Liverpool’s clash with Arsenal tomorrow is still being spoken about in terms of its impact on both sides’ chances of winning the league, even though both sides have been written off more than once this season. It’s the way the modern game works – every game that’s played, especially when on live TV, has to be made out to be the most important game of the season. If a TV pundit says that this is the last chance for one of the teams they rarely actually mean it. Especially when that team gets another chance every week for the next three months.
In reality Liverpool and Arsenal have little hope of winning the title as things stand, they are relying on Manchester United and Chelsea to start slipping up before they can think of that. In the meantime though they need to keep their own form at as high a level as possible so that the gaps don’t get any bigger. Liverpool are eleven points off the top, further behind than Arsenal who are ten points behind United with a game in hand.
Liverpool midfielder Bolo Zenden is in with more of a chance than he’d expected of getting a start at the Emirate’s stadium tomorrow for Liverpool’s first ever visit. He says that Liverpool have to build on their recent home successes and the away win midweek in the Carling Cup and start picking up some away points: “It will be a very important game for us on Sunday. We are aware where we are in the league. We know our away form hasn't been the best but lately we have stepped it up a gear and done better than we did at the beginning of the season. One of our aims is to get the Anfield form into the away games as well and we are working hard at it.”
Liverpool have played good football in many of the games they’ve dropped points in this season but, as Zenden says, that isn’t enough: “It is one thing playing well but it is also important to get the wins under your belt. If you look at the Birmingham game, it wasn't the prettiest but we did keep a clean sheet and we did win. That is something we definitely have to work for. We had a few good results lately away from home in the Champions League so we are fairly confident we can do the job on Sunday but it will definitely be a tough game.”
From what Bolo is saying, Liverpool are going to try and stick to basics now: “We have to do better in away games but sometimes it can't always be pretty. I am sure the away results will come. It's nice to play well but if you lose at the end it is not very enjoyable.”
It’s never easy trying to guess what kind of formation Rafa Benítez might choose, and a 3-5-2 wouldn’t be totally unexpected tomorrow. If that’s the case then Bolo may get a chance to start, likewise if Rafa goes 4-4-2 with Gerrard on the right. Jermaine Pennant may get the nod in that position, against his old club, meaning that Bolo would find himself less likely to start. The main reason that Bolo is being considered is because of the freak injury to Momo Sissoko in midweek that sees him missing now for the next three months. Whilst obviously glad to get more chances to play himself, Bolo knows that Momo’s absence is a massive frustration for the Reds: “It is a big blow losing Sissoko. We all know how important he is to us. We hope he is back as soon as possible. He is a fantastic player with a lot of energy and always ready for a challenge. We will definitely miss him but we have got a big squad with quality players that can do a job.” Bolo is well aware of how it feels to be out long term, having been in a similar situation a year ago: “Last November I did my cruciate ligaments. With a big injury you need a bit of time but I am just pleased to get all the minutes under my belt and am trying to do better and am fighting for my place now.”
Meanwhile, in the Arsenal camp, there’s still a hope there that they can get back into contention for the title by beating Liverpool. Gunners midfielder Gilberto says this is a must-win game for the former Highbury residents: “If we want to fight for the title then we must win this game. This season we have dropped many points already, that is why we are so far from the leaders, but we know we want to fight for the title and that is why this is a crucial moment for us.”
Gilberto is hoping that Liverpool will arrive looking for all three points and not play with a negative attitude in the hope of a draw. This, he says, is better for Arsenal: “I think it is much better – not easier – but better when we play against a team like Liverpool because they will not sit back just to defend. They will come out and want to play – they want to win – but at the same time, we are confident for this game.”
Arsenal drew 1-1 against Liverpool’s bitter neighbours Everton two weeks ago then lost against their own neighbours West Ham last week, which had come on the back of a winning streak of six games across all competitions. Liverpool are currently on a run of five successive wins in all competitions, four of those at home. Gilberto is hopeful for a win today to bring back the confidence for his team: “This is the kind of match that, if you win, gives you a lot of confidence because we are going to play against a great team with good players. We need to concentrate from the start because if you make a big mistake against a team like that they kill you. That is why we cannot afford to miss so many chances when we get an opportunity to score.”
Scoring is something Gilberto feels is an issue for Arsenal at the moment, but again something that is related to confidence: “We just need to put the ball in the back of the net to get more confidence. Many times we can create a chance, but sometimes we do not finish. Even if you do not get a good shot sometimes it deflects off somebody else and goes into the back of the net. And once we start to score, the goals will keep coming.”