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Premier League Preview: Liverpool - Arsenal

Kick-off: Tuesday, April 21, 20:00 GMT. Anfield, Merseyside.

Eyes On The Prize

For the first time in the best part of two decades, Liverpool are seriously contending for the league title heading into the final few weeks of the season. Manchester United are but a solitary point ahead (albeit with a game in hand), Chelsea are three points behind, and Reds fans the world over are hanging on every minute of their side's every league fixture.

What's more, there is now nothing else to distract them from their goal, as this is their only remaining chance of collecting silverware this term.

Last Wednesday, Rafael Benitez's men headed to Stamford Bridge hoping to overturn a 3-1 deficit in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. What ensued will go down as one of the most entertaining encounters in the history of European football, but the 4-4 scoreline saw the Blues advance and the Reds - for the first time since 2006 - fail to reach the last four.

While some supporters will be miffed that Liverpool's status as the kings of Europe is under threat, the vast majority may be quietly thankful that Benitez has no other competitions to concentrate on. There can be no question now as to what is the club's top priority - for even though the Spanish tactician has often declared that the Premier League is his main concern, his team selections either side of certain cup ties have perhaps indicated otherwise.

Tuesday's game is, on paper, the toughest in the Merseysiders' run home. And although they are in red-hot form on the domestic scene (five wins on the trot, tallying 16 goals in the process), their opponents are in pretty decent touch themselves - weekend activities aside.

Out Of The Cup, But Still On The Up

Arsenal have also won their last five Premier League games; and they too have racked up 16 goals in that stretch. And even though they did what Liverpool couldn't by booking a spot in the Champions League semi-finals, they too failed to contain Didier Drogba and so were downed by Guus Hiddink's Pensioners in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger may have had some harsh words to say about the Wembley pitch afterwards (sentiments seconded by Sir Alex Ferguson following Everton's penalty shoot-out win on Sunday), but he refused to play the blame game and instead vowed that his Gunners would rebound instantly and fiercely.

"The season is not petering out. We are in the last four in Europe, we have just played in the semi-final of the FA Cup and we still have to get as close as possible in the Premier League," the French manager said.

"We dropped out of things last season but I believe we have shown we are mentally strong in adversity this season. Now we have a good opportunity to show it."

Sitting some ten points behind league leaders Man United after 32 games, Arsenal cannot hope to claim domestic honours this term. However, with third spot - and a direct route to next season's Champions League - still within reach, they won't go soft on Rafa's Reds as they look to maintain their unbeaten league record against the rest of the 'Big Four'.

FORM GUIDE

Liverpool


Apr 14  Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool  (Champions League)
Apr 11  Liverpool 4-0 Blackburn Rovers  (Premier League)
Apr 08  Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea  (Champions League)
Apr 04  Fulham 0-1 Liverpool  (Premier League)
Mar 22  Liverpool 5-0 Aston Villa  (Premier League)

Arsenal

Apr 18  Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea  (FA Cup)
Apr 15  Arsenal 3-0 Villarreal  (Champions League)
Apr 11  Wigan Athletic 1-4 Arsenal  (Premier League)
Apr 07  Villarreal 1-1 Arsenal  (Champions League)
Apr 04  Arsenal 2-0 Manchester City (Premier League)

TEAM NEWS

Liverpool


Steven Gerrard has missed the Reds' last two outings with a groin problem and remains sidelined for this clash, meaning Lucas Leiva should retain his starting place in midfield.

Otherwise, Benitez has more or less a full squad to choose from. Daniel Agger could replace the somewhat out-of-sorts Martin Skrtel, but there shouldn't be too many changes from the side that scored four - and shipped as many - at the Bridge.

Squad: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Skrtel, Dossena, Aurelio, Insua, Benayoun, Riera, Mascherano, Alonso, Lucas, Kuyt, Torres, Ngog, El Zhar, Cavalieri.

Probable XI: Reina - Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio - Mascherano, Alonso - Kuyt, Lucas, Riera - Torres

Arsenal

Strike duo Robin van Persie (groin) and Emmanuel Adebayor (hamstring) will both sit out, paving the way for Eduardo da Silva and Nicklas Bendtner to lead the line.

Gael Clichy has a back problem, while William Gallas and Johan Djourou are both nursing knee injuries. Lukasz Fabianski will stand in once more goalkeeper Manuel Almunia (ankle), and Bacary Sagna could reclaim his place at right-back after a spell in the infirmary with a virus.

Squad: Fabianski, Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs, Arshavin, Song, Fabregas, Walcott, Bendtner, Eduardo, Mannone, Eboue, Nasri, Diaby, Vela, Denilson, Ramsey.

Probable XI: Fabiaski - Eboue, Toure, Silvestre, Gibbs - Walcott, Song, Fabregas, Arshavin - Bendtner, Eduardo

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Liverpool


With Captain Fantastic out, it will be up to Xabi Alonso and Lucas Leiva to make sure the Scouse superstar is not too sorely missed. The former has been in imperious form this season (as noticed by Real Madrid), while the latter is still yet to win over the Kop.

Arsenal

Since returning from a long-term knee injury (sustained against Liverpool, funnily enough), Cesc Fabregas has reminded everyone that he just might be the best young midfielder in world football. He was in fine fettle as the Londoners sank Villarreal last week, and he had plenty of help from the electric Theo Walcott.

PREDICTION

Liverpool have the faint, wet scent of success in their nostrils after 19 years of drought. They have also had six days' rest, compared to their opponents' two. Nevertheless, Arsenal are in good touch and are eager to bounce back from Saturday's cup loss, so don't be surprised if a frenetic draw ensues at Anfield.

Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal

Mike Maguire, Goal.com