Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Match Preview: Arsenal vs. LiverpooL

Arsenal lost to title rivals Chelsea at the weekend to cap a miserable fortnight for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger’s team have not won any of their last four matches in all competitions as they’ve slumped to FA Cup defeat at Stoke, been held at Villa and been beaten by their two title rivals. Next up they face a resurgent Liverpool team which has been grinding out some excellent results and will be extremely hard to beat at the Emirates.

The Gunners title hopes lie in the balance and a defeat to Liverpool would all but end their chances with nine points currently separating them and leaders Chelsea. However, both teams above them face very tough midweek fixtures themselves so this could be a chance to close the gap. Arsenal have already beaten Liverpool twice this season in league and Carling Cup so will fancy their chances. The Gunners haven’t lost a Premier League match against the Reds in eight matches (four wins) and boast a good home record against Rafa Benitez’ team.

It’s been ten years since Liverpool last won an away league clash at Arsenal (five defeats & four draws), although they have drawn on the last two visits, both finishing 1-1. Expect a similar result this week as Liverpool will look to smother the Gunners creative talents just as Chelsea and Manchester United did to great effect. Both Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher played in that last away win in February 2000 when Oasis were number one in the charts with ‘Go Let it Out’. Whether the current team can repeat that feat is questionable with their lack of away goals in recent weeks.

The Reds are not playing the most fluent football but they are now showing both strength and doggedness in grinding out results. They are now defensively resolute and winning by one or two-goal margins unlike the end of last season when Benitez’ team was playing the opposition off the park and scoring plenty of goals. Basically, Rafa has made them first and foremost hard to beat, which Liverpool weren’t earlier in the season.

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last seven league matches (won five) and have conceded just one goal in this run. Rather than looking over their shoulders at the likes of Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City, Benitez’ team can target the Gunners themselves who will be just two points ahead of them if they can pick up an away win at the Emirates. This may be a good time to face Arsenal with confidence knocked from their back-to-back defeats and once again showing physical weakness against their rivals. Liverpool have shown a real aggression, great work-rate and a will to win in recent weeks which suggests they will get right in the Gunners faces from the off.

Just like Chelsea and United did against Arsenal, Liverpool will pack the centre of the park, force the Gunners wide and make them resort to crossing. This will be food and drink to the Reds defenders who will look to smother Arsenal’s creative talents at every opportunity. I expect Arsene to go with Nicklas Bendtner up front for this one. Although Andrey Arshavin had chances in both matches against Chelsea and United; for me, the little Russian didn’t do enough to command a lone striker’s role. At least Bendtner will offer physicality to the Arsenal attack which won’t allow Liverpool to clear their lines so comfortably. The Liverpool defence may prefer not to be facing Arshavin as he has banged in a total of five goals from a mere six shots against them.

Agger Demands Determination

Daniel Agger is aware that UEFA Champions League-chasing Liverpool will need to display the correct mentality if they are to record a rare win at Arsenal on Wednesday.

The Reds' last Premier League victory at the home of the Gunners came six years before the defender's 2006 arrival in England and he is keen to address that statistic as his club bid to hold on to a place in the top four.

Agger produced arguably his best performance of another injury-plagued season in Saturday lunchtime's Merseyside derby win as 10-man Liverpool battled to three points against Everton after Sotirios Kyrgiakos was sent off in the first half.

The classy Dane is again expected to start at Emirates Stadium, his first back-to-back appearances since the end of December, and he knows that a repeat of the weekend's determination will be required against Arsenal.

Agger, who should be a member of Rafa Benitez's first XI due to Kyrgiakos' suspension, said: "We just have to go for the three points in each game.

"We need to have a good result against Arsenal, which is the most important game right now.

"Arsenal are a good team but every game in this league is tough so we need to go in with the same attitude as against Everton.

"Everyone in the team knows we have the right attitude."

