One of Arsenal and Liverpool will soon be brought back down to earth

Laurence Griffiths

Arsenal and Liverpool have good players, but they're both playing well above themselves. Saturday could see one of them soon come back down to earth.

For those who believe that the sort of diving, protesting, whinging and snidery that Luis Suarez frequently gets up to is a recent invention, brought over by dastardly foreigners, they might be interested to learn that the seminal treatise on dodgy strategies and techniques was actually written in 1947, by an Englishman called Stephen Potter. The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship: Or the Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating contains many tricks that could be of benefit to both sides, but one related to Arsenal in particular.

The problem is known as the centipede's dilemma. The insect can walk perfectly fine until, when asked how it manages to keep track of so many legs, overthinks things and suddenly becomes incapable of walking. Arsenal are similar, like a mythical, fairytale creature that will cease to exist if people stop believing them. And when people say "but you've only added an average water-carrier in midfield and Mesut Ozil to this team! The defence is still the same, and Olivier Giroud is your best striker? How are you playing so well?" then Giroud will remember who he is and begin skying sitters, and Arsenal as we know them will cease to exist. Which makes it very hard to win football matches, let alone trophies.

Potter recommends using this technique to disrupt the mental processes of opponents, with the mantra "Conscious flow is disrupted flow." In short, if Arsenal remember they exist, they will actually stop existing. If they remember they're a rabble of journeymen plus one world-class player, that's what they'll become, instead of their current existence in some parallel universe of their own where Olivier Giroud is a great goalscorer, Aaron Ramsey is superb, and Kieran Gibbs is never injured.

Seeing Chelsea seemed to make Arsenal's zeal wobble slightly in midweek, when their defence reverted to their more usual form. Something stirred in the memory, and lapses in concentration and a generally meek performance were the result. The sight of Steven Gerrard this weekend might end up doing the same, bringing back memories of darker times.

The problem with that strategy is that Liverpool are going through almost the exact same problem. Form-wise, this is actually a game between two title challengers, but it seems like placing a large mirror at the side of the pitch would cause both teams to faint from the shock, producing an unwatchable game full of clownish errors upon realising just how beneath their current form they actually are.

When the two sides play we should, in theory, see who is the real title challenger among them, if indeed either are. Both have had recent small reality checks, but the potential prize of a victory is a full restoration of the early belief and confidence which can see them extend their title challenge until at least the new year, and the promise of potential January reinforcements.

As the real top clubs once again show signs of weakness and flaws, it's a better time than ever for both clubs to pull a great season out of the bag. Both will have to stretch their resources to breaking point, and Arsenal certainly seem a lot likelier to win the title, but a fourth place finish would represent a great leap forward for Liverpool too. They'll just have to hope it's not a 1-1 draw, and that both teams have not shifted to an alternate plane of being by the end of the game, but that's just the risk that any team has to take.

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