Arsene Wenger’s feeling unhappy at the moment. "Lucky" Liverpool are in the Champions League Final. Chelsea have won both the League and the League Cup. Arsenal are in the FA Cup final, but others are trying to ensure they can’t win it. Wenger’s side haven’t come as close to Chelsea as they’d have liked, but have still not lost a game this year.
Wenger’s fellow Frenchman Gerard Houllier was brought to Anfield to try and stop the rot that was setting in at the club. Graham Souness had destroyed all the work of his predecessors, from Shanks through to Kenny, and Roy Evans had struggled to turn it round.
Houllier managed to step things up a little – one of the first things he did at Anfield when he joined was to improve the Reds’ defence. He achieved this by installing Sami Hyypia and Stephane Henchoz in the heart of the defence. This partnership was broken up for good this season though when Jamie Carragher made himself the first name on practically every teamsheet for Rafa Benitez. In the end the Swiss defender Henchoz was released in January. Arsenal fans – and Thierry Henri – will be more than familiar with Henchoz, who handled the ball on two separate occasions in the FA Cup Final at Cardiff in 2001. Liverpool fans remember the game more for the two goals scored by Michael Owen that gave Liverpool the win. Maybe Wenger looks back on that day too when he brands Liverpool as lucky.
There will be a Swiss centre-back on display at Highbury though – Philippe Senderos of Arsenal. Senderos is now keeping Sol Campbell out of the Arsenal team, and considering Sol Campbell is well ahead of Carragher in the England pecking order, it certainly suggests he’s not a bad player. Liverpool need to win today otherwise they can’t finish fourth. Arsenal need to win to practically guarantee second place. Senderos will be hoping he can help his childhood heros to achieve this.
Many of his current team-mates, including Henry, Vierra and Pires, used to grace the bedroom wall of the 20-year-old: "Back home in my little bedroom in Geneva I had posters of the players that I liked on my wall. I had Thierry, Patrick and Robert – nearly all were players from the Arsenal team. When you arrive here at the training ground, and you discover you are training with those players, you think, now it’s my turn. For me, it was a dream. From five years old, I was saying, ‘I want to be a footballer’. All the other children in my class would laugh, and say, ‘No, you can’t be a footballer. You will have to be a doctor’, whatever. But I have always wanted to make a living like this. I have been able to live out my passion, do the thing I always loved."
Arsenal didn’t discover Senderos – he came to the attention of many top European clubs when he played for the Swiss Under-17s in the 2002 European Championships. He faced Wayne Rooney playing for England in one game. Senderos remembers it well: "He was one of the best, of course. It was after that tournament that Wayne made that great step forward, coming into the Everton first team. We won 3-0. We were the better team on that day. But he is a great player."
Senderos could have signed for Real Madrid, and with his Spanish father being a Real fan it looked likely. His father put his head before his heart though when he was advising his son: "My dad, both my parents, want the best for me, and they have always backed what I think is the best. Real Madrid are a great club, but maybe too big for an 18-year-old, as I was then. They buy players who have done something in their careers already."
He made his Arsenal debut on New Year’s Day, and Arsenal haven’t lost a league game since. He was brought into the side after Sol Campbell was injured, but Wenger has kept him in despite the England defender’s recovery. Senderos admires Campbell: "It’s great to have him back. It’s always good to have a player in the team with Sol Campbell’s quality. I can always learn from him and get better, as a person and as a player. But while I get my opportunity, I’m going to take it."
Liverpool’s strikers today won’t include Neil Mellor, to the relief of Arsenal. Mellor’s memorable winner, with the last kick of the game at Anfield, disappointed an Arsenal team that thought they’d got a point last November. Arsenal have only lost once at home though, and look favourites to win today.
For all their good performances this season, Arsenal could end the season empty-handed, and the pressure of this happening seems to have hit Arsene Wenger. He’s now complaining there’s a conspiracy against the Gunners from the powers-that-be. Chelsea and Ashley Cole face a two-day hearing just as Arsenal are preparing to play in the FA Cup final against Manchester United. Wenger claims the hearing was deliberately timed to be held then so that it would hurt Arsenal’s chances. Although it’s unlikely this is the case, his requests to postpone the hearing have fallen on deaf ears. Then again, Arsenal have had more than their fair share of fortunate decisions from the authorities – they received no punishment whatsoever after their fans threw coins at Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher in an FA Cup clash at Highbury. The Carragher of today is unlikely to act the way he did back then, when he got sent off for throwing the coin back into the crowd.
Wenger has also told Liverpool he thinks they are lucky to be in the Champions League final, and that they shouldn’t even be in the competition after only finishing fourth last season. He said that the competition should only be for champions. Of course he’s not actually said he’ll withdraw Arsenal from next year’s competition on principle, so he’s obviously not really all that concerned. The animosity between Arsenal and both Manchester United and Chelsea is obviously huge, and now he’s made comments that will no doubt bring Liverpool into this.
When Liverpool look back at a season that has been anything but lucky, with injuries to key players throughout the season, an own goal in a cup-final and more, they’ll not be thinking of themselves as lucky.
Today’s match kicks off at 16:05 UK time, with live coverage in Britain and Ireland on Sky Sports.