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Liverpool v. Arsenal, 12.13.09

All you need to know about the last time these two teams met at Anfield.

This time, however, the circumstances surrounding the fixture are a bit different.

After what turned out to be quite a day for the Premier League table, Arsenal are poised to signal their title intent. Chelsea, United, Tottenham, and City all dropped points, and tomorrow presents Arsenal with the chance to start to distance themselves from the rest of the fourth through eighth-place jumble. A win tomorrow would surely boost their credentials, and much like Liverpool, they're lifted by the return of some big names. Andrei Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas, and William Gallas are the most notable, in addition to Armand Traore and Abou Diaby. They're still lacking in fitness up front, however, with the long-term loss of Robin Van Persie and the shorter-term struggles of Eduardo. Missing those two would be more encouraging if it didn't mean that Arshavin might feature up front, and there's little discussion needed about the impact he had last year. Never before have I felt such a mixture of rage, admiration, and despair.

From Wenger:

"I don't know why it should be a two-horse race. Man United are two points behind Chelsea but we have a game in hand. That means if we win our game in hand then we are three points behind Man United. How can you say then with 25 games to go it's a two-horse race?

"I said after our game against them that Chelsea would drop points. Do you remember my statement? And everybody looked at me like 'this guy has completely lost the plot'.

"One week later they lost at Man City. They have lost three games now and they will lose more games, don't worry.

"This season, more than ever, it looks to be a very open Premier League campaign. Everybody has already slipped up - us at Sunderland, Man United at Burnley - nobody can really predict what will happen.

"I really don't believe that there is any difference in the League at the moment. You cannot say that any team is dominating. Yes Chelsea are on top but they lost as well three games already and we have only played 14 or 15 games.

"It shows you that it will be down to consistency and consistency for us is starting to be regularly performing again. We had been disrupted by the international break and lost two games after that but now we won again against Stoke and we want to confirm that win. But remember this game is big as well for Liverpool as well as us."

The big news on the Liverpool side of things is that the side is nearing complete fitness. I say this with some hesitation, but it looks as though all the big names are poised to figure in the starting eleven. Fernando Torres is raring to go, Steven Gerrard seems to be finding form, and the ongoing Alberto Aquilani saga may have stabilized. Albert Riera is the only semi-regular that *should* be missing tomorrow. One of the most important aspects of Liverpool's approach tomorrow will be their play in defense--regardless of the fact that Arsenal are missing Van Persie and Eduardo. Arsenal have the man/boypower to exploit any side's defense, and for an inconsistent Liverpool back line this is troubling stuff. I think Rafa has to go with Johnson, Carra, Agger, and Insua, but the composure and dead-ball play of Aurelio might push him into the side ahead of the young Argentine.

Now's as good a time as any to see what Aquilani can bring to the table. He got his first taste of the starting eleven against Fiorentina, but that game never had the atmosphere to test his mettle. His presence, however raw it may be at this time, could stretch Arsenal in midfield, and if he's able to exert any influence creatively it'll be an upgrade over the previously preferred partnership of Lucas and Masch. The front four will likely have no surprises--Kuyt will play wide right, Benayoun on the left, and Gerrard will flank Torres up front. It's been tough going of late for Liverpool in attack, but if this four can click tomorrow, we could start to see things move in the right direction.

From Rafa:

On Arsene Wenger...

I think it's amazing what he has achieved here in England, especially when you are a foreign manager. It is difficult because you need to understand a lot of things in a different country. He is a great manager.

On Cesc Fabregas...

Arsenal have top-class players. They play with a good mentality and they pass the ball quickly. They have players who can change a game. Fabregas is one of their best players. He is a player with a very good mentality who can manage and can dictate the tempo of a game. He is a very good passer of the ball and he's a personality so we know he is a player we have to keep an eye on all of the time.

On the 4-4 draw with Arsenal at Anfield last season...

That was an amazing game with a lot of goals. It was good for the fans but it wasn't the best for the manager because we both conceded four goals. We want to play well, score goals and not concede on Sunday.

A "must-win" fixture in a season that has nothing but the rest of the way. Liverpool can't afford to be too conservative here, and if they're going to salvage any pride they've got to come to win tomorrow. Save for a couple faces this is the same Liverpool side that scored an avalanche of goals in February and March. I'm of the opinion that the lack of confidence and poor results lately has a lot to do with how conservatively Liverpool have played. Clearly injuries have played a part in this, but sitting back and hoping they can nick a goal at some point is not the best way to move forward. Obviously I'd take 1-0 for the Reds, but I'd also love to see some attacking verve and conviction.

Another reminder that Martin and I will be live-blogging starting about 15 minutes before kickoff, which is 11:00 EST in the States. We'd love to have you take part...as of right now the plan is to have it dual-hosted on both blogs, so visit either site to join in.

Come on you Reds!