Steven Gerrard Calls On Team To Beat 'Wounded' Arsenal In Top Three Chase

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard says a result against a ‘wounded’ Arsenal on Wednesday night would help drive Liverpool to a top three finish and that the Merseyside club are treating every match as if it were a ‘cup final.’

Speaking to former Liverpool striker Stan Collymore and Mark Saggers on Talksport radio station, Gerrard was asked if a win against third place Arsenal on Wednesday night could spur Liverpool on to a top three finish.

“I’m sure Arsenal will be a bit of a wounded animal on Wednesday night,” said Gerrard. “But we’ve certainly got to do what Manchester United and Chelsea have done to them, which is try and give them very little space and hit them on the counter attack. Everyone knows that if you give Arsenal time and space they will absolutely crucify you.

"It’s a massive game for us and the target on Wednesday night is to try and get a result where we can push on and try and get third place. We’re just taking each game as it comes.

"Obviously at the end of the season our target is a top four finish, but if Arsenal gives us any sniff of catching them, then we want to grab it and hopefully that will be on Wednesday night.”

Asked by former Anfield striker Collymore what the confidence was like in the Liverpool dressing room, Gerrard said: “I wouldn’t say confidence is sky-high in the dressing room, but it’s certainly on the way up. It’s certainly improving; we’re on a good run.

"But we’re not playing terrifically well to be honest. The last few performances have been more about being solid defensively and nicking important goals. We can certainly play better.”

Asked by Saggers if Liverpool had lacked ‘fight’ in earlier matches this season, Gerrard said: “There have been games this season where we have been beaten and not shown enough fight, enough good attitude and commitment and that’s why we’ve not gotten the result we’ve wanted. But I don’t think anyone can criticise us over the last six games for the level of commitment because every single player in the squad has rolled his sleeves up and everyone is fighting for the same thing.”

Collymore then suggested that Liverpool’s experience in the Champions League and previous Premier League seasons would help the nerves as they approach the ‘sharp end’ of the season. “I’d like to think so,” said Gerrard. “Having the Champions League [win] experience and also finishing in the top four for the past few years will hold us in good stead when the big games come up.

"But we’re treating every game like a cup final at the moment because we’re desperate for this top four [position]. We certainly understand the pressure coming from Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa, and also teams behind them. Because the top four is so important financially to everyone and because every player in the league wants to experience Champions League football, there’s a lot of teams fighting for it.”

Gerrard added: “I don’t think you can call it a ‘top four’ anymore. A lot of teams are putting in a lot of money and squads are improving all the time. We’ve certainly noticed it this year, that sides in the middle of the table and below are an awfully lot harder to beat. A couple of years ago, when you played teams lower down the league, you would expect to win games comfortably. But I don’t think you can say that this season. The lower [placed] teams are taking points off the top sides.”

Following the news that he was to be made England vice-captain; Gerrard was asked if he had spoken to England manager Fabio Capello. “No, he hasn’t been in touch,” said Gerrard. “In the statement he made at the weekend he made it quite clear that Rio would be captain and I would step-up to vice-captain. But no, he certainly hasn’t spoken to me, but I’m sure he’ll do that at the next get-together at the end of February.”

On whether the England squad would be ‘together’ following recent revelations about Chelsea defender John Terry’s private life, Gerrard said: “The qualifying campaign showed how much we are all together, the team spirit has been fantastic and we qualified quite comfortably, playing really well.

"So we want to carry on in that vein of form. We’ve got very few games before the World Cup. We’ve [games against] Egypt and Mexico where we’ll be looking for a couple of wins so we can go into the World Cup full of confidence. But to be successful in the summer we have to be all as one.”

Liverpool Must Now Target Arsenal - Alan Hansen

Liverpool legend Alan Hansen feels that this week could be the perfect time for Rafa Benitez's side to face Arsenal.

The Reds head to the Emirates on Wednesday having put together a seven-match unbeaten run. They have also kept clean sheets in six of those seven games.

Arsenal, in contrast, has endured a diffcult last few weeks, and has just suffered consecutive defeats to Chelsea and Manchester United.

