Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Liverpool v Arsenal - Preview

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By Richard Clarke

If Arsenal's trip to Liverpool is anything like last season's it will be a see-sawing goal-fest full of lung-bursting action and heart-breaking moments.
The question is ‘will it matter in the title race?'

On April 21, Andrey Arshavin's awesome foursome finally killed off any lingering ambitions the Anfield club retained in the Premier League in 2008/09.

Rafa Benitez' side had led the table for much of the campaign but fell away badly in the second half of the season. Arsenal had been effectively out of the running since before Christmas.

On Sunday, it is Liverpool, down in seventh place, who risk an early exit from the title race - just like the one they have just suffered in the Champions League.

Arsenal, meanwhile, were written off a fortnight ago when they were well-beaten by Chelsea but gained a place in the table and three points on the leaders with a rejuvenating victory over Stoke on Saturday.

With just over a third of the season gone, Wenger was not writing off Liverpool in the title race at his pre-match press briefing, let alone his own third-place side.

"I don't know why it should be a two-horse race," he said. "Man United are two points behind Chelsea but we have a game in hand. That means if we win our game in hand then we are three points behind Man United. How can you say then with 25 games to go it's a two-horse race?

"I said after our game against them that Chelsea would drop points. Do you remember my statement? And everybody looked at me like 'this guy has completely lost the plot'.

"One week later they lost at Man City. They have lost three games now and they will lose more games, don't worry."

Arshavin, William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas, and Armand Traore have all recovered from knocks picked up against Stoke last week. Eduardo (thigh) had not quite recovered from his injury but Abou Diaby (calf) is expected to be included in the squad for the Merseyside trip.

Liverpool are supposedly having a wretched season but the table tells you they are three points off a Champions League place. They have lost five games, Arsenal four while Chelsea and Manchester United have been defeated three apiece. Hardly a gaping chasm of difference.

And interestingly Wenger calculated the title winners may only muster "between 78 and 83" points this term - a low figure in comparison to recent years.

"This season, more than ever, it looks to be a very open Premier League campaign," he said. "Everybody has already slipped up - us at Sunderland, Man United at Burnley - nobody can really predict what will happen.

"I really don't believe that there is any difference in the League at the moment. You cannot say that any team is dominating.  Yes Chelsea are on top but they lost as well three games already and we have only played 14 or 15 games.

"It shows you that it will be down to consistency and consistency for us is starting to be regularly performing again. We had been disrupted by the international break and lost two games after that but now we won again against Stoke and we want to confirm that win. But remember this game is big as well for Liverpool as well as us."

The possible doubt is Arsenal's form in their big games this season. These major clashes don't decide a campaign - Man United's title win last term told us that - but they are a barometre of your side's potential. So far Wenger's men have lost to Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. Yes the 3-0 triumph over Tottenham looks increasingly good but overall they have fluffed their lines when the spotlight has been on them.

"It is strange because at Man United we scored an own goal and were 1-0 up and nothing indicated we would lose the game," said Wenger. "Then against Chelsea for 40 minutes I never felt we would lose the game. Never.

"Now we want to show these were two accidents because we know whatever happens this season our fate depends on that."

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