Without a home league victory in seven years over Arsenal, Brendan Rodgers feels his side can defeat leaders on Saturday
It is almost seven years since Liverpool last defeated Arsenal in the Premier League at Anfield and six since their last home win over Arsène Wenger's side in any competition, the 2008 Champions League quarter-final second leg when Liverpool, Arsenal then Liverpool looked set for the semi-finals in the space of six unforgettable closing minutes. There was an expectancy about Rafael Benítez's team that night that Liverpool have struggled to recreate since. Not any more, according to Brendan Rodgers.
Recapturing those European nights via qualification for the Champions League is the Liverpool manager's main goal for this campaign but, as he admitted on Thursday, it has taken a mentality change to keep his team in contention. At this stage last season Liverpool were seventh in the table on 35 points, seven points off fourth place and 24 points behind the leaders Manchester United. They stand fourth with 47 points now (eight points behind Arsenal) and against Arsenal on Saturday they can record an 11th win in 13 league matches at Anfield this season – a feat last accomplished by the title-winning team of John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge in 1987-88.
"I think the big change for us is that we expect to win now," said Rodgers. "We're confident going into every game. When I first came in the pressure to win was difficult for us. We expect it because of the name of the club and the size of the club but we were never that confident to consistently do it. But now, because of the level and consistency of our work, we go into every game expecting to win, and never more so than at Anfield. We see that belief and expectancy to win in our results. We'll always respect every opponent and none more so than the leaders. But we'll come into the game looking to perform and win."
Liverpool's recent overall record against Arsenal in the Premier League is one win, seven draws and five defeats in 13 meetings, with Wenger's team coming from behind to earn a result in five of the last six games at Anfield. Rodgers insists his team have consistently risen to the occasion at home this season, as Everton discovered to their cost last time out, and believes Saturday can provide a benchmark for Liverpool's development.
"There's only 14 more games to go and every single game is critical and every team will look at the rivals and look if they can take points off them," he added. "We know that if we win the game we go to 50 points, five behind Arsenal and three behind the others. So for us it's a big game. We go into it as we normally do – to concentrate on our performance level. If we do that the result takes care of itself.
"The players have done that throughout this season. Maybe people weren't expecting us to be where we are at this stage of the season with the development of the team but we've certainly showed consistently over a year now that we're progressing. These games are the opportunities which allow you to make even more of a statement. It's a difficult game, we know that, but we go into it with big confidence allied with the support at Anfield. The atmosphere at the Everton game was incredible."
Liverpool excelled in the Merseyside derby only to drop points either side of the 4-0 defeat of Everton with draws against Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion. Rodgers said: "The first half against Villa, I took the blame for that. I think last week [against Albion] there was a number of reasons for the performance but we still looked like we could get the result. You can't play perfect football. We had a brilliant result against Everton and performed. That's sometimes how it goes for you. All you can do is come back and prepare for a game like this.
"Arsenal are top of the pack and we are chasing. We've been brilliant at home and our performance level over the majority of the games has been outstanding. I feel the bigger the games are, the better we've played – against Tottenham, Everton, Manchester United. Funnily enough, at the Emirates we weren't at our best [losing 2-0] and Arsenal were the better team. But we have confidence and belief that we will get a result, especially at home."
While none of his injured players will be available, Rodgers is optimistic that the defenders Daniel Agger (calf) and Glen Johnson (ankle) will return soon. "Daniel Agger hopefully will be back next week at some stage but [Mamadou] Sakho will be out for a little bit," he said. "Glen Johnson is making a great recovery and there might be a point towards the end of next week [when he returns]."