Current League leaders Liverpool will probably be pleased to be on the road again after their recent dropped points and inhibited displays at Anfield; but then again they may view a trip to the Emirates with some disquiet, having failed to beat Arsenal away in ten attempts since February 2000 (eight Premier League games, one FA Cup tie and a Champions League clash). The Gunners won six and drew four of those; but nevertheless they have still been beaten more often (14 times) and dropped more points (60) in the Premier League against Liverpool, than against any other club.
The two sides were great rivals in the last few seasons of the old Football League, alternating as champions in the four seasons between 1987-88 and 1990-91 - when George Graham and Kenny Dalglish were the respective managers, Alex Ferguson's Manchester United were yet to hit their formidable trophy-winning stride, and Chelsea were nowhere near the top four. The Reds and the Gunners remain major adversaries, as members of the 'Big Four', and there are any number of reasons why Saturday's meeting will have a special resonance.
The Arsenal camp harbour a grievance following last April's Champions League elimination. They claim they were denied a clear penalty towards the end of the Emirates leg when Dirk Kuyt hauled down Alex Hleb in the area. And they feel the penalty awarded to Liverpool for a foul by Kolo Toure on Ryan Babel, immediately after the Gunners had equalised to move ahead in the tie on away goals, was harsh. The fact remains that Liverpool won that epic collision 5-3 on aggregate, and progressed to the semi-finals where they suffered their own torment at the hands of Chelsea.
Arsenal strikers Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor have both suggested that revenge on Sunday would be sweet.
Both Arsenal and Liverpool are unbeaten in their games against fellow Big Four rivals this season. That is another way of saying each can point to a home win against Manchester United and an away win against Chelsea already in this campaign. Obviously both will want to preserve their 100% record in Big Four meetings. But for the Gunners, it has been - and continues to be - a matter of brinkmanship. Whereas Liverpool have been first or second all season, Arsenal's inconsistency has seen them vacillate, and after last weekend's results they found themselves in fifth-place, their Champions League slot having been usurped, at least temporarily, by Aston Villa, whom they meet at Villa Park on Boxing Day.
That means they must again strive to keep their title hopes alive by pulling a win out of the bag against another of the big boys. It was the same when they took on Manchester United and then Chelsea in recent weeks: defeat in either of those games might have effectively ended their aspirations to win a fourth Premier League crown and 14th top-flight title overall. They won; but the value of those epic victories has been undermined by dropped points in other games. Arsenal have already lost five times in the League - to Fulham (away), Hull (home), Stoke (away), Aston Villa (home) and Manchester City (away) - and history suggests they cannot lose any more and still go on to claim the championship. So this weekend they must again take all three points to remain in touch at Christmas.
Yet Liverpool's form has also been less than convincing recently. They remain top, but as much because of the stumblings of their rivals as through the irresistible quality of their own performances. Nevertheless they hold a substantial eight-point lead over their North London hosts, and will be striving to make that eleven.
Arsenal have been hit-and-miss all season. Their seeming inability to string a winning sequence together was again evident at The Riverside last week. They took an early lead through Emmanuel Adebayor in a dominant opening against Middlesbrough, but were pegged back in a 1-1 draw. Indeed, Wenger's side have won only one of their last four games in all competitions.
However, Liverpool are not exactly in outstanding form themselves at the moment: they've drawn three of their last four League games, and will be anxious to start turning those stale-mates into victories that yield maximum points if they are to realise their ambition of lifting a first Premier League crown - their first top-flight title since 1990.
Arsenal striker Adebayor has warned his team-mates against assuming that wins against two of the top teams mean another can be expected against the leaders. “We have to forget about what we have done against Chelsea and Manchester United,” the Togo striker said. "We have done that so the most important thing is just to keep focused against Liverpool.
