By Chris Harris
Anfield has experienced feast and famine in title terms over the past 30 years. Dominant in the 1980s - in Europe as well as England - Liverpool were a class above the rest and racked up the championship trophies. But since 1990? Nothing.
The crown has eluded Liverpool for 18 years but, after a solid start this term, it is back in sight. Manchester United and Chelsea have already suffered defeats against Rafa Benitez's rejuvenated Reds; if Arsenal go the same way on Sunday, the Anfield faithful could be forgiven for thinking their long wait will soon be over.
We spoke to Tony Barrett of the Liverpool Echo ahead of this weekend's big game at Emirates Stadium. Read on for his take on Liverpool's improvement, the top performers this season, the new faces and the reasons why the Merseysiders will travel to London with confidence.
THE STORY SO FAR
"Can they win the title? It’s a really tough call and it looks like it is dog-eat-dog at the top of the Premier League. No one is really getting away from anywhere else and it looks like being a war of attrition more than anything else this year. If it is Liverpool that can stick around at the top and be in the shake-up around Spring time, you wouldn’t bet against them. They seem to have a strength of character absent in recent seasons. It will be really, really tough but I think everyone around Anfield just wants them to be in the mix around Easter time.
"I think there are a couple of things that have changed this year. Mainly Liverpool have better players especially in the spine of the team; you have Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres. It is the equal of anything around and really does have a lot of character and a lot of talent. It is the kind of spine that would be at the heart of any Premier League-winning team. The issues surrounding the wide areas haven’t exactly been resolved but they have been improved in a couple of areas. But little by little Liverpool have improved under Rafael Benitez so there is no reason why they shouldn’t be in the position that they find themselves in now."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"There are a few contenders. Dirk Kuyt has done well and he is industrious and has certainly done everything asked of him week-in week-out. Steven Gerrard has done what you expect him to do and has scored plenty of goals from midfield and has been the talisman as usual. Jamie Carragher has done well too and Pepe Reina has been exceptional in goal. But for me it would have to be Xabi Alonso. After the summer when it looked like he might be leaving the club he has come back stronger than ever and has put in exceptional performances, particularly in the big games, against the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea when obviously Liverpool won."
"Albert Riera has been the big hit. He has given Liverpool width down that left-hand side which is what they previously lacked. He works hard up and down the flank and has done a really good job since signing from Espanyol, he looks a good signing. Andrea Dossena has struggled, no question of that. Going forward he has been OK but defensively he has been found wanting on a number of occasions. When Fabio Aurelio has been fit, Dossena hasn’t been in the side.
"Robbie Keane has struggled to recreate his Tottenham form, no question about that. There are even questions about whether he will be at Liverpool beyond January although Benitez and Keane both say he definitely will be. He really needs to start delivering when he is picked. Diego Cavalieri is our No 2 goalkeeper and has done well when called upon and Philip Degen has been injured so we can’t really judge him. Overall it was a mixed bag in the summer but luckily Liverpool had enough existing quality to ensure it didn’t really effect them so far."
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
"I think Liverpool can go there with confidence. Their away record this season is fantastic and is actually better than anyone would have expected at the start of the season. I was looking at a couple of stats earlier today and for the first time since 1990 they’ve won more than six games before Christmas away from home. If they were to win at Arsenal it would be the first time since 1963 that they’ve won seven away before Christmas."
"On the road Liverpool have looked really strong and they look like a side set up to do well away from home. I know Arsenal have not been as consistent this season as they have been in recent years and I think Liverpool are going there with a little bit more confidence than Arsenal currently have. Maybe it is the year where Liverpool can finally win at the Emirates. However, it looks like they will have to do it without Fernando Torres. I think Liverpool are making absolutely sure with his injury and won’t be taking any chances. It would be a major surprise if he was involved on Sunday."