It's all in the timing, the control of the ball and the precision swing. Like a glorious golf shot, the perfect cross in football is beyond many players, but Trent Alexander-Arnold strikes the football with such pace, whip and dip that it's no wonder he celebrated Liverpool's opener against Arsenal as though he had headed the ball into the goal himself.

It's The Masters next week at Augusta.

This Emirates Stadium clash was a reminder of last season's Premier League masters in full flow, or at least that was the case for the final half an hour, because the first 60 minutes was so drab the tape should be wiped forthwith and we'll never discuss it again. Arsenal's players, thumped 3-0, would want the whole game deleted from memory, given they were abject from first whistle to last.

Alexander-Arnold had been lively enough before the breakthrough came, and James Milner owed him a better finish from the precise cutback that reached the veteran Liverpool midfielder in the 35th minute. Milner shot wide of the left post.

But in a game between two sides whose seasons have fallen well short of expectations, it was a flash of wonder that reminded the visitors how they became champions with 99 points last term. Gareth Southgate dropped Alexander-Arnold from his England squad a fortnight ago, so this will inevitably be interpreted as some sort of response.

But really it was just Alexander-Arnold doing Alexander-Arnold things. He makes chances and he makes goals, handy attributes for a right-back. And when there is very little actual defending to be done, as was the case against a dreadful Arsenal side, Alexander-Arnold is a world beater.

Diogo Jota, the player on the end of that game-changing cross on Saturday, later described the delivery as "unreal". Jurgen Klopp, who was stunned by the full-back's international omission, said that he "showed his class again".

When all is not going to plan for the 22-year-old, possessing strong defensive cover can paper over his weaknesses, and with Liverpool having hit upon an injury crisis at the back this season, Alexander-Arnold has been unable to count on Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip or Joe Gomez getting him out of trouble.

So the impact of his handful of errors has been magnified, and the scrutiny reached its apex when Southgate decided he should miss those opening World Cup qualifiers.

Since the beginning of last season, Alexander-Arnold has created 172 chances across all club competitions and had 21 assists. On each count, those are the highest number among defenders in Europe's top five leagues. In the same period, he has made four errors that have led to shots and two that have cost Liverpool goals. Some would accept that ratio.

Gary Lineker, who knows a thing or two about being on the end of crosses for England, believes Southgate got it wrong in dropping Alexander-Arnold.

"The perfect response from @TrentAA to his bizarre omission from the @England squad," Lineker wrote on Twitter on Saturday night. "He's been brilliant tonight. Can't be left at home in the summer. Just can't be."

The Euro 2020 finals surely do beckon for Alexander-Arnold, with England's group rivals Croatia, Czech Republic and Scotland certain to be delighted if he stays at home.

Jota gave Alexander-Arnold a target after coming off the bench just after the hour mark, and the sublime cross from the right that found the striker on the edge of the six-yard box was a striker's dream.

Liverpool are still chasing fourth place, with Chelsea's defeat to West Brom earlier in the day a major boon to the Reds.

Mohamed Salah and Jota, with his second, finished off a lousy Arsenal who had just three goal attempts across the 90 minutes, and Mikel Arteta's men can now be counted out of the race for Champions League places.

Gary Neville, commentating for Sky Sports, condemned a "real flaky performance" by Arsenal, adding: "It's the worst I've seen them for a bit."

Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Martin Odegaard all started for the hosts, and Pepe was the only one of the quartet to manage a shot.

Former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp said Arsenal's display was "putrid", and Arteta would probably agree. This was their heaviest defeat at home against Liverpool in the league.

On the day Liverpool's reign as Premier League champions effectively ended – they cannot possibly catch Manchester City now this season – this was a reminder of how Klopp's men can roll over feeble opposition.

On they go now, to face Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday. The Spanish champions will know all about Alexander-Arnold, who would have made a phenomenal complement to Roberto Carlos back in the day. Now they simply have to stop him.

Diogo Jota had a big impact from the bench as his brace set Liverpool on their way to a precious 3-0 win at Arsenal on Saturday.

The defending Premier League champions closed to within two points of the top four with victory after Chelsea were remarkably thrashed 5-2 at home by West Brom earlier in the day.

It was a huge opportunity that looked like passing Liverpool by as they lacked imagination in the final third for the first hour.

But with Arsenal providing uninspiring opposition, Jurgen Klopp turned to his bench and Jota required just over three minutes after coming on to forge the breakthrough with a thumping header.

A swift second followed from Mohamed Salah and Jota was on target again for the third, ensuring the Reds moved firmly back into the race for Champions League qualification.

Liverpool had dominated from the outset but were restricted to shots from distance until the 35th minute when James Milner passed up a glaring opportunity.

