Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Liverpool v Arsenal - Preview

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By Richard Clarke

It is kind of basic really.

Before you start any task, define the goal, the objective, the target, the line you must reach in order to feel successful.

Otherwise how are you going to know how to feel at the end?

However when Arsène Wenger was asked for his definition of success at his first pre-match press conference of the campaign, the Frenchman's answer was more specific than you might have expected.

Despite that famous five-year stretch without a trophy, there was no waffle, no flannel and no fudge - just the title.

"Success is to improve from last year," he explained, "and that is to win the League - it is the only benchmark.

"You cannot finish third and then say the season after, you want to finish behind that. We are a young side and the improvement is natural - the ambition is there, we are hungry for success.

"We know people want more from us and we are ready to give more but success is to win the League."

It was a bold definition and one that must be backed by a heartening result at Liverpool on Sunday in the opening game of the new season. The Anfield side are under new management and, perhaps soon, new ownership. But despite a poor campaign last term, Wenger still expects Roy Hodgson's side to be in the midst of the title picture.

"It is a good opportunity to have a good start against a good team," said Wenger. "We are ready and we are, of course, excited by the new challenge. We finished third last year and the target is to do better than last year and I believe we have room for improvement and that is what we want to show.

"The League is an open, exciting challenge for seven or eight teams. In fact it is more open than ever.

"Like Arsenal, Liverpool will try to fight first for the top four and then for the title. Having watched the Community Shield, you could see that Manchester United and Chelsea will fight for the title again because what they showed was quality. After that you have all the other teams that we have known last year like Villa, Tottenham and Man City, of course, because they have invested big money. So there are seven or eight teams who will fight for it."

Ahead of the curtain-raiser, Wenger's injury list was ill-defined. Nicklas Bendtner (groin), Johan Djourou (hamstring) and Aaron Ramsey (leg) are more than short-term absentees. Alex Song's calf problem is not serious but he may miss Sunday while Denilson (abdominal) only returned to training on Friday and faces a fitness test. Abou Diaby (calf) will also be checked late but should be OK. Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas are not injured but not match-fit. If they do travel, Wenger suggested they would be bit-part contributors at best.

However there is one area of clarity. Wenger told TV Online on Thursday that Laurent Koscielny would make his full Arsenal debut at centre half alongside Thomas Vermaelen. Though even the manager admitted it will be a tough baptism.

"I have spoken to Laurent and he will discover the Premier League on Sunday," said Wenger. "You can talk and talk but at the end of the day the players show what they can do on the pitch and he will have an opportunity to do that."

There is a possibility that Emmanuel Frimpong and England new boy Jack Wilshere might get the same chance. The duo impressed throughout pre-season and, unlike many of Wenger's other central midfield options, they are fully fit. The manager gave a snappy "yes" when asked if he'd be happy to throw them in. He then gave an almost puzzled "because they have quality" when asked why.

"I've not made up my mind," he went on. "But it's very difficult to talk about that because I do not want to give wrong hopes to players who read the newspapers.

"I have to balance the team, put in some experience and keep in mind that match fitness will be vital. So I cannot play three or four players who have not played one game since the start of the season. They will die after an hour and you can only change two or three."

At goalkeeper, Wenger has the opposite problem.

All four of his glovemen are fit and well-rested, they are just waiting for the nod. It will be the most important decision the manager makes this weekend.

"I will talk to the goalkeepers on Saturday," said Wenger. "I have great goalkeepers so it is difficult to make the choice and difficult for the one who doesn't play. But it's part of their job and part of my job to make a decision."

Hodgson will know he can jump-start a Liverpool revival on Sunday. The club managed to keep key players like Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres while adding significantly in Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic and Christian Poulsen. The Englishman may not have been in situ long enough to put his mark on the squad however the impetus of a new broom should not be underestimated. A decisive result either way could shape the early campaign for both sides.

This is the start of Wenger's 14th full season at Arsenal and, at Friday's press conference, he suggested he might be ready to sign up for a few more.

Despite the miles on the clock, there seems to be plenty of tread on Wenger's tires.

"I love to win and I love football," he concluded. "In this job I can combine the two and that is what keeps me hungry.

"It has nothing to do with the number of years you are in the job. It is just your nature - if I play any game with you, I will want to win it."

As Wenger has got older, his Arsenal teams have got younger and that potential seems to stoke the competitive fire which burns, quite naturally, inside him.

The problem in recent seasons is exploiting that potential to it best. A year older and wiser, Arsenal have a decent chance in a race with a wide-open field.

But they must ensure they don't stumble off the blocks on Sunday.

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