Hansen feels that that can only have had a negative effect on the Gunners' confidence.

"Liverpool are unbeaten in their last seven league matches and have conceded just one goal in this run," Hansen told the Reds' official website.

"This may be a good time to face Arsenal with confidence knocked from their back-to-back defeats and once again showing physical weakness against their rivals.

"Liverpool have shown a real aggression, great work-rate and a will to win in recent weeks which suggests they will get right in the Gunners' faces from the off.

"Just like Chelsea and United did against Arsenal, Liverpool will pack the centre of the park, force the Gunners wide and make them resort to crossing.

"This will be food and drink to the Reds' defenders who will look to smother Arsenal's creative talents at every opportunity."

Liverpool recorded a hard-earned victory over neighbours Everton at the weekend and Hansen believes that the time is ripe to start targeting Arsenal rather than worrying about sides behind them.

He added: "Rather than looking over their shoulders at the likes of Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City, Benitez's team can target the Gunners themselves who will be just two points ahead of them if Liverpool can pick up an away win at the Emirates."

Jan Molby Tells Liverpool: 'Beat Arsenal And Third Place Is Yours'

Jan Molby believes a Liverpool win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium this week would put the Reds into the driving seat for third place, and at the same time hand a severe blow to the Gunners' own ambitions.

The Danish midfielder, who won a clutch of trophies with Liverpool in the 1980's, said Rafa Benitez's men head to North London on Wednesday confident of extending their unbeaten Premier League run to eight games, and can record their first away victory over the Gunners since a Titi Camara-inspired success in 2000.

Molby, 46, said: "I think they can go to Arsenal full of confidence. The results Liverpool have had mean they can feel they have a good chance against any team, but I think it is a good time to play Arsenal. I think Arsenal are doubting themselves at the moment after their own recent run."

The Gunners are without a win in three Premier League games, and have suffered heavy defeats to both Manchester United and Chelsea in recent weeks. From being billed as potential title challengers just a month ago, Arsenal now sit nine points below leaders Chelsea, having scored just once in their past three fixtures.

A win for Liverpool at the Emirates on Wednesday night would reduce the gap between the two clubs to just two points, and Molby believes the psychological impact that a Reds victory would have could prove crucial.

"To win at Arsenal is always a big ask," he said, "But if Liverpool were to win then the gap is only two points, and it would be interesting to see how Arsenal would respond if that were to happen. Could they react? Would they crumble?"

Molby has been impressed by Liverpool's recent revival, which continued with a gutsy, ten-man victory over Merseyside rivals Everton at Anfield on Saturday, and attributes their run of seven games without loss to two things - fighting spirit and defensive solidity.

"Liverpool are clawing their way back into form," he added, "The football is not sensational - even against Everton - but they have found some heart and some fight, and that was perhaps lacking previously."

"The defensive side is back to what it used to be - which is spot on - and that really helps. If you are not conceding goals then you are always in with a chance, and Liverpool are not conceding goals at the moment."

Molby also reserved special praise for Dirk Kuyt, whose match-winning goal against Everton was his 50th for the club.

"I've always been a fan of Dirk," he said, "He's had a bit of a bad time, but now he is doing what he does best.

"He is all about energy and getting into the box, producing the goods and scoring goals, and Liverpool are all the better for it."

Benitez And Mancini Favourites To Land Cole

SKY BET have named Liverpool and Manchester City the favourites to land Chelsea winger Joe Cole this summer. The 28-year-old is currently discussing a new contract at Chelsea, but the England international is free to sign a pre-contract with another club as his current Stamford Bridge deal runs out in the summer.

Tottenham Hotspur manager was heavily linked with a move for Joe Cole, should talks with Chelsea with breakdown following Redknapp’s tutoring of the winger when he was an up and coming starlet at West Ham. However Tottenham Hotpsur have been price out of the running by SKY BET at 25/1.