Trent Alexander-Arnold reached the byline and cut a ball back to the unmarked stand-in Liverpool skipper, who pulled a firmly struck effort wide with Bernd Leno seemingly beaten.

A difficult first half for Arsenal ended with Kieran Tierney departing through injury, before the second period brought only marginal improvement in the home ranks.

Klopp sensed the opportunity, made an attacking change - replacing Andy Robertson with Jota - and was quickly rewarded as the substitute beat two defenders to a sublime Alexander-Arnold cross.

Salah, stifled until then, suddenly found space down the right and advanced to roll a finish under Leno to take the game away from Arsenal.

Leno produced a right-handed save from the same man soon afterwards, but an awful Gabriel Magalhaes pass let the visitors in again and Jota blasted past the goalkeeper.

Zinedine Zidane is waiting to learn if Eden Hazard will be fit to return for Real Madrid against Liverpool on Tuesday.

Madrid face a huge week in their season with the home leg of their Champions League quarter-final before a Clasico with Barcelona in LaLiga.

But head coach Zidane is hoping his side will receive a boost ahead of the first meeting with the Reds.

Hazard returned from injury shortly before the international break but then missed the European tie against Atalanta with a damaged hip flexor and was unable to go away with Belgium.

Red Devils boss Roberto Martinez could not even guarantee the €100million winger would make Euro 2020, although he was "very positive".

Hazard might be back in action as soon as Tuesday, with Madrid also looking to again bring Federico Valverde into the fold.

"Hopefully we can get Valverde and Hazard back," Zidane said on Saturday. "We will see tomorrow and the day after.

"Today it was not possible but I hope that on Tuesday they can be with us."

Hazard scored six goals against Liverpool in 16 games while with Chelsea.

But he has made just 36 appearances and 29 starts for Madrid since his signing in June 2019, scoring only four times and providing five assists from 38 chances created.

Hazard certainly was not missed as Los Blancos swept aside Eibar 2-0 at a stormy Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.

Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema scored in either half, while the Spain forward also hit the crossbar, opposing goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic made six saves and three of Madrid's four offsides saw goals disallowed.

"The first half, in general, was complete, with good feelings," Zidane said. "It's what I told the players.

"Then, with the storm, there were 20 difficult minutes to start the second.

"We have to recover well because we have a week with important games in the Champions League and the league. They will be entertaining.

"We must continue like this. There was a difficult moment in the season and now we have to take advantage of the current one, which is good."

Ahead of league leaders Atletico Madrid and fellow challengers Barca playing this weekend, Madrid moved up to second, three points off the summit.

That promising position means Zidane will prioritise neither domestic action nor their European exploits.

"We do not look at that," he said. "We are in the day-to-day. We are thinking about today's game, which we did very well.

"We are not going to think about one competition or the other; we are alive in both. Now you have to enjoy the moment. We have done nothing - we have to continue."

Thibaut Courtois, required to make four saves against Eibar but only really tested by an awkward Lucas Vazquez backpass, added: "We've fought all season to get to April, where everything is played for.

"Winning today put pressure on Atletico and Barcelona.

"In April, everything is played for and everything is decided; hopefully we will keep winning."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has urged his side to "squeeze something out of this season" as they attempt to finish 2020-21 in strong fashion.

The Premier League champions are seventh in the table on 46 points, a remarkable 36 fewer than they had amassed after the same number of matches last term.

With nine games to go, the race is on for the Reds as they attempt to close the five-point gap to the top four, starting with Saturday's clash with ninth-place Arsenal.

Liverpool claimed back-to-back wins over Wolves and RB Leipzig in the Champions League prior to the international break, a positive change after a run of nine defeats and just five wins in 17 games in all competitions.

Klopp is now targeting a strong 'mini-season' to give his side the best chance of a successful end to a difficult campaign.

"There's a lot to go for," he told Sky Sports. "We're not in the best position to fight for the Champions League spots but it's clear we'll fight for it and if not then for the other European spots.

"It's our job and that's what we want. We want to be as successful as possible. At the beginning of the season, we had different targets which is normal but we're now here in our reality and the position is not as bad as it could've been so we're going to try everything to squeeze something out of this season.

"There are other teams in better positions, so we have to make sure that we can chase them but whether that's possible or not will be decided in the specific games, like on Saturday against Arsenal. We don't have many points to waste anymore and a tough programme coming up. When you're in the situation we're in, you've not got a lot to lose as well so let's go for it."

Klopp hopes to see something of the old Liverpool against Arsenal, who have lost just one of their past nine home league matches and claimed a 2-1 victory in this fixture at Emirates Stadium last season.

"Arsenal are a good team," he said. "They've had good runs this season and other times when it's not been going so well. But they have now found their way and Martin Odegaard is playing well.

