Eerie Anfield presents ample opportunity for Arsenal to end Liverpool run
Who has gotten tired of hearing the words ‘unprecedented times’? Or rather, who hasn’t gotten tired of hearing them? Of course, we all know the time we’re in, it’s a textbook case of living in the midst of history, amidst a pandemic that has altered everything, including in football. This has been going on for quite a while, so much so that 2020 feels like it started a decade ago – in football terms, Arsenal losing to Olympiakos and Jon Moss having a go at Dan Gosling are events that have almost certainly faded from memory already. So, the term ‘unprecedented times’ has become as overused as it is apt, even tedious. But, still, here we are… in unprecedented times.
For football, that means the game has been going on without fans in stadiums, although some countries are easing their way back to the old ways with a percentage of spectators now allowed in. The Premier League is not in one of those countries, as the English top-flight still continues to play without fans – and the proposed date of early October for fan re-entry into stadiums has been scrapped. So, we go on, as the games are filled with commentators constantly apologising for the language of some of the players, and odd fake fan noise with little sense of discernment being pumped in.
But the absence of fans might have helped some teams. For the likes of Aston Villa, perhaps having no supporters during their relegation battle run-in last season aided their survival; for West Ham, it probably means fans haven’t stormed the pitch in protest of all that’s been going on at the club. But maybe it’s Arsenal who have benefitted the most from this serenity in games.
In December 2019 (when we were still oblivious and handshakes still existed), the Gunners appointed former midfielder Mikel Arteta to replace Unai Emery as manager. The former Manchester City assistant manager has somewhat turned Arsenal around. Not just in terms of results – Arsenal’s win rate under Arteta last season was at a percentage of 55% compared to 33% in the games before he joined (even though the win rate under the Spaniard might not seem that huge in itself). It’s that Arteta’s impact at Arsenal is notable in terms of shape, plan, and, perhaps most importantly, mood.
This is probably where the lack of fans has been more of an aid than a hindrance. There are no prizes for guessing that the atmosphere at the Emirates with fans could get toxic real quick, and optimism can easily switch to jeers; back in October, things between the Gunners faithful and then-skipper Granit Xhaka looked to have reached breaking point. But the absence of fans seems to have given Arsenal room to work on their flaws in games and make mistakes without the added pressure of immediate fan backlash, and may well leave them in good stead for the eventual return of supporters.
But for now, it’s all rather empty, and the Gunners visit Anfield on Monday to play champions Liverpool after two league wins from two to start the season. The last two meetings between both sides have resulted in Arsenal triumphing, but those come with caveats – the second was a Community Shield game won on penalties, and the first was against a Liverpool already confirmed as league champions in what was a statistical anomaly of a game.
Plus, those games took place at the Emirates and Wembley. This time, the Gunners travel to a place where Liverpool (who have also started the league wins with successive victories) haven’t tasted defeat in 60 games. The last time Liverpool lost at home – to Crystal Palace in April of 2017 – Sam Allardyce, Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis were all still Premier League managers, Monaco were going to be French league champions, and Barcelona were still fun. Since then, the Reds have been rather insurmountable on home soil, only failing to win nine of those games.
However, Arsenal are likely to be the toughest opponents Liverpool will face without fans on home soil (Leeds ran them close two weeks ago, and Chelsea had a better XG in their meeting in July). There’s no atmosphere to intimidate Arsenal – a team previously known to cower in the face of daunting home opposition fans – and while Liverpool are a still a much better side, Arteta have developed a knack for exploiting the flaws of opposing teams, as Liverpool can attest to.
All this might seem perfunctory, and Liverpool are still capable of taking teams apart – with or without the home support. But as Arsenal step out to a Kop-less Anfield on Monday night, facing the Liverpool players and little else, this might be the case when the champions’ home run is at its most threatened. In an eerie atmosphere, the Gunners might have a shot at quietly putting a spanner in the biggest of works.
Kunle Ajao121 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not