Arsenal vs. Liverpool: There can only be one

Laurence Griffiths

Arsenal and Liverpool are competing for two different prizes, but circumstances mean that only one of them is likely to succeed.

If Arsenal and Liverpool have one thing in common ahead of their game this weekend, it's that they both suffered a fairly disastrous January -- talks of big moves for Mohamed Salah, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Julian Draxler eventually ended up with Arsenal signing an injured player to cover for their injured players, and Liverpool ending up bolstering their bench options with Nothing. And Liverpool already have Nothing on their bench.

In a sense, however, the two clubs ended up with less than Nothing. Liverpool ended up with what Nothing discards from his pockets while it's going through its loose change. They got Nothing, plus the humiliation of having sought out Something and not getting it, and having to settle for Nothing. Nothing, minus the dignity and the calmness that would have come with simply not pursuing anyone because they were happy with their squad and felt it wasn't good enough. Now, they have essentially admitted that they needed another player, and that they don't fancy their own chances much.

Arsenal were much the same, with the press doing a fine job of hyping up Draxler to deflate Gunnerdom when the move failed to materialise. An additional humiliation has followed the two clubs in the nature of their failure. Arsenal's ludicrous decision to sign someone nursing an injury produced a predictable reaction, while Liverpool were openly confident about having secured Salah, only for him to jump ship and very quickly sign for someone who is supposed to be merely their equal at best.

How big an effect that dampening of spirits could have remains to be seen. Liverpool went from stuffing Everton 4-0 to drawing against West Brom, while Arsenal gained a narrow victory over a determined Crystal Palace. When the two clubs play, we might well see who has coped better with the situation.

Much has been made of Arsenal's tricky February, but both they and Liverpool also have a March that will also be disastrous should they fail to navigate it. Liverpool don't have European competition to worry about, and may only be fighting on one front by that point, but they also have far less squad depth. If January does prove to be a mistake, it is in these two months when that will become clear.

The upcoming period means there is a vulnerability to Arsenal which does not exist among their two title rivals, and likewise Liverpool and their fellow challengers for the top four. It could all slip away very quickly from them, in a way that it couldn't for Chelsea or Manchester United.

This is the real test of any team wishing to elevate itself above perceptions -- a grueling run of difficult games, home and away, that come with enough intensity that simply having a large squad and rotating it doesn't do enough. Instead, you need something else -- an absolute will to win at all costs, to be able to do the footballing equivalent of fighting off a vicious armed mob with only a milk-frother and a copy of Shoot!

Great teams of the past have all had to do it at some point, like a ritual rite of passage, but the two clashes between these two sides this month means it is almost impossible for both to succeed, even though they are not fighting for the same thing. This town is only big for one renaissance, and this weekend will be a heavy indicator as to who will get to undergo it.

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