English heavyweights Arsenal and Liverpool will face each other Sunday in a must-win game for both to maintain their title aspirations this season
Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side are severely depleted upfront and will rely on their passing midfield to conjure attacks. AFP
THIS weekend there are nine games being played on Saturday, but the solitary game on Sunday is the one everyone is waiting for. Last year when Arsenal visited Anfield, Arshavin scored four for the Gunners in a thrilling 4-4 draw that kept you right on the edge of your seat until the final whistle. We can only hope for a repeat of such exhilarating nonstop action, as the Christmas period edges closer, and the games start coming thick and fast.
Wenger and Benitez may not have ruled themselves out of the title race, but the bookies certainly have. Defeat on Sunday for either side would send the alarm bells ringing, killing any idea of a merry Christmas. Liverpool, who have already been dumped out of the Champions League, much to their embarrassment, know victory is a must as the Kop seem to be losing faith.
The good news for Liverpool fans is that Torres and Aquilani both should start, and hopefully they’ll bring with them a cutting edge that was so badly missed in last week’s drab, goalless draw against Blackburn. Steven Gerrard, normally captain fantastic, seems a shadow of his former self, and Benitez is going to have to turn the corner starting this Sunday. When Man United visited Anfield, the Reds played with passion and tempo, and proved what they can achieve on their day.
Arsenal are a totally different proposition. Benitez will be more than happy that the top Gunners strikers are sidelined by injury.
At home to Stoke, Arsenal can cope without Van Persie, but when they played Chelsea at the Emirates, they never looked like scoring. We all know that Wenger’s boys can pass almost any team out of the park, but they’re missing the final ingredient: that fox in the box that wins you the tight games. As much as I would love to see another 4-4 draw, it seems unlikely.
I expect Arsenal to dominate possession as normal, but if the Anfield crowd can turn up the decibels and spur on their heroes, then they might just find Arsenal have a soft centre, as Ancelotti can testify. It will be tight, but no matter how bad Liverpool’s form is, they often slip through the gears when the big games come around. Torres is back, and I fancy him to do what he does best and make the difference when it really counts.
Normally, the champions would be odds-on favourites to turn over an Aston Villa side visiting Old Trafford, but with their incredible injury list at the back, this game should be a cracker. With almost no defenders fit, Sir Alex is forced to play men out of position, and he’ll have to play an attacking game, as it seems to be his best line of defence.
Villa, who are chasing a top-four spot, have fine wingers in Young and Milner, and will be looking to take advantage of an inexperienced back four. If they can get at the Red’s defence, this game could be full of goals. Giggs and Rooney have been deadly of late, and there is no reason why this shouldn’t continue. I can’t see Sir Alex keeping a clean sheet, but then again I can’t see Villa outscoring a United side who have a knack for churning out results.
Everton might have come from two goals down to secure a remarkable draw at home to Spurs last week, but the same festive spirit is unlikely to be shown at Stamford Bridge. Ancelotti will still be bitter from the defeat at Man City, and he’ll want to take out his anger on an Everton side plagued by injuries. Everton will no doubt battle away as normal, but Chelsea has match winners all over the pitch. You just can’t see how this game is anything other than a home banker. Drogba and Anelka are the deadliest duo in the Premiership right now, and this one might turn out into a rout.
Spurs, who threw away two points at Everton, will surely punish a sorry Wolves side and get back to winning ways. Redknapp must have been livid with his side’s inability to kill off a weakened Toffees team. Man City, still on a high after beating Chelsea, should have too much for Bolton as they travel to the Reebok Stadium. Megson is starting to feel the heat, and he won’t be looking forward to seeing Tevez and Adebayor charging at his feeble defenders.