"With [Granit] Xhaka and Thomas Partey in midfield, that's a proper double six, they have a last line full of experience and full-backs with desire to go. They're a good football team so we're going to have to defend at the highest level.

"If we do that, then we can create and we can score. But we must again be the team that nobody wants to play against. I believe we can be that."

Mikel Arteta wants to help Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rediscover his best form as Arsenal plan to treat every game as a final for the remainder of the season.

With the international break over, the Gunners resume their campaign on Saturday when Liverpool visit Emirates Stadium.

Both teams are desperately in need of points with just nine games remaining in the Premier League, or else run the risk of missing out on qualifying for Europe via the domestic route.

While Liverpool still have their sights set on a top-four finish, Arsenal go into the fixture well off the pace having won just three of their previous nine in the competition.

Like the team itself, Aubameyang has struggled for consistency in the competition. The Gabon international scored 22 league goals in each of the previous two seasons but has yet to reach double figures in 2020-21.

"We talked for months about the ratio of goals we need him to score to give us the best possible chance of being at the top," Arteta told the media ahead of the Liverpool game.

"He's not been what he has been in recent years, a factor that is contributed by a lot of other things that the team has to do on the pitch – it's not just his thing.

"Obviously, we need Auba in different form in the next games to give us the best chance to finish where we want to finish this season, that is clear."

Aubameyang could point to playing regularly in a wider attacking role as a reason behind the decrease in his productivity, with a nine-goal haul still one behind the total he managed in his first 13 league appearances after signing from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018.

His position in the team may also explain why his average of 2.28 shots per 90 minutes is comfortably lower than in previous seasons at the club, along with a shot conversion rate of 18.37 per cent (which is still better than Harry Kane's number of 16.67 per cent).

Yet when it comes to converting big chances – those Opta define as a situation where a player is expected to score – the 31-year-old sits at a healthy 45.4 per cent, well above his 2018-19 total of 36.1 per cent when he finished tied with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah for the Golden Boot. He is slightly outperforming his expected goals tally of 6.8 this term too, managing seven non-penalty goals from 47 shots.

Arteta recognises it is not necessarily all down to the player himself, with the Gunners manager asking for different requirements from his captain while instilling a more controlled approach to proceedings, laying the foundations for what he hopes will be long-term success under his guidance.

"He can play off the left, off the right, in the middle. He has done it, it's nothing new," Arteta replied when asked about Aubameyang's best position.

"When you look at his stats from the past, there is no difference. But it does depend [on] how we play, how much we provide for him and how efficient he is when he has these chances.

"When he has got this form of confidence, well, he is unstoppable. It is dependent on many factors."

The north London club rewarded Aubameyang for his previous exploits – including two goals to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final last August – with a bumper new contract.

With the goals drying up since signing to stay for a further three years, questions have been raised over his commitment to the cause. He was also dropped from the starting XI prior to the derby with Tottenham in March for disciplinary reasons, though Arteta quickly drew a line under the issue in the aftermath of a much-needed 2-1 victory.

Arteta has no doubt Aubameyang remains ambitious, stating: "It's easy to connect things when they relate to it like that, but I'm not suspicious about that.

"We have had many conversations about what he wanted to do from last year's point of view with his future in the next three years. He was very ambitious with that, but to maintain that level is really complicated. He is trying hard and that's what he is aiming to do."

Arsenal could do with their captain leading from the front during the run-in, starting against Liverpool in what is the highest-scoring fixture in Premier League history.

"It's like a final every game," Arteta said ahead of the final stretch. "Three points mean a lot in the table and we need to go for them, we need to win as many games as possible. We know that."

Arsenal rising stars Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe face late fitness tests and David Luiz has been ruled out of the clash with Liverpool on Saturday evening.

Brazilian centre-back David Luiz must miss the Premier League game at Emirates Stadium, with Arsenal stating the 33-year-old has encountered "discomfort" in his right knee.

How serious that discomfort proves to be remains to be seen, with Arsenal saying the problem would continue to be examined.

Arsenal have a 36.8 per cent win rate in the 19 Premier League games that have featured David Luiz this season, compared with 50 per cent in the 10 games for which he has been absent.

They have collected an average of 1.4 points when he has played and 1.6 when he has not, with Arsenal heading into the weekend in ninth place, four points adrift of Liverpool who sit seventh.

In an injury update issued on the club website, Arsenal indicated winger Saka's right hamstring problem remained under observation.

The injury forced Saka out of England's three World Cup qualifiers in the past fortnight and although Arsenal posted a picture on Twitter of the 19-year-old in training, they said he "will be assessed ahead of Saturday's match regarding his availability".

The same applies for Smith Rowe, who suffered tightness in his right quad on England Under-21 duty, with Arsenal prepared to leave final decisions until closer to the game.

