By Chris Harris
Liverpool left Emirates Stadium last month with their tails between their legs. Humbled 3-0, the most striking image of their day to forget was Steven Gerrard and John Arne Riise bickering after William Gallas converted a free header to wrap up the points.
They have no need to argue now. Liverpool have kept seven clean sheets in eight games since that defeat and are finally living up to their pre-season billing as a side who could have a say in the destiny of the Premiership title.
As Arsenal prepare to face the rejuvenated Reds at Anfield we asked Dave Prentice, Chief Sports Writer of the Liverpool Echo, for his thoughts on Liverpool's improving form, the role of Gerrard, Rafa Benitez's approach to the Carling Cup and the team he might send out tonight.
THE STORY SO FAR
"They have picked up since the 3-0 defeat at Emirates. A lot of it is down to a run of fixtures which have been far kinder than they were at the start of the season. They had an awful run of away games at Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton - probably the toughest games of all - but since the Arsenal game they have been on a decent run. You can only beat what's put in front of you and they have beaten PSV, Manchester City, Wigan, Fulham and now Charlton. The other reason for Liverpool's improvement is the defence getting its act together. The bedrock for Liverpool last season was their ability to grind out clean sheets and now Reina looks more secure in goal, Agger has been a great buy, he's grown in stature every week, Carragher is looking more like his old self and Finnan is Steady Eddie anyway. The defence has been sorted out and the front two are more settled. Benitez rotated the squad a lot until after the Arsenal game, now Kuyt and Bellamy are the partnership up front and it's working well."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Steven Gerrard is certainly happier now he is playing in central midfield and he's starting scoring goals again too. With Sissoko injured it has been Gerrard and Alonso in the middle and there is greater responsibility on the central defenders because neither of them is a natural holding midfielder."
"The Carling Cup is very much fourth on Liverpool's priority list behind the Premiership, Champions League and the FA Cup. Benitez says he will play an "experienced team" but I expect we will see a couple of the kids as well - Danny Guthrie and Lee Peltier for example. Alonso, Carragher, Agger, Garcia and Reina will probably play with Crouch alongside Fowler up front. Benitez has put up a bit of a smokescreen I think. He is taking the game seriously - he certainly doesn't want to be embarrassed by Arsenal as they were last month - but I doubt it will be a first-choice line-up tonight. I don't expect Gerrard to play."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"The game at Emirates last month was close for half an hour but after the first goal Liverpool's heads went down and their lack of heart in that game was distressing. Gerrard and Riise were arguing about who should have marked Gallas for the third goal and Liverpool showed that while they are capable of beating the vast majority of the Premiership they are not quite there when they play the bigger sides."
Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 19 Dec 2006