Arsenal v Liverpool: Match Preview
With tomorrow’s Premier League showpiece sufficiently well positioned to kick-off the fixture freneticism that so dominates the festive season, the conveniently placed curtain-raiser finds itself carrying a more coincidental gravitas for either side – each approaching the encounter at pivotal points of their campaigns.
League leaders Liverpool, having shown neither the flair nor tenacity of champions, have had chance to masquerade as front-runners amidst the inadequacy of others, while Arsenal, who lie in fifth, are looking to shirk the prospect of a season spent solely battling for fourth.
Yet while both look fallible – Liverpool as pacesetters; Arsenal as Champions League contenders – there is an unusual sense of opportunity this season, of the Premiership of old; before the efficiency of Mourinho’s Chelsea; embodied by Aston Villa, who sit fourth. It is opportunity not lost to anyone, leaders or trailers.
For all the scepticism levelled at Liverpool’s title challenge, Scolari’s Chelsea have escaped similar criticism with little more than a series of eye-catching results early on, winning by four or more on five occasions – the last a 5-0 league win over Sunderland on November 1st.
A poorer home record than Liverpool (who have drawn to Stoke City, Fulham, West Ham and Hull at Anfield) has since nullified their perfect away record, and having picked up just one point in three home encounters against Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United, their performances against the big teams have hampered their challenge.
Conversely it has been their proficiency against Chelsea and Manchester United that has spiced the seasons of Arsenal and Liverpool. Having both found victory at Stamford Bridge, home wins apiece against Manchester United have served to smooth over mishaps elsewhere.
Such results have eased the pain of whimpered exits in the Carling Cup – for Liverpool away to Spurs; Arsenal away to Burnley – and allowed fans, if briefly, to dream of some grander glory on a more significant stage.
Talk may now be of a fight for fourth for Arsenal, but victory at the Emirates would see them close to within five points of Liverpool – an event that would inexorably haul the gunners back into contention for the title.
With Torres still absent with a hamstring injury, Liverpool’s attack has faltered of late, relying on Steven Gerrard twice to rescue a 2-2 draw against Hull at Anfield last week. Arsenal are still without Theo Walcott, but will take heart in the availability of Robin Van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor, who between them have four goals in the gunners’ last three Premiership games.