Liverpool fans are on a high after winning the Carling Cup last weekend, with Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard heralding the triumph as the start of a new era of success for the club. Whether this season is a success or not may well depend on the outcome of this Saturday’s fixture against Arsenal however. With the Reds currently in seventh place, seven points behind the Gunners in fourth, anything other than an Anfield victory will leave the Merseysiders too far behind the other challengers to qualify for the Champions League.
Although success in cup competitions is a step in the right direction for Liverpool, whether it is the Carling Cup or the FA Cup, the ability to finish in the top four will be the real litmus test to whether the club are back amongst the country’s elite once more. Winning cup games is one thing; showing the consistency over 38 games to be adjudged as one of the top teams in England takes more doing.
So far this campaign Liverpool have blown hot and cold, with good performances and wins being counter-balanced by dropping points against the so-called lesser teams. This irregularity has blighted the team and frustrated the fans; it is the reason that a team that can beat anyone on their day is not currently in the top four Premier League teams. That said, the Reds have been relatively good against the bigger teams this season, and on the back of their cup success will look to shorten the gap on the top four with a win over Arsenal this weekend.
The Gunners were staring into the abyss this time last week, with FA Cup elimination and Champions League embarrassment threatening to spoil their season. However, Arsene Wenger’s men showed that they are not willing to go quietly into oblivion by outplaying, out-battling and thoroughly beating Spurs 5-2 in the north London derby. The Emirates Stadium outfit will have their tails up after the victory, especially given the fact that they fought back from two goals down, and the away fans will hope that the resolve and determination shown last weekend will be re-enacted this time out.
Arsene Wenger’s backing of under-fire players has been a trait during his 15-year tenure at the club, and the French coach sternly believes in the ability of the players that he has nurtured from a young age. The current case in question is Theo Walcott, who’s potential has not been replicated into performances this term and the winger is at risk of missing out on Euro 2012 after playing at a sub-standard level for the majority of the campaign. Wenger left in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench against Spurs; it will be interesting what role the latest Southampton youth protégé plays on Saturday.
There are a number of key battles that will decide the game. Daniel Agger broke a rib in the win over Cardiff, and will be replaced by dependable but ageing Jamie Carragher. The veteran’s centre defence partnership with Martin Skrtel at the back will be key, especially given the fact that Arsenal scored five in their last outing. Robin van Persie should play despite suffering a slight injury whilst on international duty, and is currently at the pinnacle of his abilities.
In midfield it is time for Steven Gerrard to get back to his best, but Alex Song will be keen to shackle the Anfield talisman come Saturday. Mikel Arteta is no Cesc Fabregas, but he is starting to make his mark on the north London club; the Spaniard will be motivated to win against Liverpool given his time at their rivals Everton.
Arsenal’s defence wasn’t especially tested against Tottenham, but it is likely to be pushed harder at Anfield. Thomas Vermaelen looked shaky in the loss of two early goals to Harry Redknapp’s men, and the Belgium international and Laurent Koscielny must be better to foil Luis Suarez and the Liverpool attack.
Expect a close game; both sides need the points and are on a high after good results last weekend, but there isn’t room for both of these giants in next year’s Champions League.
Published – Soccerlens