Having established a six-point lead over second place Tottenham and with defending champions- Manchester City losing two successive matches, Liverpool fans now believe more than ever they can win the Premier League for the first time this season. However, against an Arsenal side that is desperate for a top-four place, the Reds have a game in their hands today in spite of being favourites on paper and form
LIverpool will be looking to take another step towards the Premier League title when they face Arsenal at Anfield in their final match of 2018 today. The Reds sit six points clear at the top of the table with half of the season gone, while opponents Arsenal are in fifth place, two points adrift of the Champions League spots.
Only three teams in Premier League history have reached the halfway stage of a season without losing a single game, and each of them has gone on to win the title.
Liverpool have now joined that exclusive list courtesy of a dominant 4-0 win over Newcastle United on Boxing Day – a result which made it eight successive Premier League victories in a run which stretches back to their last match against Arsenal.
Just as significant as their own form has been the unexpected slump from Manchester City, though, with back-to-back defeats for Pep Guardiola’s side leaving the defending champions seven points adrift of Jurgen Klopp’s pace-setters.
Tottenham Hotspur are now Liverpool’s closest challengers, but the Reds still enjoy a six-point lead over second place and may be thankful of that cushion ahead of a crucial double-header against Arsenal and Man City either side of the New Year.
A victory today would bring a perfect end to what has been a memorable 2018 for Liverpool and they will be hoping that even greater things are to come in 2019 as they bid for a first league title since 1990.
Klopp will be the first to tell his side that there is still a long way to go if they are to achieve that feat, but the signs are certainly promising heading into the New Year and should Liverpool enjoy an identical second half of the campaign then they would even surpass Man City’s 100-point tally from last season.
The Merseysiders are 16 points better off than the same stage of the 2017-18 campaign and have also scored two more goals – despite the impression that their attack has not been as free-flowing this term – but it is their defensive record which has separated them from the rest so far.
So often their downfall in past title challenges, Liverpool conceded just seven goals during the opening half of the campaign and should they keep a clean sheet today then they would set a new record for fewest goals conceded after 20 games of a top-flight English season.
Liverpool’s fixtures with Arsenal are so often laden with goals, but the Reds have conceded only twice in the league at Anfield all season, while Man City are the only team to have taken points off Klopp’s side on home turf too.
It is now 30 Premier League games since Liverpool tasted defeat at home – their best run since a 31-game streak which ended in August 2009 – and they are also unbeaten in their last 20 matches in December across all competitions, winning each of the last nine.
Continuing that run today would take Liverpool one step closer to Premier League glory, although Manchester City have proved just how quickly things can change at the top should Klopp’s side take their eye off the ball.
Arsenal’s improvement this season has not quite been as drastic as Liverpool’s, but there has been definite movement in the right direction from Unai Emery’s side.
The Gunners are four points better off than at the halfway stage of 2017-18, but still, sit outside the Champions League places with two points separating them from fourth-placed Chelsea.
That gap opened up on Boxing Day as Arsenal only managed a 1-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion, making it just one win in their last four games since seeing their 22-match unbeaten streak come to an end.
Arsenal remains very much in the race for a top-four spot, though, and securing a return to the Champions League next season would make for a successful first year at the helm for Emery.
There are costly elements which continue to linger on from the Arsene Wenger regime, though, and one of those is Arsenal’s poor record away to their top-six rivals.
It is almost three years since the Gunners last won such a game, losing 12 and drawing seven of their last 19 trips to face one of the established top six.
Arsenal have also won just one of their last 12 away league games against teams starting the day top of the table, including six successive defeats by an aggregate scoreline of 17-2.
One area where Arsenal have already shown notable improvement is away from home; Emery’s side amassed only 16 points on the road throughout the 2017-18 campaign, but they have already accrued 15 this season.
However, the Gunners will travel to Anfield without a win in their last three away games and with just one victory from their last five – a run which stretches back to October.
Emery’s side are also yet to keep a Premier League clean sheet on the road this term, conceding 16 goals from their nine matches.
A trip to face a Liverpool team which has scored three or more goals in four of their last five games is a daunting proposition, then, but Arsenal were one of only three teams to avoid defeat against the leaders during the first half of the season and may take some encouragement from the fact that they were the last side to take points off today’s hosts.