Manager Mikel Arteta faces a further wait to learn whether former captain Granit Xhaka is ready for the game, with the Swiss midfielder having missed training on Friday due to feeling unwell on his return from international duty.

Willian is available to Arteta, however, with the former Chelsea midfielder fully recovered from a left calf injury.

The 32-year-old has had the most assists (7) of all Arsenal players this season, across all competitions, with Smith Rowe and Saka (both 6) just behind the Brazilian.

Arsenal have lost just two of their last 20 Premier League home games against Liverpool (D9 W9).

Liverpool will welcome Roberto Firmino back from injury for Saturday's key Premier League match against Arsenal.

Firmino has been out of action for a month due to a knee injury, last playing in the home defeat against Chelsea on March 3.

The champions sit seventh going into the away clash with Arsenal, five points adrift of the top four, though they hope a win at Wolves prior to the international break will prove a turning point after a miserable run of results.

"Bobby [Firmino] is back," Klopp said at his pre-match news conference on Friday, when he was also asked about other injured players such as Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk.

"All the others not and I have no idea about the Euros. Nothing has changed.

"They are all in the place they should be at the moment. I don’t have bad news or brilliant news. If they are ready then they are ready. They are in rehab process.

"Jordan is not here at the moment, he cannot train. He will train in the next days or weeks, for sure."

In the absence of Firmino, Diogo Jota recovered from his own injury to score against Wolves and help the Reds to secure Champions League progression against RB Leipzig.

He followed up that form with three goals in two caps for Portugal.

"Diogo is in a good moment," said Klopp. "It's good. These are the real benefits of an international break. 

"Shaq [Xherdan Shaqiri] played well for Switzerland. Thiago played a good role in the Spanish games.

"So there are benefits, but not a lot. Scotland played well, Wales surprise three points - a lot of things were going on. 

"I will speak to [Curtis Jones after his red card for England Under-21s].

"You don't want to see these things after a game but we all know in a moment when you lose a game, and it meant a lot to Curtis, who played really good game - if the other team didn't do anything there would be no reaction.

"We have a tough programme, it is always a challenge coming back from international break. You have one session to bring it all together. There is no guarantee that it always works. 

"We were here, they are back, train again and go again."

Arsenal won this fixture 2-1 last season and are looking to beat Liverpool in consecutive home league games for the first time since April 2015.

The Reds have won just two of their last 20 Premier League away games against Arsenal (D9 L9), while the Gunners have lost only one of their last eight home Premier League encounters.

Arsenal, though, have gone eight top-flight matches without a clean sheet and have conceded the first goal in four of their last five league games.

Unusually, Liverpool have fared better on their travels than at Anfield for much of this season, with their last five league victories all coming on the road.

Klopp added: "Let’s go for it and have a look at the end. We don’t have a lot of points to waste any more. We will not hesitate and we will just go for it.

"We are not living in dreamland, but if you ask me what do I wish for, let's go with all we have.

"Whoever plays away at Arsenal should never expect the points, but whatever we want, we only get if we win football games.

"Arsenal is a quality side, they have a lot of potential, quality, experience, youth, really exciting team. 

"The Premier League is a tough league. If you are not at the top level, you get punished. 

"It’s a tough one, but should be tough for Arsenal as well. Our only intention is to be exactly the opponent Arsenal doesn't want."

Premier League stars have returned to their clubs after international duty and now we enter perhaps the most intense stretch of the season.

Will your fantasy league players last the distance or are some showing signs of flagging already? Perhaps the World Cup qualifiers gave you an idea of which stars could deliver for their clubs in the race for those top-four places.

Can Timo Werner rally after his awful miss in Germany's defeat to North Macedonia, or should you look elsewhere for Chelsea players after the Blues' stunning start under Thomas Tuchel.

Our Opta-powered fantasy picks should provide some food for thought ahead of the 30th round of games this weekend.

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea, who play West Brom, have shipped just two goals in 10 Premier League games since former Paris Saint-Germain boss Tuchel arrived, with the German boss making the London side come good on the potential they showed fleetingly during Frank Lampard's reign.

Goalkeeper Mendy had already looked a shrewd addition and he owns the best save percentage (77.4 per cent) among Premier League goalkeepers in 2021. Only Manchester City's Ederson has conceded fewer goals per game this year among keepers with a minimum of 300 minutes of action. Mendy has conceded seven in 12 games at an average of 0.58, while Ederson has been beaten eight times in 15 matches for a 0.53 average since the turn of the year.

LUKE SHAW

Impressed by Luke Shaw's return to England favour? Wait until you hear what he's been achieving at club level. Shaw's Manchester United form has been a sensational second coming for the player who first caught the eye as a teenager with club and country, and he will look to impress against Brighton on Sunday.

