At the Emirates Stadium in North London on Wednesday night (see photo on the home page), Arsenal, lying fourth in the Premier League, hosted Liverpool, lying second. The visitors had won their previous eight league games, Arsenal their previous five. Thanks to whomever comes up with these fascinating, at time almost meaningless, stats, it had been pointed out that the last time two Premier League teams had faced each other with both being on at least five-match winning streaks had been in April 2009, between…well, between the same two teams, albeit that had been at Liverpool’s Anfield ground. The match had finished in a scarcely credible 4-4 draw, being all the more incredible for the fact that Andrey Arshavin had scored all Arsenal’s goals.
There was to be no repeat of such drama. Arsenal perhaps marginally had the better of the first half before failing to take advantage of two good opportunities early the second. Whereupon Diogo Jota scored for Liverpool after 54 minutes, Roberto Firmino did likewise after 62, and while that still left half-an-hour for Arsenal to perhaps salvage a draw, that never seriously looked to be on the cards.
The end result left Arsenal in fourth place and in what seems to be a four-way fight for fourth and thereby entry into the Champions League next season. But Liverpool, having languished 14 points behind Manchester City at one point last month (granted, with games in hand), are now just one point in arrears, have a superior goal difference and travel to play City on April 9 in what may be the title decider. Asked if he felt that momentum was now with his players, the Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, was ultra-cautious. “Momentum is the most fragile flower on the planet,” he said. “Someone steps on it and then it’s gone. I’m not a big friend of momentum. Just find a way to get through it.”
Both City and Liverpool have nine games to play, with Liverpool’s run-in maybe looking the tougher given that they have to play both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, two of the sides trying to gun down the Gunners for that fourth spot. But both those matches are at Anfield, where the raucous crowd could prove to be a decisive advantage (although probably not as decisive as the fact that Liverpool are a distinctly better team than either of the other two).
In 2020, Liverpool won the league for the first time in 30 years. It was a memorable achievement even though the pandemic meant the vast majority of matches in that campaign had to be played behind closed doors. But now the fans are back. Whether the destiny of the title on May 22 will be decided with City hosting Aston Villa, or Liverpool doing likewise with Wolves, or whether it will all be over bar the considerable shouting at some point before then, is something we will excitedly have to wait to discover.