Saturday, August 20, 2011

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Liverpool

Arsenal begins Premier League life after Cesc Fabregas, and probably Samir Nasri, when they host Liverpool live on Saturday lunchtime.

Arsene Wenger and his club have been headline fodder for the majority of the summer amid what has undoubtedly been the most difficult period of the Frenchman's 15 years in England.

The sale of Fabregas to Barcelona was inevitable, but, with Manchester City also closing in on Nasri, Arsenal is being portrayed as a club in crisis.

Some fans have turned on Wenger as a result and chants of to the effect of 'spend some money' could be heard during the 0-0 draw at Newcastle on the opening day of the season.

An edgy 1-0 win over Udinese in midweek in the UEFA Champions League play-offs has done little to appease the doubters and a positive performance against Liverpool is essential as a consequence.

But Kenny Dalglish's new-look visitors need to show their own mettle after the less-than-inspiring 1-1 draw with Sunderland at Anfield last Saturday.

Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Jose Enrique all made their Premier League debuts for Liverpool in the draw, but did not have critics raving.

After a controversial, late draw at Emirates Stadium in April, a first three points at Arsenal in the 12th attempt would therefore give a significant indication of the new era under Dalglish.

Jack Wilshere is set to miss the game and is 50-50 for Wednesday night's Champions League return in Udinese.

Wilshere was on Thursday still undergoing treatment on his troublesome ankle injury, which it was originally hoped would clear up in time for last weekend's opener at Newcastle.

That game cost Wenger two more players, with new striker Gervinho sent off and midfielder Alex Song punished in retrospect with both starting three-match bans on Saturday.

The Udinese game saw Kieran Gibbs and substitute Johan Djourou both limp off with hamstring strains, joining Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Armand Traore on the sidelines.

That could force Wenger to hand summer signing Carl Jenkinson his Premier League debut against Liverpool in the unfamiliar position of left-back.

Defender Glen Johnson is an injury doubt for Liverpool, while captain Steven Gerrard continues his recovery from his groin problem.

England full-back Johnson missed last week's opening match with a hamstring injury and manager Dalglish rates him as his only doubt for the trip to London.

Dalglish may opt to make changes, with Martin Kelly and Dirk Kuyt pushing for the staring places of John Flanagan and Henderson.

Possible starting XIs:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Walcott, Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Chamakh, Van Persie.

Liverpool: Reina, Kelly, Agger, Carragher, Enrique, Lucas, Adam, Kuyt, Downing, Suarez, Carroll.

Dalglish: We Are Due A Win At Arsenal

Liverpool may never have a better time to end their miserable away run against Arsenal but manager Kenny Dalglish insists his team will not under-estimate Arsene Wenger's side.

The sale of captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona earlier this week and the impending departure of Samir Nasri to Manchester City have only added to the Gunners' problems.

Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Armand Traore were joined on the injury list by Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou after their midweek Champions League victory over Udinese.

And with new signing Gervinho and Alex Song also suspended for Saturday's match everything is pointing towards the Reds ending a stretch of 14 away matches to Arsenal without a win.

Liverpool's last victory came in February 2000 and only two of that winning side - Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, currently sidelined by injury - are still at Anfield.

"Maybe we're due for a win," said Dalglish.

"But it is not going to make it any easier for us because they have lost Fabregas, Nasri is unlikely to be playing and they have a couple of suspensions.

"It will still be a difficult game for us. Arsenal has been most football fans' second team because they play great football and are entertaining to watch.

"Unfortunately they have not won anything for six years and that is the monkey they would love to have off their back.

"But they are still a team I have the greatest respect for and so we go in there and hopefully we can make it as difficult for them as they will for us.

"I don't know how they are going to react, it is up to us to know how we are gong to react.

"We can control what we do and we can compete against them - that is all we can do."

Having begun their season positively with a good first half at home to Sunderland Dalglish saw his side fade after the interval as they were held to a 1-1 draw.

The Scot insists, however, that fitness is not an issue, pointing to the fact he fielded four debutants and two players who had been involved at the Copa America.

"The boys that played with the emotions and the magnitude of the task in front of them, for different reasons, it was understandable that the second half was maybe not as good as the first," he said.

"But we have no problem at all in terms of their fitness.

"We were disappointed with the performance because we can play better than that but we have a lot more positives to take out of it when we look back now than we thought we did at the time."

One of those debutants last weekend was Jose Enrique, who was thrust into the action just over 24 hours after completing his £6million move from Newcastle.

The Spaniard believes he has joined a team who can regain their top-four slot and, in future, hopes can win the Champions League again.

Enrique may only have been at Anfield for a week but it has not taken him long to spot the differences between his former and current employers.

Since January the Magpies have sold him, Andy Carroll (to Liverpool) and Kevin Nolan, three of their biggest names.

