By Matt Fortune
Liverpool seem to be in the midst of another fabulously inconsistent season. They may have beaten Derby 6-0, but draws with Tottenham, Portsmouth and Birmingham can only be classed as six points dropped for a title-chasing team.
Like Arsenal, the five-time European Champions have failed to mount any serious title bid in the last three years and many of the Anfield faithful wanted that addressed this time around. Boss Rafa Benitez obliged and spent big in the close-season bringing in several highly-rated individuals.
Liverpool sit fourth behind the two Manchester teams and Arsenal after a welcome win on the Blue side of Stanley Park last Saturday. By winning their game in hand on City and United, the Reds can move up to third.
Anfield form in the Premiership has been the topic of much scrutiny with three domestic draws and Liverpool also lost their formidable European home record with defeat by Marseille. Their saving grace in past seasons, Champions League form, is also stuttering somewhat. They are bottom of Group A with one point. Realistically they require three wins from their remaining three games to qualify - a fact that may be costly in the coming months.
Still despite a somewhat uncertain season so far one thing does remain. Sunday is certain to be one of the toughest trips the Gunners will embark on all season.
We spoke to Tony Barrett of the Liverpool Echo ahead of Sunday's clash.
THE STORY SO FAR
"The season has been a bit of mixed bag for Liverpool so far. They started very well at the Derby County match when they won 6-0 and I think a lot of Liverpool fans started to think about title challenges and all that sort of stuff. The international break came at a bad time for them and I think the momentum they build up was gone, and since the performances have become much more erratic. They are still unbeaten but they don't look as cohesive a unit as Rafa Benitez would have hoped. Everyone looked at the result against Everton as something that would kick-start our season again but Wednesday night's defeat at Besiktas has made people think that there is a still quite a lot of work to be done.
"At the start of the season at Liverpool I think of lot of the fans were saying that we don't need to talk of winning the title, we just want to see a genuine challenge and by that they mean being in contention come Easter time. The past few years they have been out of it by Christmas or even before. There have been 20 point gaps, even 30 points by the end of the season and that is not good enough for a club like Liverpool. They are going to be looking to be closing that gap and if there is a title challenge then the Liverpool fans will be satisfied with that."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Fernando Torres has captured everyone's imagination on Merseyside. He's a forward that makes things happen. His pace is what sets him apart because he is the one Liverpool forward who is blessed with natural speed. If he gets away from the centre back they don't catch him up. His goalscoring record has been good since he signed - he has got seven in nine starts. He looks the part, everyone is impressed with him and happy he's here."
"Voronin has been a surprise for many Liverpool supporters because no-one was expecting much of him. He has actually done OK. He is a steady player, he holds the ball up well, brings people into the game and is capable of getting a goal. Ryan Babel has been used more as a left winger which I think he is having to get used to. There is enough competition for places up front and you can see him trying to get in some shots from the left. You can see his natural game is as a frontrunner but he looks like the type of player where there is a lot of talent waiting to come through. He is one of those that you can see in a year or so - if he trains well and takes on the advice he will be getting - he could be a top player."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"Hopefully Daniel Agger will be back in week to 10 days because his injury has been a big, big blow. He is one of those centre backs who reads the game really well. He also brings the ball out of defence and creates an extra man in midfield. I think he has been a key loss for Liverpool. One of the reasons why they are not doing so well going forward is that Agger is so often that extra man in midfield allowing the rest to play a little higher up the pitch then they are at the moment. Sami Hyypia is at that stage of his career where ideally he won't be playing two games a week and that could be a problem if he does because he is 34 years of age."
"The side Rafa had out on Wednesday is pretty close to full-strength considering the injuries they have at the moment. The back four will likely stay the same but the midfield could be interesting because Xabi Alonso is back now. I will be surprised if he doesn't come back in because his passing game is a great aspect of Liverpool's play. Then we have Benayoun, Pennant and Babel - that is for three fighting for two positions - as well as the option of Steven Gerrard who can play wide right. Up front I think Peter Crouch did himself the world of good by setting up the goal in midweek as he has been on the sidelines for some time. I think he will have pleased the manager with his cameo appearance, but to be honest you can't second guess Benitez's selection policy."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Arsenal were very impressive on Tuesday. They are one of those sides that if they get a goal ahead and hit form then they will be unstoppable. A very young side with lots of confidence, lots of great ability, but I do think that they are yet to have a real genuine test. A team needs to pose a different kind of problem, maybe psychological type of problems. I think Liverpool will defend a lot tighter than many do against Arsenal and, at the other end, they will really look to get at the back four. Not many teams have really had a go at Arsenal yet and their form has been magnificent but they are still to be tested and hopefully that test will come at Anfield.
"The way Arsenal have started the season, they built up expectations so much that now people are talking about them as potential winners. But I think Manchester United will take some stopping and their experience gives them the upper hand slightly. This weekend though is a big one for Arsenal. If they come to Anfield and win that will give them the kind of confidence to think they are not just having a good start but actually they can go on and win this."