SKY BET now make Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool and Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City the favourite’s to land the West London star, with both clubs priced at 10/1. The financial restraints at Liverpool would make the free transfer signing of Joe Cole, value for money, as well as the added impetus of signing a rival’s fan favourite.

Manchester City have already raided Chelsea for left back Wayne Bridge and right winger Shaun Wright Phillips, and according SKY BET the Citizens could be set to try and lure another Chelsea star to the Eastlands.

Rafa Benitez Doesn't Expect To Sign Marouane Chamakh

Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez has conceded defeat in his attempts to sign Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh in the summer.

The Morocco international is available on a free transfer and the Liverpool FC boss was initially hopeful of bringing him to Anfield.

Only last month Liverpool FC appeared to lead the race for his signature but the player has since expressed interest in joining Arsenal, and Benitez believes any chance of securing the player is now dead.

The 26-year-old has reportedly hit out at Liverpool FC for being "fussy" over contract negotiations but Benitez is angry at the breakdown of the deal.

"I think that we will not sign him - but I will not say (any more)," said the Spaniard.

Liverpool FC Youth Crash Out Of FA Youth Cup Against Watford At Anfield

A debatable penalty and a disappointing first-half display cost Liverpool dear as they went out of the FA Youth Cup last night.

Piero Mingoia’s spot-kick was enough to help Watford score a 1-0 fifth-round victory at Anfield and land them a home quarter-final clash with Chelsea.

Liverpool coach Rodolfo Borrell was disappointed with his side in the first half, but refused to use the harsh penalty decision for his side’s exit.

Referee Matthew Bristow felt Reds’ centre-back Stephan Sama had fouled Watford skipper Eddie Oshodi in a collision in the box for the penalty. But that came in the 18th minute and despite an improvement after the break Liverpool’s youngsters failed to grab an equaliser.

Substitute Kristjan Emilsson headed agonisingly wide from Tom Ince’s cross.

And fellow sub Krisztian Adorjan found the back of the net in injury time from another Ince centre but the goal was disallowed for a marginal offside.

That was a near as Liverpool came and coach Borrell said: “It was very disappointing. The first-half display was unacceptable.

“In the second half we deserved a bit more. We played a bit better. We tried to get the ball forward more. We were more dynamic and better with the ball. The chances were not absolutely clear, because they were good defending.

“We came from a fantastic performance (in the last round) against Leicester, we beat Wolverhampton here and went to Manchester United and won in the league.

“But in the first half was too lightweight. That is not good if you want to win.”

Mukesh Ambani And Subrata Roy 'Preparing Liverpool Takeover Bid'

Two Indian business tycoons were reported last night to be lining up attempts to take control of Liverpool. Mukesh Ambani and Subrata Roy were said to be willing to pay off the club's £237m debt in return for a 51% stake in the club, according to The Times.

Ambani is India's wealthiest person with a fortune valued at about $20bn. He is the chairman of India's Reliance Industries and owns the Mumbai Indians cricket team. Roy, chairman of the Sahara Group, which sponsors the India cricket team, is also a billionaire.

Liverpool's co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have been searching for fresh investment for some time but they are not thought to want to sell more than 50% of the club's shares.

They have been seeking investment of £100m for a minority stake in the club. The Americans have been ordered by the Royal Bank of Scotland to reduce Anfield's debt by £100m before July.

The Times claim that Roy's interest appeared to be the more serious. It reported that Liverpool's chief executive, Christian Purslow, had denied knowledge of a bid but the paper said the pair had made approaches in November and that discussions had been held. However, this morning a spokesman for Ambani denied he is interested in any taking over the Merseyside club. "There is no truth to the report. We deny it completely," said Sudeep Purkayastha, from Reliance.

There is also said to be interest from the United States and from a Saudi Arabian consortium.

Hicks and Gillett are under pressure from supporters to sell. They took over in February 2007 but have not so far delivered on a project designed to deliver a new stadium and have provided the manager, Rafael Benítez, with little in the way of transfer funds for this season. Maxi Rodríguez was the only January signing.