Liverpool-Arsenal: Can Gunners Compound Reds' Misery on Sunday?
Russian maestro Andrey Arshavin wheels away in celebration of his fourth goal against Liverpool at Anfield last season.
For the Arsenal faithful, it signalled the arrival of a new hero, someone who may finally warrant the right to tie Dennis Bergkamp's shoelaces. For Liverpool fans, it all but put the nail in the coffin of their dwindling title challenge.
This season it seems their title challenge was over before it even began.
Rafa Benitez's charges have lost 33 percent of their games this season and lie 12 points behind league leaders Chelsea.
Their miserable League form transferred over to the European stage where the five times winners of Europe's premier trophy, the UEFA Champions League, succumbed to an early exit in a group that included Lyon, Fiorentina, and Debrecen.
The Reds will enter the newly reformed Europa League in the new year in what may well be viewed more a hindrance than a help.
Continual injury troubles to key players Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres has not helped their cause.
Added to this Benitez's bizarre decision to replace midfield lynch-pin Xabi Alonso with the injury prone Alberto Aquilani and Liverpool's problems are plentiful.
Only now is Aquilani returning to fitness with the season nearing its midway point.
Benitez claims to have limited resources to buy players, and while I will not argue this is untrue, you have to ask the wisdom of spending a reported £17 million on defender Glen Johnson who isn't very good at defending.
With Torres out injured, Liverpool often lack that cutting edge upfront with David N'Gog still learning his trade.
However, Liverpool fans can breathe a sigh of relief with the news that both Gerrard and Torres will be back in the starting line-up for Saturday, although how fit they are is open to debate.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger too has plenty of injury problems.
Talisman Robin van Persie is out for most of the season. His expected replacement upfront, Nicklas Bendtner, is out until the new year with a groin injury. He is joined on the sidelines by Thomas Rosicky, Emmanuel Eboue, Gael Clichy, and Kieran Gibbs.
These injuries have forced Wenger into using third-choice left back Armand Traore, who it must be said is getting better with each game.
The loss of Van Persie, Bendtner, and Eduardo coupled with the patchy form of Carlos Vela saw Wenger play Arshavin up front against Stoke. The move paid off in leaps and bounds as the Russian's movement caused havoc in the Stoke defence.
What chances Arshavin starting up front again on Sunday?
Pepe Reina will surely love the sight of Arshavin coming at him—last time he picked the ball out of the net four times.
Arsenal's form has been as patchy as Liverpool's; however, the Gunners have managed to collect points from some of the "smaller" teams while Liverpool have dropped points to Blackburn and Birmingham.
Both have lost to early leaders Chelsea, while Liverpool lost to Spurs who Arsenal beat, while Liverpool succeeded where Arsenal failed in beating current Champions Manchester United.
More importantly, Arsenal are still in this season's Champions League and without being pedantic have a one in sixteen chance of winning it. The Gunners are also four points ahead of the Reds in the battle for a Champions League spot next season.
The prospect of missing Europe's premier event is a catastrophic thought for both clubs. It is however a very real one as Manchester City, Aston Villa, Tottenham, and even Fulham are piling in the pressure.
The game is hard to call.
If Liverpool come out with the fighting spirit they showed against Manchester United, it will be very hard for Arsenal to come away with anything.
However, should they repeat their performances against Birmingham and Fiorentina, Arsenal's attacking power of Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas, and Samir Nasri could cause them trouble. There is also the possibility of seeing the on form Aaron Ramsey.
A draw would suit Arsenal best as the away team.
A win for Arsenal will see them close their grip on third place and move further away from Liverpool whilst also compounding the Red's misery following the draw at Blackburn and defeat to Fiorentina.
Defeat for Arsenal who bring back the cries of "we can't beat the big boys" whilst also dragging the Gunners back down into the battle for fourth.
One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of incident in the game.
Thomas '89, Owen '01, Arshavin '08/'09, what of '09/'10?
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