Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal face a make or break clash against Liverpool today as the Gunners try to get back in the Premier League title race.
Wenger’s side trail leaders Liverpool by eight points ahead of this weekend’s crucial match at the Emirates Stadium and a defeat would leave their title challenge in tatters. But Arsenal have proved adept at raising their game against their main rivals, with Manchester United and Chelsea already having been dispatched by the Gunners this season.
Wenger knows another win against one of the big four is essential if Arsenal are to mount a concerted bid to take the English crown from United in the second half of the campaign.
“We are highly motivated to beat another of the so-called top four and I am convinced we have the quality to do it,” Wenger said. “It is an opportunity for us to catch them, which we want to take. With our position in the league, we know it is compulsory for us to beat the three other teams — Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool — and we want to do that on Sunday.”
While Arsenal will still be some way adrift of first place even with a win over Liverpool, Wenger takes heart from the unpredictable nature of this year’s race. Liverpool and Chelsea have already dropped several points at home, while United have struggled to win the big games away from Old Trafford.
“At the moment, the race is still very tight because it looks for me for the first time in six or seven years that the number of points for the winner of this league will be much lower than usual, because everybody drops points against everybody,” Wenger said. “For us, the first step is to get back into the race, and to get back into the race the important thing is for us is to beat Liverpool.”
While Wenger plots a way to improve Arsenal’s title prospects, Liverpool have been on auto-pilot in the absence of Rafa Benitez.
The Liverpool manager has been recuperating at home after a minor operation on a kidney stones problem last weekend, but Benitez’s attention to detail ensured a smooth week at Anfield.
Benitez has been in regular contact with Sammy Lee from his sick bed and the assistant manager fully expects his boss to make it to the Emirates today.
“He has had an eventful few days, it hasn’t been the best for him,” Lee said. “He was in a lot of pain earlier in the week, but he has got better and he will be there on Sunday. Obviously when you take a presence like Rafa away from the place it is not going to be easy. But I have phoned him every day to keep in touch and let him know what has been going on. The players have done really well, they have focused and concentrated with all the stuff which has been going on in the background.”
Benitez’s input will be crucial if Liverpool are to halt a poor run of results at Arsenal, with their last win coming in 2000 when the Gunners were still playing at Highbury.
Despite Arsenal’s erratic form this season, Lee dismissed suggestions that they have no chance of ending their four-year wait to win the title.
“I have nothing but respect for Arsenal. They are a terrific football club and a terrific institution,” he said. “You can’t write anyone off in December, particularly a side with the quality and caliber of Arsenal.”
Liverpool’s hopes of ending that run won’t be helped by the likely absence of Fernando Torres with a hamstring strain. Arsenal winger Samir Nasri could return from an ankle injury, but Kolo Toure and Nicklas Bendtner are both fitness doubts.