Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal owe it to football fans everywhere to keep the Barclays Premier League title race alive with victory over Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on Sunday. The Gunners can take advantage of Manchester United's FA Cup semi-final date with rivals City at Wembley this weekend to close the gap at the top of the table down to four points. If Arsenal can then go on and win their game in hand at north-London rivals Tottenham next Tuesday night, that deficit could be down to just a single point which would leave everything still to play for ahead of their May 1 showdown with the Red Devils at Emirates Stadium.
Even though the destiny of the championship is now out of Arsenal's hands following a run of three successive draws before their win at Blackpool last weekend, Wenger's men have not lost in the league since going down 1-0 at Old Trafford some 14 games ago. The Gunners boss insists his side must focus on extending that run with another victory over the Reds. "We are in the run for the championship so why should we at the moment feel that we are bad?" said Wenger, who launched an impassioned defence of his team following more questions about their character.
"It is important that we feel we are strong and it is important for the country that this championship race is still alive." Wenger added: "Of course we always want to win more, but you look at the history of any club and to be consistently at the top for 15 years and moving to a different stadium is not as bad as people say it is.”I just felt it is important we focus on what we can achieve, and that we do not sit here like we are on a tribunal. "What you have to accept is that England is the most difficult championship in the world, and that there are six or seven teams who can win the championship. That is why it is difficult for everybody."
Arsenal could welcome back goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny from a finger injury. Centre-half Johan Djourou (shoulder) may also recover, along with midfielders Alex Song (knee) and Denilson (toe), but full-back Bacary Sagna (knee) is a doubt. Goalkeeper Manuel Almunia (ankle) is also struggling so veteran Jens Lehmann could be set for a place on the bench again.
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish believes Andy Carroll's double strike this week is merely a hint of what is to come. The ₤35million striker grabbed his first two goals for the Reds in their impressive 3-0 demolition of Manchester City on Monday. It ended a two-month wait for the 22-year-old, who was carrying a thigh injury at the time of his club record move from Newcastle in January. Dalglish said: "It wasn't of paramount importance he scored - we put him back in a bit earlier than we probably should have, but obviously he was medically okay.”
“He just needed match practice and it was going to take him a few games to get up to that. He scored the other night but that is not his fitness complete, and it is not his career complete at Liverpool. It was just a stepping stone to go forward and produce more goals for us." Carroll, making only his fourth start for the club, played alongside fellow new recruit Luis Suarez and the pair showed signs of a promising partnership.
Uruguay striker Suarez has also made an impressive start to his Liverpool career having scored twice since his January arrival and played an instrumental role in last month's defeat of Manchester United. Dalglish added: "Sometimes it takes a little time to settle down but both Andy and Luis have been brilliant.”They have settled in very quickly and got on with the game. We are delighted with both of them."
Another player to catch the eye against City on Monday was 18-year-old right-back John Flanagan, who was handed his debut in the absence of the injured Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly. The Academy graduate's baptism of fire could now continue as Liverpool travel to title-chasing Arsenal. Dalglish said: "Circumstances accelerated his promotion a little bit and he did very well. We had no qualms about putting him in for his attitude and commitment. "At just 18 years of age, to play against Manchester City is a big test, and he came through it fine."
Johnson and Kelly remain sidelined with hamstring injuries but Liverpool has no fresh fitness concerns as they seek their first win at the Emirates Stadium. Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger are the other major absentees having both been ruled out for the rest of the season.