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August 15, 2010 4:00 PM BST
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Premier League Preview: Liverpool - Arsenal

By Graham Lister

Arsenal - Premier League,Arsene Wenger (Getty Images)
Great expectations as two giants aim to silence doubters

Roy Hodgson
kicks off the new Premier League season as he ended the last one – with a game against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. But whereas in May he was in charge of Fulham, resting key players for their trip to the Emirates a few days before contesting the Europa League final, now he is at the helm of Liverpool, still England’s most successful club, even if the glory days are fast receding into the distance.

Taking over at Anfield is Hodgson’s reward not only for working wonders at Craven Cottage, but for a lengthy career of solid if not always spectacular achievement in European club and international football.

His task is a tough one: the Reds lost their way alarmingly in what turned out to be Rafa Benitez’s last season in charge, aiming for first and finishing seventh while making early exits from every cup competition, including the Champions League.

His first Premier League game as Liverpool boss will also be Wenger’s 525th in charge of the Gunners, and although the Frenchman has lost only 85 of those, compared with 307 wins, and has finished in the top four in every one of his 14 seasons in North London, he is arguably under even greater pressure to deliver than Hodgson.

‘Arsenal haven’t won a trophy since 2005’ is in danger of becoming the latest football cliché, and is something that no doubt irks Wenger as much as it frustrates the fans.

He’s been accused of being too frugal, too stubborn, too obsessed with the beautiful game and over-reliant on youth in pursuit of his principles. There’s talk he’s about to commit to a new contract that would effectively bind him to the Gunners for the rest of his career; but at the same time there is speculation that this will be his last season at the Emirates if he fails to end the trophy drought.

Will changes bring greater staying power?

Both squads have new signings who’ll be looking to integrate and impress from the off –  including Joe Cole, Christian Poulsen, Milan Jovanovic, Laurent Koscielny and Marouane Chamakh.

But in an unwelcome echo of last season, both teams may also be without key players - World Cup finalists, no less -  as Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie have all been struggling to reach match fitness in time for Sunday afternoon’s opener.

Injuries (and in some cases loss of form) were a recurring motif for both clubs last season, and for both, their prospects of improvement will depend on being able to keep their respective treatment rooms unclogged.

There have also been some significant departures over the summer: Arsenal have seen no fewer than four central defenders move on, while Yossi Benayoun has quit Anfield and Javier Mascherano could yet follow him.

Liverpool fans crave greater consistency (and a little less caution) on the pitch, and greater stability off it. Hodgson’s arrival has brought an air of calm and optimism to Anfield, but the ownership issue remains a distraction. Arsenal fans are looking for more durability, especially at the back, and less naivety, especially against Chelsea and Manchester United.

It is unlikely that either manager has concluded his summer transfer business, so both teams are works in progress; but this weekend's most compelling fixture may offer some clues about which one of these two giants has the stronger credentials.

Playing A Song | Torres tries at Anfield last season



Latest signing Christian Poulsen, who joined the Reds from Juventus on Thursday - though not, insists Hodgson, as a replacement for Javier Mascherano (who is also in contention to face Arsenal) - could start in midfield.

There was encouraging news that Fernando Torres has recovered from the groin injury he picked up at the World Cup, but Hodgson may prefer to have him as an option on the bench than risk him from the start.

Another World Cup participant, Martin Skrtel, is nursing an ankle injury.

Possible Starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Agger; Poulsen, Mascherano; Jovanovic, Gerrard, Cole; Ngog.   


Wenger admitted that playmaker captain Cesc Fabregas and striker Robin van Persie were well behind the rest of the squad in terms of fitness after playing in the World Cup through to the final, and would struggle to be fit in time.

But new signings Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny should both start, and England debutant Jack Wilshere could be in contention, especially as fellow midfielders Denilson (stomach), Abou Diaby and Alex Song (both calf) may be ruled out with knocks.

Nicklas Bendtner (groin), Johan Djourou (hamstring) and Aaron Ramsey (broken leg) are sidelined.

Possible Starting XI: Almunia; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song; Rosicky, Wilshere, Nasri, Arshavin; Chamakh.



Joe Cole is thought to have spurned Arsenal to join Liverpool, and will feel he has a point to prove this season after having been jettisoned by Chelsea, with whom he won three Premier League titles.

He also endured a less than satisfying World Cup, and there are plenty of critics who, perhaps harshly, still eye him with suspicion as something of a luxury player who has never truly fulfilled the outstanding potential he showed as a West Ham teenager.

Cole has vowed to do all he can to help revive Liverpool's fortunes, and to supply the bullets for Torres and Gerrard to fire. Sunday offers the perfect opportunity to start making good on those promises.   


Although he has committed himself to the Gunners, Cesc Fabregas is not expected to start, so there will be much interest in the Gunners' new signings; but this fixture has previously brought the best out of diminutive Russian forward Andrey Arshavin, and he will relish the chance to produce a third consecutive man-of-the-match performance at Anfield.

Having scored a stunning four goals in the 4-4 draw in April 2009, he also netted Arsenal's winner in last season's 2-1 victory. There is a feeling that Arshavin was not as consistently effective last term as he'd been in his initial half-season at the Emirates; being deployed as a makeshift striker didn't help, but expectations will be high this time around.


A year ago, Arsenal travelled to Liverpool for the first game of the season and thrashed Everton 6-1. They're back on Merseyside to start the latest campaign, but this time in the red corner of Stanley Park, where the feeling is that a new chapter in the Anfield club's history is about to be written. Defensive, cautious, sometimes paranoid Rafa has given way to more relaxed, diplomatic and media-friendly Roy. How much difference will it make on the pitch?

Last season Arsenal did the double over Hodgson’s Fulham; they also beat Liverpool home (1-0) and away (2-1) and knocked them out of the League Cup (2-1). Although the Reds have lost only four times in their last 17 league meetings at Anfield, they’ve also won only three of their last 18 Premier League games against Arsenal – which just shows you can prove anything with statistics. It's a tough start for both teams; both may have to settle for a draw.

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal

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