The classic mistake Arsenal and Liverpool fans are making after Sunday's surprise defeats

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Arsenal and Liverpool suffered slip-ups in the Premier League last weekend, as Man City capitalised

How many defeats add up to a collapse? According to much of the media – and, frankly, plenty of the fans in the stands at Anfield and the Emirates this weekend – the answer seems to be just one. But while both Arsenal and Liverpool suffered disappointing defeats on Sunday, it’s a little early to suggest that the title race is done and dusted, or that either side have blown their shot at dethroning Manchester City.

It's true enough that Arsenal were poor in their 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa. Or at least, they were poor in the second half. Up until the point that Emiliano Martínez pulled off his stunning save from Leandro Trossard, they had been dominant if not as effective in the final third as they so often are. As the game wore on they looked jaded and ran out of ideas, but they still ended the game having had more possession, more territory, more attempts on goal and more xG. Perhaps winning those games is the mark of champions, but the reaction to the defeat was still overblown. Arsenal haven’t suddenly become a bad team.

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Ollie Watkins’ deflected goal on the break snapped an eight-game unbeaten run and handed Arsenal their first defeat in the Premier League since New Year’s Eve. They are two points behind new leaders Manchester City, but only need the reigning champions to slip up once. With a visit to Tottenham Hotspur on the near horizon, a game in which City have tripped up in the past, the gap is scarcely insurmountable.

Mikel Arteta’s team have conceded fewer goals than any team in the league and have scored just one fewer than the leaders. They have been consistently impressive for some time now, and have demonstrated a much greater degree of mental resilience than they did last year, when their title challenge petered out down the home stretch, culminating in a pair of humbling defeats to Man City. This time out, they have taken four points from their two games against Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side.

This is a considerably stronger, tougher Arsenal team than the one which flapped their way to the finishing line in 2022/23. Someone should probably have pointed that out to the dispirited fans who left their seats five minutes early. The massed walls of bright red, empty chairs probably served to strengthen the impression of a crumbling team, an impression yet to be borne out by results in the plural.

For Liverpool fans, admittedly, this was a second disappointment on the bounce after a slightly patchwork side was brutally ripped apart by Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday. But once again, there need not be quite so much doom and despair over a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, as soul-crushing as it probably was to watch from the Kop.

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Where Arsenal were at least matched for large parts of the game by Villa (a pretty good side right now, lest we forget), Liverpool comprehensively outplayed Palace. They had 70% of the possession, 21 shots to the visitors’ eight, and a massive xG, variously reported between 2.8 and 3.2 depending on which statistical model you prefer. We all have a favourite, don’t we?

It's true that Palace could and perhaps should have scored more than the Eberechi Eze’s early strike, but even more true that Liverpool could easily have banged two or three in and run out winners. The same was true against Atalanta, when they had chances galore to score and narrow the deficit. And while missing gilt-edged chances is not a promising sign, this is still a side doing all the right things in attack, and all things being even they will win more games playing at that level than they lose.

Granted, the defence is suddenly a concern. The four goals they conceded in the last two games is arguably on the low end of the amount they ‘should’ have let in. But there is still plenty of proven quality back there and both Alisson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have returned. Besides, defensive stolidity was never Liverpool’s strong point, even when they were winning trophies at home and abroad a few years ago. As long as they are creating more chances than their opponents and asking more questions than are being asked of them – which was the case against Palace – then they will win most of their remaining games.

Which is, perhaps, what will be required, because so much of the sense of despair at Arsenal and Liverpool is less a result of their own failings and more the creeping sensation of City getting themselves into their usual ominous late-season form. It’s been a while since they last lost, after all, and once they’ve got the bit between their teeth, they always end up winning, right?

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Well, maybe. But while City have plenty of practical experience of winning virtually everything, it’s not as though the chasing teams are novices when it comes to the latter stages of a title race. Several of Liverpool’s regulars were involved in the Premier League and Champions League victories a few seasons ago. Arsenal had an instructive taste of a title race just last year. They aren’t entirely green around the gills.

And sure, Guardiola and his team of serial champions are favourites. They have a two-point lead and arguably the gentlest of the run-ins. You don’t need an alleged ‘supercomputer’ – please, the common domestic laptop has the processing power for that stuff these days - to know that the smart money is on the trophy remaining in Manchester. But equally, and despite their long unbeaten run, there’s a sense that this City team aren’t quite as cutting edge as last season’s treble-winning incarnation.

Erling Haaland looks a little more awkward, Kevin de Bruyne isn’t at his very best, the defence is banged up. They’re still damned good, but will they win every remaining match? Probably not. Not definitely not, but probably not.

Arsenal and Liverpool might need to do just that, admittedly, in order to win the title. But for all their imperfections and for all the disappointment of Sunday’s defeats, it’s hardly entirely inconceivable that either team manages an unblemished record down the stretch. There are six matches remaining – Arsenal have already won eight league games on the bounce this season, while Liverpool have managed five in a row and a 15-game unbeaten streak. 18 from 18 won’t be easy, but it’s not exactly beyond the realms of possibility. They just need to do what they’ve already done.

This title race isn’t over yet. Both chasing teams have had to swallow a bad day whole, but that doesn’t make a summer of discontent just yet. Lose next weekend, however…

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