“If we think because we have beaten Manchester United at home and Chelsea away we are going to win easily against Liverpool then we have got everything wrong. We all know how important this is for the club so we will just try to keep our dreams alive. For us the most important thing is to keep positive. We have a good chance because we play at the Emirates Stadium in front of our own fans. We always play quite well there.
“As a player you dream of playing in these big games. When I was young I had a chance to watch Arsenal against teams like Liverpool and Manchester United. Now I have a chance to be in those games.”
But Liverpool's Alvaro Arbeloa also believes his team can bounce back from their disappointing home draw against Hull and get what they need against the Gunners. He said, “We believe in ourselves and we can get a good result there.”
Liverpool's preparations for this game have been overshadowed by the hospitalisation of manager Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard has been bed-ridden following surgery to remove kidney stones, so assistant manager Sammy Lee has been taking training during the week. Lee, though, doesn't think the absence of Benitez has been a major distraction.
He said: "We have already planned what we are going to do so we will just be sticking to that. The main man may not be here, but we have to keep things going so he can just pick up from where he left off when he comes back."
Something else Liverpool have tried to shrug off this week is the speculation surrounding Robbie Keane. The ex-Tottenham striker has been the subject of rumours suggesting he could be leaving the club in January, which the Reds have denied - although he is likely to be named as a substitute again at the Emirates, even through Fernando Torres is still recovering from a hamstring injury.
Twenty seasons ago, uniquely in English League history, the fate of the title was decided in the very last match of the season, Liverpool v Arsenal at Anfield, in which either Liverpool or Arsenal would be crowned champions. Liverpool, who had already won the FA Cup, would win the coveted double if they beat, drew with or even lost to Arsenal by one goal to nil. The Gunners had to win by 2-0 to claim their first title since 1971. And Arsenal, leading 1-0 through Alan Smith from early in the second-half, scored the vital second in the dying minutes to win the championship in the most dramatic finale to any season before or since. Ironically, the scorer of the late, winning goal, Michael Thomas, later left Arsenal to join Liverpool. And Arsenal fans attending Sunday’s game at the Emirates are being urged to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that historic win by wearing yellow shirts – as their team had done on 26 May 1989.
Two of the players likely to be involved in Sunday's game share the distinction of having most shots off target so far this season - Steven Gerrard and Robin van Persie have both racked up 29. Indeed, as a team Liverpool have had the most shots off target - 136. Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor shares with Steed Malbranque (Sunderland) the highest number of assists (seven), and Adebayor has also been flagged offside more times than anyone else (32). And Arsenal have had more corners (134) and more woodwork strikes than any other Premier League team. But Pep Reina has kept the most clean-sheets (ten).
Liverpool are seeking their first Premier League win in nine attempts at Arsenal. The last time they won on the Gunners' home patch - which was Highbury at the time - Titi Camara scored in a 1-0 win on 13 February 2000.
Remarkably, the two teams haven't managed an away League win - in London or on Merseyside - in nine meetings, although the Gunners won twice in four days at Anfield in early January 2007, beating Liverpool 3-1 in the FA Cup then 6-3 in the League Cup.
The overall League record between the teams (home and away) is played 168, Arsenal 58 wins, Liverpool 68, Draws 42. In the Premier League only, the record is Arsenal 9 wins, Liverpool 14, Draws 9. At Arsenal only, the Gunners have achieved 37 wins, Liverpool 20, and 27 games have been drawn. In the Premier League at Arsenal, the home team have six wins, Liverpool five, and five have been drawn.
This game is being dedicated by Arsenal to the Teenage Cancer Trust - which means the Gunners' players, staff and directors are all donating a day's wages to the Trust, the club's chosen charity this season. They are aiming to raise £300,000 during the course of the campaign, and there will be other fundraising activities at the Emirates on Sunday.
Manager Arsene Wenger is also supporting the charity by donating a day's wages, and captain, Cesc Fabregas, said: "I encourage all supporters to follow our lead and give what they can. The team and I have met some patients from Teenage Cancer Trust units on several occasions throughout the partnership so far and we're all struck by the strength and courage they show in fighting this disease.
