Expect goals galore when Liverpool take on Arsenal at Anfield
Few fixtures guarantee goals quite like Liverpool playing Arsenal at Anfield, and the two giants face each other again on Sunday. There have been 64 goals scored in the past 14 meetings between the sides on Liverpool soil. Last March's meeting supplied four goals, with the Reds running out 3-1 winners.
It was an extremely important victory. To say Liverpool had stalled in the second half of the season is an understatement; they claimed just six points in their previous seven league games before Arsenal sauntered into town. That victory -- clinched by Georginio Wijnaldum with almost the final kick of the game -- propelled Liverpool onto a strong finish that narrowly beat out Arsenal for a spot in the top four.
The importance of that win was re-emphasised this week with a brilliant 4-2 win over Hoffenheim that not only gives the Reds "proper" Champions League football, but was followed by one of the less challenging draws, which gives them a better chance of further progression.
It's fair to say Arsenal fans will be watching Liverpool's European exploits closely as the Reds have taken the place Arsenal were accustomed to claiming. After years of barbs about early Champions League exits, they'll be quick to pounce on any Liverpool flaws as quickly as everybody else seemed to pounce upon theirs.
Viewed from a distance, the treatment of Arsene Wenger -- one of the true greats of the modern game -- has always seemed unfair and a tad ungrateful. He seems to have weeks of excellent results, but one defeat (like at Stoke City last Saturday) makes the criticism rise to a crescendo again. Liverpool fans might claim they would be grateful for any team that finished in the top four every year and got to the last 16 of the Champions League as well, but the old saying is true: familiarity breeds contempt.
Liverpool sacked Rafa Benitez after one poor year in 2010, this after making Liverpool the No. 1-ranked team in European competition for the preceding five seasons. Brendan Rodgers came closer than any Reds manager in almost 30 years to winning the Premier League and was ignominiously replaced by Jurgen Klopp 16 months later. With these clubs and their history, following and prestige, they will always seek to aim for the best, and any manager that doesn't meet those expectations ordinarily does not last very long.
Wenger is the exception. He and Klopp may well elicit extra sentiment as people enjoy good attacking football. It helps mask some flaws, although not all. Liverpool were a joy to watch against Hoffenheim, but it cannot be denied that every time the Bundesliga side came near their goal during a frantic first half, the Reds were in danger of conceding.
When Liverpool and Arsenal won titles regularly, both clubs were air-tight at the back. It may seem a little sad that at some point in the future, Klopp will also be hectored relentlessly for not being pragmatic enough to win titles, but such is life in elite football. Flaws are for losers.
The transfer window is due to close, conveniently during an international break. It's been stressful for Liverpool, with few targets bought and Philippe Coutinho continuously pursued by Barcelona. It's been a distraction for Arsenal, too, with several key players linked with moves as a result of contracts all running down at the same time. They especially fear losing Alexis Sanchez, which is small wonder. Liverpool fans only have to think back to last March for the kind of effect the Chile international can have on a game, as he transformed what initially seemed a Liverpool stroll into a tense struggle during an exciting second half.
With all these distractions and fears off the pitch, both sets of fans will just want to watch a good game to lighten the mood for a while, preferably with a win at the end of it.
Liverpool especially will want to carry on in the same vein. Their defensive worries won't matter if the forwards continue their excellent current form. It would be great to add a good league start to Champions League qualification, and a victory Sunday would rubber-stamp that.
The early international break is annoying. If your team is playing well, it's an unnecessary interruption. If they started poorly, it means two weeks of worry and resentment get a chance to fester without another game in which to quickly correct faults and get back on track.
Who knows? Maybe Champions League football and a high place in the Premier League could be the final convincing for any players considering a move to Liverpool in the final week of the transfer window. Sunday's result is important, but whatever happens, clearly it is far too early for either side to be written off in the title race. A good start is always beneficial, but a bad one needn't be the end of the world.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.