The former Southampton left-back has been directly involved in more goals (one goal, four assists) in 2021 than any other Premier League defender, with his 36 chances created making Shaw a clear leader in that field too. Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (24 chances created) sits a distant second on the list.

CESAR AZPILICUETA

Already emerging as a favourite of Tuchel, Azpilicueta has played his part in nine clean sheets with Chelsea in 12 Premier League appearances since the start of the year. That is more than any other defender has managed in the competition across that period of time.

The 31-year-old club captain is leading by example and West Brom's attackers will have their work cut out against the former Marseille defender this weekend. Team-mate Antonio Rudiger, who has played 11 league games in 2021, is one of four players in the top flight to have played a part in eight clean sheets this year.

RIYAD MAHREZ

Leicester City know all about Mahrez and his wily ways on the wing, but whether they can stop the Manchester City star on Saturday is perhaps another matter.

The Algerian, who was a Premier League winner with the Foxes, has been involved in 11 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts (eight goals, three assists). Across his last three league games against Leicester, he has managed two goals and two assists.

SADIO MANE

Could the international break prove to be just the interruption that last year's flagging champions Liverpool needed? Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and co will hope to resume on a positive note when Jurgen Klopp's men tackle Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Five of Mane's seven Premier League goals for Liverpool this season have come away from home, with four of those coming in London – this is his only Premier League campaign so far where he has scored more goals away than at home. The Senegalese has also scored seven Premier League goals against Arsenal, only netting more against Crystal Palace (10). Two of those have come away at Arsenal, including one in a 2-1 defeat last July.

HARRY KANE

In need of a fix of guaranteed points? Tough, they don't exist. But Kane would be close to the top of any all-time list of the Premier League's most reliable scorers, and he already has 17 goals and 13 assists for Tottenham in the competition this season.

Across all competitions, Kane has been involved in 43 goals in 40 games this term (27 goals, 16 assists), and in terms of involvements that haul is just two short of his best ever season in his senior career (41 goals and four assists in 2017-18). Tottenham go to Newcastle on Sunday, with Kane looking to add to the three league goals he has previously bagged at St James' Park.

Sergio Aguero's next destination is a hot topic of conversation after Manchester City confirmed he will leave at the end of the season.

The Argentina forward has been linked with a host of clubs, including Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

The 32-year-old has spent the past decade in England with City.

 

TOP STORY - BLUES IN BOX SEAT FOR AGUERO

Chelsea have moved into pole position to land Aguero, who wants to remain in England according to the Daily Mail.

The Blues, who wanted to sign Aguero in 2011 when he left Atletico Madrid for City, will be in the market for a forward with rumours about Timo Werner's future after an underwhelming debut season at Stamford Bridge.

Portuguese publication Record claims Benfica are also interested in Aguero, while The Sun has added Arsenal and his former club Independiente to the list.

 

ROUND-UP

- Lyon's Netherlands international Memphis Depay has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona, but Marca claims Liverpool could 'muscle in' for the soon-to-be free agent.

- Le Parisien reports that Paris Saint-Germain are in a hurry to get Kylian Mbappe to commit to a new contract amid speculation linking him with a move away, including to Real Madrid.

- L’Equipe claims that Arkadiusz Milik has a €12million buyout clause in his Marseille loan contract from Napoli and Juventus are preparing an offer to swoop for him.

Sheffield United midfielder Ismaila Coulibaly has attracted interest from AC Milan and Galatasaray but the Blades want to keep him, according to Yorkshire Live.

Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro is bullish that the club can contend for both the Spanish LaLiga and Champions League titles.

Reigning LaLiga champions Madrid return to action on Saturday against Eibar in the league, where they are third, six points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with 10 games to play.

Los Blancos will be back in continental action in midweek against Liverpool in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final too.

"Everyone knows what we are capable of, that we can do it," Casemiro told TVE.

"We are going to fight until the end. We know that it is very difficult, but we will fight for both titles.

"For Real Madrid all games are important. We are already used to playing the big games.

"We like to play these type of games. First, we have to think about Eibar and then about the Champions League and the Clasico [against Barcelona on April 10]."

The Brazil international acknowledged Madrid, who won a trio of European titles from 2016 to 2018, have a difficult assignment against 2019 European champions Liverpool.

"It will be a very beautiful match and it will be decided on details," Casemiro said.

"Whoever makes fewer mistakes will win. Liverpool have great players and this match could be a Champions League final.

"These are very nice games that all the players want to play. We have to give everything in all the games, not only against Barcelona.

"They are games that when you win, give you a lot of encouragement for the final stretch of the season."

Sergio Aguero has been one of the "three main faces" at Manchester City, according to Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, who did not rule out a move for the striker.

Aguero's City career will come to an end at the culmination of the 2020-21 campaign, halting a 10-year stay at the club.

