By Adam Clark
Having returned from Liverpool on Saturday evening with their place in the FA Cup Fourth Round confirmed, Arsenal head to Anfield again tonight for Round Two of their cup bout.
A fine double from Tomas Rosicky and a superb solo effort from the rejuvenated Thierry Henry gave Arsène Wenger's side a highly-satisfying 3-1 victory, but how was the outcome received on Merseyside?
Arsenal.com spoke to Chris Bascombe, Liverpool FC correspondent for the Liverpool Echo, who told us why Rosicky's goals were more decisive than Xabi Alonso's penalty claim and why January is a crucial month for both clubs.
"From a Liverpool point of view it was very disappointing," said Chris. "The first goal always seems to be decisive in Liverpool games and once Arsenal scored, and then got a second quickly afterwards, it became a huge mountain to climb. Overall, Arsenal's defence - the two centre backs and central midfielders especially - were the key, and they should have got most of the credit."
"I don't like to linger too much on things like penalty shouts. It was 0-0 at that point so you don't know what would have happened. The turning points were Rosicky's goals because they changed the balance of power.
"Liverpool could have sneaked a 2-2 in the second half but the difference between the two sides was Arsenal's ruthlessness in front of goal. Liverpool didn't create chances despite having lots of pressure; you could look at that but not any refereeing decisions. I think it might be a different game tonight but we'll wait and see on that."
Despite mixed fortunes on the road this season Liverpool had been undefeated in 20 games at Anfield before Saturday's loss and as cup holders boss Rafael Benitez would have been hoping to craft a more valiant defence of their trophy. However, Chris believes the disappointment of defeat was softened by the Kop's heart-warming support for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster.
"There were things going on off the pitch on Saturday as well. The general feeling from Liverpool supporters is that sometimes other things are more important than football. I think the fans left happy given that they had made their point in front of the cameras and that was an important part of the day. Maybe the result will sink in later in the season when they've got free weekends.
"There was an appreciation of Arsenal's performance too and it wasn't like they'd lost to minnows, they'd lost to a quality team. But still everyone is gutted."
"Liverpool's problem against the so called 'big four' has been finishing chances. When you play a team like Arsenal you may not get more than two or three chances and you've got to take them. I think what Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United have is a world-class striker that other top opponents fear. Liverpool have now been punished by Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba this season, and that's possibly the only difference between them and the other three sides at the moment."
With their FA Cup dreams vanished, and an increasingly two-sided Premiership title race emerging, defeat tonight is not something Chris wants to contemplate. He insists there is still reason for Liverpool's supporters to stay positive but says whoever plays for Benitez's side must ensure a second cup exit in five days doesn't compound the misery on Merseyside.
"I wouldn't predict a team for tonight but I think they will have to play a few of the big names. The priority list has changed now. The Carling Cup was fourth but suddenly it's third [on the list]. To go out of two competitions in two games will make it even worse. If we were to lose fans would wake up tomorrow maybe feeling worse than they did on Sunday."
"There's still a hell of a lot to play for. This could be a pivotal month, what with the next Premiership game being against Watford before we welcome Chelsea. Obviously Arsenal play Manchester United that weekend too, so it could be a pivotal weekend for everyone. If the top two lost, there would be a chink of light for Arsenal and Liverpool but if it goes the other way then it's definitely all over.
"But, I think we seem to forget history and that leads, and leagues, have been squandered. I think that weekend will be interesting in terms of seeing where both Liverpool and Arsenal's priorities for this campaign will lie."
9 Jan 2007