Gunner Thoughts

Liverpool Away: A Test of Growth in Maturity

Arsenal have shown they have the talent to win at Anfield, but do they have the maturity to get the best from themselves?

Happy Friday. At least, I hope this is a happy Friday.

If it’s a nervous Friday or an axiety Friday or a “get-me-the-fuck-to-kick-off” Friday, you’re probably not alone.

This week has been consumed by one thought: Anfield, Sunday.

The world of football rivals, banter, and obnoxious people have moved the goalposts all season, searching for that moment of Arsenal’s falter. It’s been Old Trafford, it’s been the month of October, it’s been the stretch when Jesus was injured; none have come true, and now Arsenal step into the “really, real, REAL moment of their stumbling.”


Let me just say, if you predict a team is going to fall apart at several different junctures, are proven wrong at all of them, but then “get them” at the last conceivable moment — because it’s the end of the season — you aren’t impressive. It’s not a “told ya so” moment, it’s embarrassing.

But our attention is on the magnificent Arsenal — and they have been nothing short of magnificent — preparing to take on Liverpool. If you listen carefully, you may be able to catch a faint whisper of Arteta bringing out the speakers at London Colney to play “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

Already this week I have talked about:

In every write up, even the Crystal Palace after-match thoughts, I have stated a belief that this match will be less a test of Arsenal’s quality, more for their maturity.

Arsenal have a horrid record at Anfield in the last decade, we know. In fact, their last win at Anfield came when Podolski and Carzola each scored in a 0-2 win. Since then:

  • Liverpool 5 – 1 Arsenal
  • Liverpool 2 – 2 Arsenal
  • Liverpool 3 – 3 Arsenal
  • Liverpool 3 – 1 Arsenal
  • Liverpool 4 – 0 Arsenal
  • Liverpool 5 – 1 Arsenal
  • Liverpool 3 – 1 Arsenal
  • Liverpool 3 – 1 Arsenal
  • Liverpool 4 – 0 Arsenal

A cumulative Premier League record of: 0 wins, 2 draws, 7 losses. AND 10 goals for, 27 goals against (-17 GD).


Look, those were tough years for Arsenal, glory years for Liverpool — especially recently — but also years where many questioned the mentality of Arsenal as a team.

This season, Arsenal have a team that has answered those questions. They are top of the league, they have proved out their talent across 29 matches, and they have the best record home and away. People seem determined to argue it, but this season, on an individual level, Arsenal have the better team.

But good teams go to Anfield and lose matches all the time. Talented teams let big moments and hostile grounds get ahold of their nerves and cause them to lose their way of playing. This year already, a person could accuse Arsenal of losing their guiding light to the moment, at home to Manchester City.

Now, Arsenal will have to prove they can walk into the hostile arena that is Anfield and control the way they have all season.

It starts with identity

It stars with identity. We have heard this word used all season. We have seen the pictures of Arsenal’s locker room at Away matches with the poster of the team that simply says, ‘Identity’.

Arteta and this team have established an identity that sees them control 60.7% of the possession, dominate the territory, counter-press teams looking to break from pinned in positions, pen teams in, and devastated with a mobile, dynamic attack.

That same identity won Arsenal their home fixture with against Liverpool 3-2.

But retaining and demonstrating that identity across 90 minutes is a lot easier for me to write than a team to do. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Every team thinks they are going to hold their nerve and systematically break down Liverpool until they walk into the ground and feel the pressure pushing down on them.

Talented teams lose games there all the time.

Arsenal’s age as a team is put next to their performances a lot. In the past it was used as an explanation, maybe even an excuse. This year it’s been a statistic used to garner an extra level of admiration for what they are achieving. But over the course of this season, we have seen a young team grow as a group in talent levels, production, and maturity.

This is simply the first of two major tests for them at end of the term. Can they go to Anfield, during a susceptible season for Liverpool, and walk away with three points?

A poll on Twitter asked if fans would take a draw, today, if offered, and I had to vote ‘no’. First, because I firmly believe this Arsenal team can go there and get three points; second, because I believe this Arsenal team may NEED to get all three points.

It is impossible to tell how the season shapes out for Arsenal and City, but Arsenal sit on the throne with control over the title’s destiny. Despite being 8 points clear, a draw cedes control and creates a situation where both City and Arsenal possess joint control over their futures. It mandates Arsenal get something from they away trip to the Ethiad. To me, that’s not a match Arsenal want to feel desperate to get something from. To me, that is not a power I want to give Pep’s side at all costs.

It’s a big test, it’s one that many teams before them have failed, but it’s one they must rise to the occasion and face. Can they:

  • Control the ball
  • Play from the back (perhaps without Saliba)
  • Break the press
  • Dominate the midfield against a weak midfield
  • Get their experienced players — Xhaka, Jesus, Partey — to show up big
  • Counter-press to deny the outlet ball and transition
  • Isolate Martinelli with Trent Alexander-Arnold to take advantage of his defensive work
  • Work van Dijk into awkward defensive decisions that this year he has struggled to cut out
  • Shut down Salah without a defensive presence like Tomiyasu who was phenomenal in the home leg

How do Arsenal respond when Liverpool get a foothold in the game or come out swinging? Do they shell up and struggle to bite back or do they adjust their game to contend with a team that is getting more of the ball than Arsenal are used to?

One match this season that impressed me was Arsenal’s 2-4 win at Brighton on New Year’s Eve. Brighton possessed the ball for 68% of the match, but Arsenal stay diligent, maintained their press, and worked really great chances. I remember being incredibly impressed with this young team’s ability to take the game state in stride and win in style.

That was a mature win. That was a mature response, a composed win.

I have a lot of faith in this Arsenal team’s ability to get the job done at Anfield, but all eyes will be on the lookout for those immature mistakes, those foolish giveaways or signs of indiscipline. They have the talent, time to show the league they have the maturity too.

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