Mikel Arteta believes Liverpool remain one of the top two teams in England as he prepares Arsenal for a crunch clash on Saturday.
The drastic dip in results from Jurgen Klopp’s team since the turn of the year has seen last season’s champions fall out of the top four in the Premier League.
They and Arsenal still have time to jump up the table, with Liverpool sitting seventh and Arsenal ninth heading into the weekend.
Liverpool’s five most recent Premier League wins have all come away from Anfield, and another at Emirates Stadium this weekend would be a huge lift for Klopp and his players.
Arteta senses Liverpool are performing better in many respects than their results indicate, and suggested they are only outranked by one team – who would inevitably be Manchester City – in a range of key data performance metrics.
“I’m not the one to analyse what’s gone wrong for them. I can talk about what they’ve done and what they are still producing,” Arteta said in a news conference.
“I’ve seen a lot of games and the stats will support that. They are, if not the best, the second team in almost every department that we as coaches have to analyse.
“But then this is football and the ball has to be in the net – the final action has to provide a moment to win a football match.
“Then you have some individuals that dictate as well the quality of your team. Sometimes you cannot predict those things, so I think it’s a lot of things.”
Discounting penalties and own goals, Liverpool have netted 39 times in the league this season, yet their expected goals (xG) total is 44.3.
City’s xG is slightly higher at 49.2, but Arteta’s former club have far outperformed that mark with 58 non-penalty goals.
The trip to face Arsenal in north London has rarely been a successful mission for Liverpool in recent times. The Merseyside giants have won just two of their past 20 Premier League away games against Arsenal (D9 L9), a 2-0 success in August 2011 and a 4-3 victory in August 2016.
Arteta would relish another win to add to Arsenal’s haul, knowing it would nudge them to just a point behind Liverpool, but he said his team would be “punished for every error”.
Although the first leg of a Europa League quarter-final against Slavia Prague is coming up next week, manager Arteta says all the focus from his players should be on this weekend.
“For me, the priority is Liverpool,” Arteta said. “We know if we want to climb up the table and have the chance to be in Europe next season through the Premier League, we need some consistency now in the last nine games.
“We need to get a run of winning matches, and the only way to do it is to start against Liverpool. We don’t have any margin and we have to win the game.”
Arteta said young midfielder Emile Smith Rowe had been troubled by “some discomfort in his hip” while away with the England Under-21 squad.
“We will speak with the doctors and the physios and see if he’s available for training tomorrow,” Arteta said.
Similar applies to Bukayo Saka, who pulled out of the senior England squad due to a hamstring problem but could come into contention for the weekend.
Liverpool versus Arsenal has thrown up some scintillating games in the past, and no fixture in Premier League history has seen more goals scored than the 166 they have shared in those battles.
Liverpool have scored 94 times in the Premier League rivalry, the most goals the Gunners have shipped against a single opponent in the competition.