Alan Shearer on how pressure is affecting Liverpool, Arsenal & Man City in Premier League title race

Alan Shearer column

As we saw at Anfield and Emirates Stadium on Sunday, pressure does funny things at this stage of the season – even to the best players and teams.

No-one expected Liverpool and Arsenal to end up both being beaten this weekend, but I’ve been in their situation myself and this is what happens in a title run-in, especially in must-win games at home. If you don’t score early, everyone gets very nervy.

So, I know it will have felt exactly the same for the Gunners, who were desperate to make the breakthrough against Aston Villa, as it did for Jurgen Klopp’s side when they were left chasing their game after Crystal Palace went ahead.

On the pitch, players can hear the moans and the groans in the crowd after every wasted chance – or even a misplaced pass – the kind of things that no-one was too bothered about a few months ago.

It doesn’t matter how strong your attack is normally, because when the ball suddenly won’t go in the net it can start to feel like nothing is happening naturally or going for you in front of goal – and at the same time you get much edgier than usual every time the opposition gets into your final third.

The longer the game goes on like that the worse it gets, because you can hear more and more panic and desperation setting in. If you’re the away team then you feel it too, and you know your plan is working.

Sunday’s results show what this pressure can do to you, and it is why I have stuck with Manchester City in the past few weeks whenever I’ve been asked who I think will win the Premier League. I am not going to change my mind now.

Out of the three teams at the top City have the most experience of this scenario and they not only know what to expect, they also know how to deal with it when it happens.

A terrible week for Liverpool

When you get to the final part of the season one bad week can undo months of hard work – and Liverpool have just had a terrible week.

I actually thought that their defensive performances have been a real strong point for them for large parts of this campaign, even though Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have missed long spells of it through injury.

So, the last few days have been a big surprise in terms of how easily and how often they have been opened up, firstly by Atalanta in the Europa League and then by Palace.

They were misfiring in attack on Sunday too. Liverpool have fought back from losing positions to earn 27 points this season, but it was probably after they had missed their third sitter on Sunday that I started to think it was going to be one of those days for them where nothing goes in.

But, while it’s true that Liverpool missed some big chances, so did the Eagles. Jurgen Klopp’s side were very open and I don’t think they can complain about the result, even if it is a pretty devastating one for their title hopes.

What went wrong against Palace?

I always feel it is that little bit more difficult when your rivals play first, like Manchester City did against Luton on Saturday, and get the job done very convincingly.

There is no doubt Liverpool saw City’s result and, on top of their defeat by Atalanta and the points they dropped when they missed more chances against Manchester United last weekend, knew they needed to respond.

It is only little tiny bits of extra pressure, but it all adds up and it certainly did not help when they then made a bad start and conceded against Palace.

The Eagles’ win was no fluke, though. They were actually brilliant in everything they did, defensively and going forward.

Dean Henderson made some outstanding saves, and in front of him Tyrick Mitchell and Joachim Andersen both defended brilliantly.

In front of them, Adam Wharton has just turned 20 and was making only his 10th Premier League appearance after signing from Blackburn for £18m at the start of the year, but he was magnificent in the middle of the park.

Wharton was the best midfielder on the pitch, which is really saying something when you consider the form that Alexis Mac Allister, who was a World Cup winner with Argentina in 2022, has been in for Liverpool recently.

Graphic showing Crystal Palace's starting XI against Liverpool: Henderson, Clyne, Andersen, Lerma, Munoz, Mitchell, Wharton, Hughes, Olise, Eze, Mateta

It was a similar story in Palace’s attack, where Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise and Jean-Philippe Mateta combined superbly.

Mateta’s strength and physical presence made him a real handful, while Eze and Olise provided pace and skill and showed why Palace have to get them fit and on the pitch together more often.

Together they tormented Liverpool’s back four and, other than Robertson, I thought the Reds’ defence was really run ragged, particularly in the first half. There have not been many times this season where anyone has been able to say that.

A tactical masterclass by Emery

Just as Palace fully deserved their three points, Villa’s victory was certainly no smash and grab.

In contrast, it was a tactical masterclass by Unai Emery, whose side had already hit the woodwork twice before Leon Bailey put them ahead late on.

While Liverpool missed some big chances in their defeat, Arsenal did not really create anything in the second half and Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez only made one big save, from Leandro Trossard, in the 90 minutes.

Villa were outstanding defensively, but they were not set up just to keep Arsenal out. They were very brave, in that they always committed plenty of men forward too, and they got their reward.

I would describe it as a proper away performance, and close to a perfect one. What made it even more impressive is that they had played on Thursday, in the Europa League, as well.

More twists to come?

Snapshot of the top of the Premier League: 1st Man City, 2nd Arsenal, 3rd Liverpool, 4th Aston Villa, 5th Tottenham & 6th Newcastle

This was City’s weekend, but the top of the table is still extremely tight and I still think there are more twists to come in the title race.

To stay in it, Liverpool and Arsenal will have to pick themselves up quickly. It looks a big ask for Klopp’s side to rescue their Europa League tie in Italy on Thursday, but they cannot afford to drop any more Premier League points when they face Fulham next weekend.

The Gunners are still in their Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, with the second leg on Wednesday, but Saturday’s trip to Wolves is massive for them now.

After Arsenal faded badly at this stage of last season, everyone has been saying they are a different team this year – but this is when we will really find out what they are made of.

Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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