In comparison, Dalglish has spent more than £100million in transforming the squad during the same period.

"We have a good squad. They (Liverpool) had an amazing team before and they signed good players this summer - me too," he joked.

"It is a different mentality and they want to have an amazing team again like the Liverpool before.

"Liverpool wants to spend money. If they get in the top four this year they will spend a lot more.

"That is why I am here. I am really happy because it is a dream just to be here at a team that wants to spend money on players and be in the top four.

"Both teams fight for different things. In Newcastle there is a different mentality now, they don't want to spend a lot of money but here they want to spend and be big again."

Kuyt Wants Arsenal Start

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt has revealed that he was disappointed not to have started against Sunderland last weekend but hopes to feature against Arsenal on Saturday.

The Dutch international striker was left on the bench by manager Kenny Dalglish in the Premier League opener at Anfield and was brought on only after the hour-mark.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw and although Kuyt says that he is pleased with the result, he admits that it was not easy for him to watch from the bench.

"I'm happy we're on the way now," Kuyt told Liverpool's official website. "The draw against Sunderland wasn't what we were hoping for - we wanted three points, but that's behind us now and a really big game is waiting for us on Saturday.

"I am feeling very well. It's my first full pre-season in many years. Last year, for example, I had two weeks to prepare for the season, but this year I had a full pre-season and I have to say I am feeling fitter than ever.

"I am desperate to play and was disappointed not to start on Saturday, but the manager needs to decide who he's going to pick - and hopefully he's going to pick me for the next game."

The former Feyenoord striker is also confident of a successful 2011-12 campaign and enthused: "I am very excited by the new season. I think the owners and manager have done a great job with the players who have come in January and the summer.

"It's very positive, we have a great squad, but it's now up to the players to show we are also a great team and have the ability to compete with the best."

Kuyt, who has established himself as one of the key players for Liverpool with his versatility and work ethic, is also enthusiastic about summer signings Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Alexander Doni, Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique.

"I think they've settled in very well," stated the 31-year-old. "A big plus for them, and for us, was that most of them arrived in pre-season so we could train and work with them during pre-season and get to know them better. That was very good and I think they've all done very well and are happy to be here.

"It's the job of everyone (to welcome new players), whether you are experienced or not. We have to try to help each other because at the end of the day, we need each other if we want to achieve something.

"You always try to make the new lads feel welcome. I think I did and the rest of the lads did as well, so hopefully we can have a great season together."

Liverpool And Chelsea Set For Shock Swap Deal

Liverpool is reportedly set to propose a remarkable swap deal with Chelsea if the Blues are serious in their pursuit of Raul Meireles.

Chelsea are focusing their efforts this summer on bolstering a midfield that was often left short of creativity and imagination last season and are attempting to recruit Valencia's Juan Mata and Tottenham star Luka Modric.

The Blues have also been linked with Portugal international Meireles, who they believe can add more drive and work-rate to the middle of the park. It is thought manager Andre Villas-Boas is a fan of the 28-year-old having worked with him briefly while both were at Porto.

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is keen to trim the size of his midfield following the arrivals of Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing. Despite being recognized as Liverpool's player of the season last year, it is thought Meireles could be sold in order to free up some space and to ease the wage bill.

And according to, the Merseyside club will demand striker Daniel Sturridge in return for Meireles if Chelsea firm up their interest with an offer.

England U-21 star Sturridge was in superb form last season whilst on-loan at Bolton. After joining Wanderers in January, the 21-year-old forward bagged eight goals in 12 appearances but still finds himself way down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge.

Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba are the obvious first-choice while the presence of Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou and £20m new-boy Romelu Lukaku means Sturridge has dropped further down the list.

Liverpool are keen to bring in another striker as they are short of options behind Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez but whether Sturridge will be willing to swap the bench at Chelsea for Anfield is uncertain.

Alberto Aquilani's Chances Of Liverpool Exit Boosted

Alberto Aquilani’s chances of ending up at AC Milan before the transfer window shuts have been given a boost by Fiorentina.

The Rossoneri have been targeting Fiorentina midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, but have been informed that La Viola is very unlikely to sell the 26-year-old to another Italian club.

Indeed, should Montolivo leave Fiorentina, then the club do not want to strengthen a domestic rival. This has put Bayern Munich in the driving seat, with the Allianz Arena outfit also keeping a close eye on the Italy international.

And so out-of-favour Liverpool midfielder Aquilani, who is also on Milan’s radar, has seen his chances of ending up at the Serie A champions boosted.

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri is desperate for a midfielder to be added to his squad and would be fully prepared for that man to be Aquilani.

The former Roma playmaker is surplus to requirements at Anfield and would like to exit Liverpool in a permanent move after spending last season on loan at Juventus.