In that time, Aguero has helped City to four Premier League titles – scoring the goal which secured their first in the most dramatic of circumstances in 2011-12 – along with one FA Cup, five EFL Cups and two Community Shield triumphs.

The 32-year-old has struggled with injuries and COVID-19 this term, however, making just 14 appearances across all competitions, scoring three goals.

Arteta, Pep Guardiola's former assistant, worked with Aguero for over three years between 2016 and 2019, and has hailed the Argentinian's impact at City.

"Anybody that's been close to him would say the same thing, he's been the main face or one of three main faces to lift that project [at City]," Arteta told a news conference ahead of Arsenal's clash with Liverpool on Saturday.

"You need quality to create moments to build a project and his is the biggest face.

"Not only the way he plays, but his charisma and character. It's sad for him to leave but I think what he's done he will be their history."

Though denying he had called Aguero to discuss a potential switch to the Gunners, Arteta did not dismiss the suggestions of a move to bring the forward to north London.

"No, we will see what happens to him in the future," Arteta said.

"Sergio has a unique quality to see spaces that nobody sees and score goals in an easy way so I'm sure he will find the right next chapter."

One striker who has been linked with a move away from Emirates Stadium is Alexandre Lacazette, with the Frenchman's contract up in 2022.

LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid are among the teams previously mooted to hold an interest in the 29-year-old, who has netted 13 goals in all competitions this season, scoring on each of his last three Premier League starts.

It seems likely Lacazette will lead the line again on Saturday, given he has scored in each of Arsenal's two most recent league games against Liverpool – the last Gunners player to score in three consecutive top-fllight games against the Reds was Robert Pires between 2003 and 2004 – and Arteta says the club will hold talks over a new deal at the end of the season.

|I'm always happy when people talk about our players and speculate – that means they're doing well and getting attention from other clubs," Arteta said.

"The situation with Laca we will address in the summer and speak to him and just propose the future that we want, and that's it.

"Up to now I just want players focused and only focused on performing and getting the best out of them for the team."

 

AGUERO OR LACAZETTE?

Should Arsenal decide to make a move for Aguero, then it may well be Lacazette who makes way, but would that be a wise move?

Lacazette is almost three years younger than Aguero, who has been besieged by injuries in recent seasons.

Since joining Arsenal at the start of 2017-18, Lacazette has made 122 Premier League appearances – 32 more than Aguero in the same timeframe.

The former Lyon forward has played a total of 8,219 minutes, compared to a figure of 6,214 for Aguero, who has started 75 games, 19 fewer than Lacazette (94).

However, Aguero has still scored more league goals, tallying 59 in contrast to Lacazette's 48, though it must be noted City's team of 2017 through to 2019 is widely considered as one of the finest attacking units of the Premier League era.

Lacazette has proved to be more creative, crafting 111 chances – 15 more than Aguero – though the duo are practically neck-and-neck for assists, registering 18 and 17 respectively.

Aguero's big chance conversion rate is better than Lacazette. The Argentina international has scored 42 goals from 78 opportunities from which Opta would have expected him to find the net (53.85 per cent); Lacazette, in comparison, has scored 30 from 70 (42.86 per cent).

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.

It's June 25, 2020. Thousands of Liverpool fans have ignored government advice as they gather at Anfield for a very special occasion – the celebration of a first league title in 30 years.

Despite it looking a certainty for months, many Reds fans hadn't allowed themselves to be drawn in by the hysteria too early for fear of more heartache, but Chelsea's 2-1 win over Manchester City in London meant they had to wait no longer.

In the period between their two most recent top-flight titles – the last one coming even before the establishment of the Premier League – bitter rivals Manchester United lifted the trophy no fewer than 13 times.

But the title win was made even more significant by the manner of it, their dominance leaving everyone else well behind in the dust. Clinching the trophy with seven games to spare was a new record.

As fans clambered over the gates outside the Kop End and set off fireworks near the stadium, many – supporter or not – will have looked at those scenes and felt it was an image the rest would have to get used to, such had been Liverpool's consistency over the previous two years.

Yet, here we are in April 2021, approaching the Premier League's final straight with the defending champions looking hard-pressed to even finish in the top four.

A foreshadowing?

When Jurgen Klopp announced his decision to leave Borussia Dortmund in 2015, there was an initial sense of shock that was soon offset by the feeling it was perhaps to be expected. It was a testing season, and although a late upturn after the announcement saw them qualify for Europe, there was no getting away from the fact they had under-achieved.

While it was certainly not the only problem, one major issue for Klopp that season was injuries – at the time, it was estimated Dortmund's first-team players missed over 1,600 days due to injuries or illness.

As a base for comparison, Sky Sports claimed in early March that Liverpool players had lost just over 1,000 days to illness or injury this term. Granted, such data is difficult to nail down because exact timeframes aren't always confirmed by the clubs, however it does at least highlight a similarity.

