Liverpool: Result Against Arsenal Will Decide Where Reds' Season Goes from Here

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13:  Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on January 13, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

If Brendan Rodgers wants to prove that Liverpool is finally and truly on the way back up, Liverpool needs to pick up a good result against Arsenal next week.

The Reds are lying in seventh place, seven points behind Tottenham in fourth. They're three points behind the Gunners after Arsenal's 5-1 win over West Ham on January 23.

After the signing of Daniel Sturridge (h/t BBC), Liverpool has looked like a different club. Sturridge looks like the striker who can pair with Suarez.

At the very least, he can prevent opposing teams from putting two or three defenders on the Uruguayan for the entire game.

Liverpool was irresistible against Norwich City, winning 5-0. It was the second time the Reds scored five goals against the Canaries.

You can understand why supporters are beginning to look to the future with optimism when looking at this team.

However, it's against Arsenal that Liverpool will show how far they've come and how far they need to go. The last time these two clubs met, the Gunners were by far the better side, winning 2-0. Now, Arsenal has been struggling of late, and Liverpool look on the ascendancy.

Recent history isn't exactly on the side of the Reds. They've only managed to beat Arsenal once in their last 11 meetings.

If there was a time to beat to the Gunners it's right now. While it seems an annual debate as to whether Arsenal will qualify for the Champions League, the concern is very real this year. The club is still four points off a European place, and it's facing stiff competition from Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.

Gunners supporters would surely shudder at the thought of not having Champions League football and thinking about the financial impact to the club.

It's of course a reality Liverpool supporters have been living with for the last few years now. And it's a reality that's not going to change unless the Reds can start beating the clubs ahead of them.

The Reds have failed to actually beat any of the clubs in the top six. The best results have been draws against Manchester City, Everton and Chelsea.

Of course, the results could be much worse, as evidenced by Kenny Dalglish's tenure. It's hard to believe that simply beating the clubs below you is progress from last year, but that's certainly the case. The Reds dropped so many supposedly easy points last year it was hard to keep count.

While this season may be an upgrade, it's not enough. The Reds are striving for Champions League qualification. In order to finish in the top four, they need to get results against the clubs nearer the top of the table.

Michael Cox of ESPNSoccernet wrote an interesting article regarding tactics and Rodgers. He tries to explain why exactly Liverpool struggle so much early on against bigger teams and then get back into the match.

The 2-1 loss against Manchester United from a few weeks ago was an example of this. The Reds were abject in the first half but came on strong as the match went on and after the inclusion of Sturridge.

It's great that Rodgers can react to how the match is flowing, but he needs to work on getting Liverpool dominating the match from the outset. Against Arsenal, Rodgers has another opportunity to try and get his tactics right against another bigger club.

Liverpool has been building some major positive momentum with the signing of Sturridge, beating Mansfield Town in the F.A. Cup and the demolition of Norwich City.

As a result, there is the chance, albeit incredibly slight, that the Reds could sneak into the top four. There's still 15 matches to play, so seven points isn't an insurmountable gap, nor is it impossible to jump ahead of both Arsenal and Everton.

At the very least, the club could qualify for the Europa League once again. It's a significant step down from its European big brother, but the competition can provide the players with more experience in what it takes to win knockout tournaments.

In order for either of these scenarios to happen, Liverpool needs to start off with a win against the Gunners.

On the other hand, a loss would just confirm that Liverpool remain a side with much work to do in order to once again find itself among the elite of the Premier League.