However, Aquilani is believed to be so determined to head back to Italy, certain he will receive few opportunities under Kenny Dalglish at Anfield, that he would also accept a loan if that were the only escape route on offer.

Reds Open To Poulsen Exit

Christian Poulsen's agent has revealed Liverpool are willing to let the midfielder leave the club.

The Danish international has found himself out of favour at Liverpool after failing to make an impact since arriving from Juventus last summer.

The summer signings of midfielders Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam have pushed Poulsen further down the pecking order at Anfield and the club is now prepared to offload the 31-year-old.

Poulsen's agent, Jorn Bonnesen, has confirmed the player has been told he will not be playing regularly for Liverpool this season and that he is looking for a new club for the midfielder.

"I've talked with Liverpool now. They have said that they are not confident that they can meet Christian's desire for playing time, and they understand that we are trying to find a new club for Christian," Bonnesen told

"We look about us and explore the options.

"There are clubs interested, but I can not tell more about the possibilities.”

Dalglish: Keeping Liverpool FC Squad Happy Is A Challenge

Kenny Dalglish admits keeping Liverpool’s bulging squad happy could prove one of his biggest managerial challenges this season.

The Anfield outfit has embarked on a major summer recruitment drive with more than £50m spent on signing Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Jose Enrique and Alexander Doni.

However, Liverpool have struggled to move on many senior players during the transfer window, with only Nabil El Zhar, Daniel Ayala, Paul Konchesky and Milan Jovanovic having departed.

The substantial playing staff was illustrated when Joe Cole, Maxi Rodriguez and Alberto Aquilani didn’t even make the bench for last Saturday’s Premier League opener at home to Sunderland. Dirk Kuyt, an ever-present in recent seasons, was only a substitute, and a lack of European football means there will be significantly less first-team opportunities for fringe players this season.

And while insistent everyone will have a part to play, Dalglish admits ensuring morale stays high among the fringe players is a priority.

“It is a squad, not a team,” says the Liverpool manager, whose team visit Arsenal in today’s early Premier League kick-off. “We are a squad and the team will change throughout the season.

“People will play and people won’t play. You won’t get any success with 11 people. You’ll have success when you have got about 20 to pick from. Everyone will play a part.

“The most difficult thing I found in management first time around was the players who were not playing. There were only one or two subs in those days and you had to keep them happy.

“The happier they are, the better they play and train and that means the players who are playing are under more pressure. You are only as good as the players that aren’t playing.”

El Zhar was this week released from his contract, and is expected to join Spanish side Levante.

Another player heading for Spain could be Dani Pacheco, who is poised to join Rayo Vallecano on a season-long loan.

Dalglish, meanwhile, has intimated he may have been asking too much by selecting four debutants and two players with only limited training to start Liverpool’s Premier League campaign last week.

Henderson, Downing, Adam and Enrique all began the match, along with Lucas Leiva and Luis Suarez, who had recently appeared in the Copa America.

Liverpool appeared to run out of steam after the interval, but Dalglish said: “It's a huge ask. It was an emotive day for a lot of people. Lucas had only been back 10 days, Luis a week.

“Maybe it was my fault for going along those lines. But there's no problem with the players' fitness.”

Martin Skrtel could be in contention for a starting role after returning to training this week, but Glen Johnson is still struggling with his thigh problem.

Ayre Accuses Government In Liverpool Stadium Row

Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has angrily responded to housing minister Grant Shapps after he criticized the amount of time it is taking the club to decide on its stadium future.

Liverpool recently had a public disagreement with Liverpool City Council about the delay in deciding whether to remain at Anfield or move to a new stadium in nearby Stanley Park.

Although Liverpool City Council and the government fell out last February over the "Big Society" idea as council leader Joe Anderson jettisoned David Cameron's hopes of turning Liverpool into a "pilot" area for the scheme, it would appear the council and Whitehall are unanimous in their disapproval of the club's impasse over its stadia intentions.

"In the interests of the wider community, the club needs to make a swift decision on whether they plan to build a new stadium or stay where they are – either way the residents around Anfield deserve to know," Shapps said.

"The delay is causing unnecessary uncertain for the community. Local residents are living in limbo.

"The council has already asked for extra time for the lease on Stanley Park by six months to allow the club time to explore all options, but the quicker Liverpool FC makes a decision, the more options they have."

Yet Ayre cast any notions of diplomacy aside in his startling riposte, accusing the government of being complicit in the lack of investment in the Anfield region. "It is extremely disappointing Mr. Shapps should publicly point the finger at Liverpool FC and claim they alone are delaying the regeneration of the local area, when he is fully aware of the impact of central government cutbacks on the whole city," Ayre wrote.

"If Mr. Shapps had taken the time to learn anything about our City, our football club and our community, he would know that we all work together and pull together and we only try to score points on the football pitch, not in the media."