Liverpool’s nine wins in a row have reignited a Premier League title race that was starting to resemble a Manchester City procession in January.
And the sight of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s traditional triple fist pump after the final whistle could just as easily have been the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down in front of Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola after this 2-0 win at Arsenal.
First things first.
It is still advantage City as they have a one-point lead while Liverpool still have to go to Etihad Stadium in April, but make no mistake the Premier League landscape has changed dramatically in recent weeks.
When Liverpool beat Brentford 3-0 at Anfield on 16 January, they were still eight points behind a seemingly unstoppable City, who had beaten Chelsea the day before.
It was assumed, perhaps dangerously, that it was all over even after Klopp said: “If you are with us, you will enjoy the ride and we will go for everything. We are ready to go as much as we can.”
And now, after a win that leaves Liverpool breathing right down City’s neck with nine games left, Klopp and his players are indeed going for everything.
‘A serious nail-biter of a finale’
The Carabao Cup has been won. They await the Champions League quarter-final draw on Friday. They play an FA Cup quarter-final at Championship Nottingham Forest on Sunday and the title race is more alive than it has been at any stage this season.
They have picked up relentless momentum while City have had the odd stumble, leaving the door ajar by being held to a draw at Crystal Palace on Monday and losing at home to Tottenham recently.
Liverpool may not be through the door but there is no doubt they are currently giving it a hefty shove and will take some resisting.
And Liverpool could be top of the table by the time City play their next league game. Liverpool face struggling Watford in the Saturday lunchtime game at Anfield before City travel to Burnley, another team desperately fighting against relegation.
Guardiola’s side will still feel confident they can see Liverpool off as they have been successful front runners in recent seasons, accomplished in holding their nerve when being chased down, most memorably by Klopp’s side in 2018-19.
Anyone assuming Liverpool’s form will result in an inevitable overhaul of City does the reigning champions a great disservice but, make no mistake, this is going to be a serious nail-biter of a finale to the Premier League.
Liverpool, as they have proved on many occasions this season, can find several ways to win, such is the all-round quality they possess. This was a victory achieved in the fashion that marks teams down as potential champions. They were not at their best but stayed in the game, confident in the knowledge they would produce quality that would give them a measure of control they would not relinquish.
They survived a serious test for 45 minutes here against an Arsenal side who, while well away from challenging the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, are improving under manager Mikel Arteta. They still need the sort of ruthless marksmanship Arteta decided Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would not be giving them when there was that January parting of the ways. A striker must be Arsenal’s summer priority.
Gabriel Martinelli was magnificent but there was no cutting edge and once Diogo Jota put Liverpool ahead, helped by Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale’s poor effort at the near post, it was game over. Roberto Firmino’s delicate flick completed the formalities to reduce the gap to just that single point.
Liverpool’s cutting edge proves key
The crucial moment arguably came just moments before Liverpool took the lead when Thiago held his head in anguish after playing a backpass straight to Alexandre Lacazette. He fed Martin Odegaard but Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson kept his nerve, shape and position to make a block that might be remembered fondly come season’s end.
Much is rightly made of Liverpool’s riches in attack, defence and midfield but no-one should ever overlook the presence and influence of a world-class goalkeeper. Alisson deserved thanks in the Liverpool dressing room.
Whereas Arsenal regretted missing their big chance, Liverpool have cutting edges in abundance, as Klopp demonstrated in the moments that changed the emphasis of this game and took it away from the Gunners.
Klopp, sensing the force was with Arsenal and Liverpool needed a spark, called Mohamed Salah – only on the bench after sustaining a foot injury at Brighton on Saturday – and Firmino to the touchline.
As instructions were being given, Jota scored. Many managers might have changed plan, reacted more conservatively.
Klopp was unmoved, removing the man who had just scored. Firmino then showed the wisdom of this decision by finishing Arsenal off.
Manchester City have the lead. Liverpool have momentum. This is a long-running Premier League rivalry that will continue way beyond this season.
All that matters in the league context, for now, is these last line games. It is so close a single draw could decide it- the match at Etihad Stadium on 10 April certainly could.
Who could call the final outcome with any serious conviction?