In his latest column, Paul Merson looks ahead to two testing fixtures for Liverpool as they look to maintain their lead at the top of the Premier League; the Sky Sports pundit also addresses the recent reports claiming Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta may join Barcelona this summer
Wednesday 31 January 2024 21:35, UK
In his latest Sky Sports column, Paul Merson claims Liverpool's next two Premier League games will be pivotal to their hopes of winning the title, before questioning why Mikel Arteta would leave Arsenal for Barcelona.
Liverpool could now go and do the business this year and it all comes down to the next two games, Chelsea and Arsenal. If they win them then you majorly fancy them, but lose and they are out.
This is where Manchester City - and Liverpool - take you. After Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest, they have to then beat Liverpool. If they do not beat Liverpool, they are out of it. So very quickly this could turn into a two-horse, or even one, from a three-horse race.
It is a brilliant time, midweek games, I love them. Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday - crash, bang, wallop. You get six points and you are right in it, whether you are at the bottom or the top.
If you are sixth or seventh and get six points and those teams around you only get one point, or no points, it is a massive. This is a huge couple of games coming up for all teams.
But you look at Manchester City, they have Burnley at home and you would expect them to win that.
I think there will be changes for Liverpool. If Trent Alexander-Arnold is fit, I think he will play, Conor Bradley has been absolutely brilliant, Dominik Szoboszlai, if he is fit I think he will come in, Alexis Mac Allister will be coming in from the weekend, so they could be strong.
But this is a hard game for Liverpool, Chelsea have lost just two of their last 10 and they could have won the two games against Wolves and Middlesbrough. They were very wasteful.
This is a big game and I think Liverpool just win this, just because of the home advantage, but I do not see them beating Arsenal, not after the cup game. If Arsenal play anywhere near the level they reached during the first game between them this season again, it is impossible for them to be as wasteful two times on the trot.
Mikel Arteta has said he is not happy with reports claiming he will leave this summer to replace Xavi at Barcelona, and has denied it. You have to go with his word. The game has changed now, Arsenal is a bigger draw than Barcelona in my opinion.
Five, 10, 15 years ago, you ask any footballer or manager in the world and they all wanted to play for or manage Real Madrid or Barcelona. That was the pinnacle of your football career.
But I do not think that is now the case with Barcelona anymore, they are an also-ran. They are not a big threat in Europe anymore and are well off the pace in the Spanish title race, while they got smashed again the other night by Villarreal.
Five, six, seven years ago I may have said, 'I do not see anything but Arteta leaving', although I could be wrong, but I do not see how they are a bigger draw than Arsenal today. I do not see how they are a step forward, then there are their finances and you would rather work with Arsenal's squad of players than Barcelona's right now.
Arsenal have not gone and got a centre-forward and I think that could be the thing that comes and bites them at the end....
Arsenal have won at Nottingham Forest, but they then have to win at home to Liverpool on Sunday, it is as simple as that. If they do not get anything but six points out of these two games, then that will be that.
They had to win their game against Crystal Palace and they won it very well. So credit where it's due, although I think it was a bit of a Polyfilla result, it covered over the cracks.
Arsenal have not bought a centre-forward in January, and I think that could be the thing that comes and bites them at the end. That day against Palace, they put away their chances, but you have to remember they went 2-0 up through a centre-half and then two goals from a substitute.
So you have to have a look at the all-round picture there and these are two big games - win both of these and they are massively in the title race, but do not win them and I think they are only fighting for the top four.
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