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The Winner Of Liverpool-Arsenal Was Manchester City

Granit Xhaka of Arsenal is held back by Alisson Becker as they argue with Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool who is held back by Ibrahima Konate during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield on April 09, 2023 in Liverpool, England.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The haunting specter of Manchester City was hanging over the visiting team's bench at Anfield on Sunday. In a way, that shade is always hanging over the Premier League season, at least for the last half decade-plus. When a team has won so often, by way of last-gasp thrills and season-long dominance in almost equal parts, it becomes the antagonist of any given season, standing in opposition to challengers new and old. (The worst, or at least the most boring, Premier League seasons in recent times are those in which City is the protagonist; that's when the club runs away with the title, as it did in 2021 and in the centurion season of 2018.) But Arsenal was definitely feeling the heat from City's all-encompassing presence as it took on Liverpool, in Liverpool.

Sunday's match between City's most recent adversary and its current challenger to the crown was thrilling and mystifying and, in the end, the only team that will really come out of this match-week happier than it entered is on the blue side of Manchester. This is a role that the city of Manchester is well-suited for, having lived it at United under Sir Alex Ferguson for years, and it's one that will leave Arsenal looking at its rear-view mirror for the remaining eight games of its potentially ecstatic season.

The match itself was not Arsenal's best showing this campaign, and especially not against Liverpool. In the first showdown this season between these two sides, back on Oct. 9, Arsenal took the lead three times en route to a 3-2 win at home that was one of the first real moments of belief, if not for the club itself then for viewers, that the Gunners could win the Premier League title after nearly 20 years away from glory. This most recent match, then, is the cold shower to wake Arsenal up to a stark reality: If City wins its game in hand, the reigning, defending champions will be just three points back with a match still to play between the top two teams on the table.

The game started out great for Arsenal. Though Liverpool came out with its usual sturdiness at home, it was Arsenal that pounced twice with ruthless efficiency, victimizing Virgil van Dijk each time. First, in the eighth minute, van Dijk faltered in trying to get the ball away from Gabriel Martinelli, who was able to get just enough of a toe on the loose ball to get it past both Alisson and Andy Robertson and into the goal:

Twenty minutes later, Gabriel Jesus found himself completely unmarked in the six-yard box, with van Dijk standing yards away and with no positional awareness of where his opponent was located. Jesus couldn't have had an easier header here:

At that point, it looked like this was going to be another moment of bliss for Arsenal, but Liverpool took those two goals personally and went to work. This was as dominant a performance as the 2022-2023 Liverpool side can muster, out-possessing, out-shooting, and out-chancing the free-flowing Gunners into submission. I scoff at single game xG often on here, but the eye test solidly backs up what this stat cooked up for Sunday's game: Liverpool was better, by a lot, and should have won this game.

It didn't, though, because soccer is the way that it is, and because Mohamed Salah missed a penalty, and because Aaron Ramsdale stood on his head, never more prominently than in the dying moments against poor Ibrahima Konaté, and because because because. There are many reasons that Liverpool didn't pick up the three points it also desperately needs to keep its Champions League hopes alive for next season, but only the final result really matters at this point in the season.

Despite the league leaders coming into town, a situation that always leaves the underdog happy with a point, Liverpool, struggling and decrepit though it has been this season, will not be pleased that it could only muster a draw, and a scrapping comeback draw at that, thanks to Salah's 42nd minute dribbler and another glorious final gasp from the last days of Roberto Firmino's Merseyside campaign in the 87th:

It comes back, then, to City, who followed last weekend's 4-1 demolition of this same Liverpool side with a 4-1 trouncing of last-place Southampton. Despite adding Erling Haaland and his now 30 goals in 27 matches played, City has looked beatable and mortal at various points throughout this season. It's what has allowed Arsenal to build a realistic claim to the league title, after all. And yet ... City has its own destiny in its hands. Were the club to win every game it has left, including the Arsenal match on April 26, then that's it. City would most likely be the champion of this Premier League season, barring some goal-difference shenanigans.

Those types of shenanigans never seem to happen against City, though, so Arsenal better hope that the champs falter elsewhere or, more resoundingly and with more vigor, that it can beat City in Manchester at the end of this month. By drawing Liverpool, Arsenal has made its life significantly harder by removing any possible cushion that would allow for a loss against City while still having both hands solidly on the wheel of this campaign. This is how thin the margins are when City is lurking, and Arsenal has already seen that firsthand this season. With eight games to go, the Gunners can't afford any more slip-ups, or Manchester City will gladly devour all hope once more. It's what that club does best, after all.

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