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big gunners Manchester City game a turn-off for Jurgen Klopp as he turns his focus to Gunners clash

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Martin Odegaard has been superb for Arsenal, but there’s still the sense that he must do it against more exacting opponents. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Martin Odegaard has been superb for Arsenal, but there’s still the sense that he must do it against more exacting opponents. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson (left) and manager Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson (left) and manager Jurgen Klopp

Martin Odegaard has been hugely influential for Arsenal

Martin Odegaard has been hugely influential for Arsenal

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

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Martin Odegaard has been superb for Arsenal, but there’s still the sense that he must do it against more exacting opponents. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Jurgen Klopp turned off Manchester City’s match on Monday before the end, but not because of nerves, or any fan-style expectation that Pep Guardiola’s side would of course score. He had his own life to get on with, and his own work to do. So he only watched 65 minutes. That was enough.

Klopp admitted he was “surprised” Crystal Palace pulled off a 0-0 draw, but it didn’t really alter his mood. He is far more concerned with his Liverpool team retaining their focus.

It is one of the little twists ahead of a huge game at Arsenal that could well represent a huge turn in the title race and the chase for the Champions League places.

Liverpool have been on scarcely believable form. For all the focus on City “collapsing”, the defending champions haven’t dropped many points. They’re too powerful for that.

They’ve still won 16 of their last 19 Premier League games, and six of their nine this year.

It just shows how the dynamics of title races have been completely distorted by the wealth of the modern game. The costs of draws at awkward away games can be so high. Liverpool know this themselves from 2018-’19.

It was at this exact stage of the year in that season when they really stumbled, a series of draws proving influential.

Liverpool aren’t flawless in terms of performance right now, but they have been flawless in terms of results.

The story of this stage of the title race has really been about their run, after eight successive wins in the league.

It is not getting to City’s players, of course, but the “persistence” is aggravating. One Spanish-speaking player remarked on how “pesado” Liverpool are. That’s basically “being a pest”, but in a complimentary way.

Klopp is no doubt aware of this, and chuckling.

“The plan is to be as annoying as possible,” the German said. “We have to win our games. It’s final after final after final that we play. We’re not 10 points ahead with 10 to go. It’s in front of us – attack it, chase it, go for it. It’s the only chance we have.”

It’s very much the Liverpool we now know.

There’s almost half a decade of evidence, much of it stemming from a similar season in 2018-’19.

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With Arsenal, there’s barely half a season of evidence. It is why, for all the focus on the title race, this match might hinge on all the questions around Mikel Arteta’s side.

They are clearly improving and have so much potential. Arteta has patiently fashioned a vibrant young team. The flatness of his attack in earlier days has gone. Arsenal now go at you from all angles, suddenly capable of surging in behind.

That may pose a particular challenge for Liverpool’s high line, which has been treading on slightly riskier ground lately with the chances they’re offering up. Virgil van Dijk has had to be alert to cut many out.

The entire defensive line will have to be especially alert against Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and – above all, of late – Martin Odegaard.

The Norwegian almost personifies Arsenal in the way he plays and has come to form, but also in what he has to do.

Odegaard has been superb, but there’s still the sense that he must do it against properly exacting opponents. It is much the same with Arsenal as a team.

This run into the top four has been built on wins against the rest of the Premier League rather than the rest of the big six.

That, of course, may well be enough. It is something Manchester United have not managed. Arsenal may have developed that basic competence that just lifts them above Tottenham Hotspur and United, who may well drop below the required standard.

But then Arteta has greater ambitions than just competence or the required standard. He wants to push the team further. He wants to show they can go much further.

“We haven’t done anything,” Arteta said. “What we are doing is try to improve, understand better what we want, being much more consistent in performance and results, but nothing else as yet.

“Being able to beat the most in-form team in the country would be really, really big so that’s the aim.”

A win would not just be a turn in the title race, though, but a turn for the team. It would go some way to securing a Champions League place. That would be ahead of schedule for both the season, and the team’s overall development. Nobody expected it in this campaign. But then few expect Klopp’s team to lose.

It is why the top four, and top spot, could well depend on what Arsenal are capable of rather than Liverpool.

This one, unlike many recent meetings between the sides, won’t be one to turn off before the end.

Arsenal v Liverpool,

Live, Sky Sports, 8.15


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