"We understand the importance of these units, which give young people a sense of normality in their lives while being treated for cancer, so we want to ensure we do the best we can for them throughout the whole partnership.
Fabregas added: "The dedicated matchday highlights the work of the charity and gives players, staff and supporters the chance to do something, however small, to reach this target. I visited the Teenage Cancer Trust unit back in August so I know what this means to the charity and the teenagers it helps."
13 Dec (Premier League) v Middlesbrough (A) DREW 1-1
10 Dec (Champions League) v FC Porto (A) LOST 0-2
06 Dec (Premier League) v Wigan (H) WON 1-0
02 Dec (Carling Cup) v Burnley (A) LOST 0-2
30 Nov (Premier League) v Chelsea (A) WON 2-1
25 Nov (Champions League) v Dynamo Kiev (H) WON 1-0
13 Dec (Premier League) v Hull (H) DREW 2-2
09 Dec (Champions League) v PSV Eindhoven (A) WON 3-1
06 Dec (Premier League) v Blackburn (A) WON 3-1
01 Dec (Premier League) v West Ham (H) DREW 0-0
26 Nov (Champions League) v Marseille (H) WON 1-0
22 Nov (Premier League) v Fulham (H) DREW 0-0
Midfielder Samir Nasri could be back following an ankle injury, but defender Kolo Toure is again a doubtful starter with a calf strain. Striker Nicklas Bendtner could be ruled out by a knee problem, but Theo Walcott (shoulder) and Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) are still out, and striker Eduardo suffered a hamstring problem on his return from breaking his leg.
Squad: Almunia, Sagna, Nasri, Gallas, Djourou, Clichy, Denilson, Fabregas, Song, Diaby, Wilshere, Eboue, Fabianski, Vela, Ramsey, Van Persie, Adebayor, Bendtner.
Manager Rafael Benitez could be back on the bench after an operation to remove kidney stones, but at least he has no new injury problems to worry about. Striker Fernando Torres (hamstring) is out for at least one more week, while full-back Fabio Aurelio (calf) may return after three games out. Dirk Kuyt started last weekend's draw with Hull as the main striker, supported from midfield by captain Steven Gerrard, who scored both goals as the Reds staged a dramatic come-back. Defenders Philipp Degen (metatarsal) and Martin Skrtel (knee) remain on the sidelines.
Squad: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Dossena, Aurelio, Babel, Benayoun, Gerrard, Mascherano, Lucas, Alonso, Riera, Kuyt, Keane, Ngog, Cavalieri, Insua, El Zhar.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Emmanuel Adebayor has scored 11 goals so far this season - and 57 altogether for the club he joined from Monaco in January 2006. He was on target in each of Arsenal's last two league games, netting the winner against Wigan and the Gunners' goal at Middlesbrough. And with Samir Nasri scoring twice in Arsenal 's win over Manchester United, and Robin van Persie grabbing both when they beat Chelsea, Adebayor may fancy his chances of getting on the score-sheet against the third of their big rivals - with a brace? The Togo striker has rehabilitated himself with the Arsenal fans after a summer spent prevaricating over a possible move to Italy or Spain, and he was on target against Liverpool in both legs of last season's Champions League tie.
Steven Gerrard's reputation as an inspirational leader has been further enhanced this season, his drive and determination clearly illustrated a week ago at Anfield when his side were trailing 2-0 to Hull City before he hauled them back into the game with two goals. The midfielder has already contributed 12 goals in all competitions to Liverpool's cause this season, and is likely to play a key role against the Gunners. He more than anyone at Anfield, with the possible exception of fellow-Scouser Jamie Carragher, is desperate to end the Reds' 19-year title drought, and can be expected to drive his team-mates on from midfield on Sunday, rampaging forward in search of a sight of goal whenever he can.