Of course, another key component with regards to 2014-15 at Dortmund was the fact they lost Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich. Not only did he score 20 Bundesliga goals the previous season, the Poland striker helped knit their play together in the final third. Without him, so much changed in their attack.

Four Dortmund players scored nine or more Bundesliga goals in 2013-14, but only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – tasked with stepping up in Lewandowski's absence – managed this in 2014-15. Even then, his haul of 16 was only a personal improvement of three.

With key players frequently missing and new arrivals, such as Ciro Immobile, struggling to fit in, it's perhaps no wonder Dortmund's conversion rate dropped from 13 per cent to 8.3 – the only occasion it went below 11 per cent for Klopp at the club.

A common theory for his demise at Dortmund was the idea that Klopp had run the team into the ground after several years of playing high-intensity football, which subsequently led to more muscular injuries.

Dortmund engaged in 14.4 pressed sequences – defined as instances where the opponent has three or fewer passes in a sequence and it ends within 40 metres of their own goal – per game in each of Klopp's final two seasons, but his Liverpool side this term averages 18.9 each match, up slightly from 18 in 2019-20. This highlights the quality of the Reds' pressing style, but it also shows a significant increase in intensity even from his Dortmund days.

Although the correlation is difficult to prove conclusively, links between high-intensity football styles and muscle injuries are nothing new. If this was partly to blame for Dortmund's increased absences list, then Liverpool's situation – given their even greater intensity – appears comparable.

But while it's impossible to ignore Liverpool's injury situation, to suggest that's where their issues end would seemingly be false.

Below the usual standards

Of course, as Klopp has pointed out before, unplanned absences can have significant knock-on effects throughout the team.

So, the fact Virgil van Dijk has been out since October won't have just impacted Liverpool's defensive solidity, but it will have changed how they play out from the back and subsequently affected the midfield because the likes of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have had to fill in away from their usual roles.

However, where Liverpool seem to have had the most issues in 2020-21 compared to last season is actually in attack, with their goals-per-game average decreasing from 2.2 to 1.65.

Having converted 14.4 per cent of their shots in 2019-20, they are now netting at a rate of 11.1 percent – only in Klopp's first season at Anfield have the Reds recorded worse in a full campaign (10.8).

It's not as if Liverpool are having significantly fewer shots either, as they are averaging 15 every 90 minutes as opposed to 15.5 last term, however, some potential explainers do appear when you look a little closer at those shots.

Liverpool are trying their luck from outside the box more often (5.1 per game, up from 4.6) and getting fewer away inside the area than before (9.9, down from 11). On top of this, they have had just nine (0.31 per game) shots from fast breaks in 2020-21, less than half as often as either 2019-20 (0.73) and 2018-19 (0.63).

This all suggests the opposition is sitting deeper against Liverpool than before, restricting space better and limiting the options of Klopp's men in attack – the fact they're having more long-range attempts could be a sign of collective frustration, or a lack of invention.

Supporting the idea teams are sitting off Liverpool a little more is the fact they are averaging 191.7 passes in the final third each game. This figure was 180.9 in 2019-20 and 173.8 the year before – opponents are seemingly happier to absorb pressure, more confident that Klopp's side are unable to break them down.

This potentially goes some way to explaining why Sadio Mane has had a less fruitful season in front of goal, as his xG maps for this term and last show he's not having as much of an impact in the six-yard box.

He has only scored one Premier League goal in this part of the area during 2020-21, whereas last season he scored four, suggesting he possessed something of a poacher's instinct as well as a knack for the spectacular.

While his haul of seven goals is by no means dreadful, it's 3.3 lower than his xG value, showing he's missing good-quality chances on a more regular basis than he'd be expected. By comparison, in 2020-21 he overperformed his xG by 4.3 (18 goals, 13.7 xG) and the year before he boasted a 6.9 xG differential (22 goals, 15.1 xG).

This means that, while he was living up to his abilities as an elite-level chance-taker for the past two years, this term he appears to be struggling to adapt to his surroundings, with defences packed a little tighter.

With Mohamed Salah, however, there's been a slight change in the other direction in that his non-penalty xG of nine is actually less than the 11 non-penalty goals he's scored – in 2019-20 he had a negative 0.8 xG differential (16 goals, 16.8 xG).

As such, Salah appears to be handling the changes better than Mane despite opposition setups also causing him to think differently about his shots. Again, xG maps show the Egyptian isn't able to get as many high-xG shots off from the centre of the area, instead being forced slightly more towards the right, yet he's still netting with fine frequency.

Working smarter to restore pride

Whether Salah's outperforming of xG is sustainable or not is another matter, and one only time can tell, though Liverpool will likely need even more from him to prevent their season finishing with a whimper.

