Saturday, October 27, 2007 by Paul Grech
Log on to any Liverpool forum these past couple of days and you were bound to come out feeling desolate such is the level of cynicism and gloom. The views are varied – there are those who feel Rafael Benitez is going down the same road as Gerard Houllier, others who feel that the departure of Pako Ayesteryan is what broke the toy whilst an increasing number simply want him out – but the overall feeling is of acute dissatisfaction.
Trying to lighten the mood are the few who point out that Liverpool are as yet undefeated in the Premier League. Which is true enough even if that is a record that could easily have been lost against either Tottenham or Everton.
For Liverpool haven’t been playing well since the 6-0 rout of Derby. They were abysmal against Portsmouth away and Birmingham at home, whilst last gasp goals were needed to draw with Tottenham and overcome Everton. Yet unbeaten they remain as well as fourth in the table.
Simply defending that record against Arsenal won’t be enough. This is a game Liverpool must win even if it is the hardest they’re likely to face over the next 12 months. Arsenal come full of confidence after 12 consecutive wins let alone the 7-0 trashing of Slavia Prague: they know that this is a game they can win.
The contrast with Liverpool couldn’t be any core acute. Losing at Besiktas has made life exceedingly more complicated and getting out of the group stages a tricky job. On a deeper level, most players aren’t playing up to their standard, confidence is lacking and the overall style of play is extremely laboured. Few chances are being created and those that are often end up being wasted.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are playing with the poise of a team that feels at ease and the results are proving that, making Sunday’s match something of a mismatch.
Only that it is hardly going to turn out that way. That Liverpool have eked out draws, and possibly wins, from games where they looked set for defeat which shows a certain degree of resiliency and determination. Already this season they have showed that they can face up to a top four side with style when they outplayed Chelsea at Anfield.
On that occasion they could rely on all their top players which might not be the case against Arsenal. Xabi Alonso might be back – and not a second sooner given how poorly his replacements have been performing – but Fernando Torres and Daniel Agger might have to wait a little bit longer.
That shouldn’t be used as an excuse and certainly the players themselves have to question what has been going on over these past few weeks and why they have been playing so poorly.
At various stages, they have come out saying that the corner had been turned – after the league cup win at Reading, the defeat by Marseilles and the derby in particular – yet on each occasion that didn’t prove to be the case.
This weekend, however, there can’t be any let-ups. Win and they would close the gap knowing that next week’s clash between Arsenal and Manchester United might offer the possibility of progressing even further. If they are genuinely going to challenge for the title this is when they must start proving they can do that.