before the FA Premier League match between Burnley FC and Arsenal FC at Turf Moor. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Midfield is where the game will be won and lost for me. With Thomas Partey, Arsenal actually have a midfield for the first time since Santi Cazorla’s Achilles’ tendon went to heaven.

That Partey and Odegaard linkup means that Arsenal don’t have to play like underdogs in these games anymore.

The former’s fitness has been patchy this season, however, and Odegaard rolled his ankle playing for Norway in the week.

If Arsenal have Partey and Odegaard playing like they did in the second half against West Ham, they have a great chance.

Then again, the custard pie is never far from their face, even if they play well, and the capacity to just chuck goals away is always high.


Finally, hit us with your prediction…

Liverpool's Rhys Williams (left) and Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah battle for the ball during the Carabao Cup fourth round match at Anfield, Liverpool.

I’m going for an entertaining 1-1 draw here.