Similarly, Mane rediscovering his best form would be a major boost, and that appears to hinge on him dealing better with less space or getting on the end of more deliveries into the danger zone.

Liverpool's lengthy injury list has undoubtedly had some impact in 2020-21, yet it also seems clear they could work smarter in light of opponents approaching their fixtures slightly differently.

Upcoming games against Arsenal and Real Madrid could potentially provide the tonic given neither is likely to set up particularly defensively, and this might play into the hands of Mane.

A make-or-break week is on the horizon – defeat to the Gunners could leave the Reds eight points adrift of fourth, while losing in Madrid will likely ruin their Champions League hopes.

As people clamour to proclaim Liverpool the worst Premier League champions ever, it's time to restore a little dignity.

Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have announced a "significant investment" into the company by the firm co-owned by LeBron James, RedBird Capital Partners.

The investment, which sees James become part of FSG's ownership group along with his business partners Maverick Carter and Paul Wachter, will help Liverpool address an estimated £120million loss in revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.

FSG said in a statement that the deal, which is part of an ongoing alliance between FSG and RedBird, would help the group pursue growth opportunities, while underlining a focus on "winning".

"Over the years, Fenway Sports Group has been able to attract a dedicated group of executives and partnerships seeking to compete for titles in the most challenging and rewarding landscapes," read the statement.

"Our strategic partnership with Gerry and the entire team at RedBird will enhance our ability to pursue future growth opportunities in a more accelerated way but with the same selectiveness that has served us so well.

"We are also pleased to welcome to our ownership group LeBron, Maverick and Paul, with whom we have enjoyed a successful collaboration for well over a decade. Their addition is an important milestone for FSG and expands and deepens a longtime friendship and relationship that began in 2010.

"To our fans and supporters: winning continues to be the driving force for all of us. The growth of FSG as an organisation allows us to further strengthen our resources and commitment to the communities we serve, and we look forward to having these talented new partners join us in the next chapter of FSG’s evolution."

FSG, which is valued and $7.4bn and whose leadership is comprised of principal owner John W. Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Mike Gordon, took control of Liverpool in 2010.

The investment from RedBird, which is reported to be a 10 per cent minority holding, will help the club achieve its ambition of redeveloping the Anfield Road Stand.

Gerry Cardinale, founder and managing partner of RedBird, said, "Fenway Sports Group is unique not only for the quality of its sports properties and assets, but for the highly disciplined, results-oriented organisation that John, Tom, Mike and the FSG team have built over the past 20 years.

"RedBird shares the same passion for performance-driven investing, business operations, fan experience and service to the community. We look forward to contributing our experience growing premier sports properties and working alongside this tremendous leadership team, including our fellow new owners LeBron, Maverick and Paul."

Maverick Carter added: "Working with Fenway Sports Group for the past decade has taught LeBron and me so much about the business on a global scale, and we’ve always believed it would lead to something bigger.

"We are proud to be part of this iconic ownership group and are excited about the opportunities that come with that to continue creating change and empowering people of every race, gender and background to be part of the process."

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah refused to rule out an Anfield exit as he hinted at a move to LaLiga amid links to Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Salah is contracted to Premier League champions Liverpool until 2023, but his future has become a talking point having previously refused to dismiss the prospect of joining Madrid or Barca in an interview with Diario AS in December.

The Egypt international has been a revelation since leaving Serie A outfit Roma for Liverpool in 2017, spearheading the Reds to Champions League and Premier League glory.

As Liverpool prepare to face Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals, with the opening leg on April 6, Salah was asked about his future.

"It's not up to me," Salah – who has scored a joint-high 17 Premier League goals this season – told Marca when asked if it is time to leave Liverpool.

"We'll see what happens but I prefer not to talk about that now."

When pressed on whether a move to Spain appeals, having already experienced England and Italy, Salah added: "I hope to be able to play for many more years. Why not?

"No one knows what's going to happen in the future, so... maybe one day, yes."

Salah's relationship with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has made headlines amid reported tension between the pair.

Liverpool forward Salah was visibly frustrated when he was substituted by Klopp in the Premier League defeat to Chelsea earlier this month, with the German boss forced to play down the issue.

"It's a normal relationship between two professionals," Salah replied after being asked about his relationship with Klopp. "That's how I'd describe it."

The upcoming blockbuster Champions League tie will be a reunion between Liverpool's Salah and Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.

Salah was injured and forced to be substituted with a shoulder injury in the 2018 Champions League final after being hauled down by Ramos as Madrid went on to beat Liverpool 3-1.

Ramos was criticised for the incident, which impacted Salah's participation at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

"That game is in the past, so I don't think about it," Salah said. "I'm thinking about the team. Everyone is focused on their team and everyone wants to win... that's it."

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