Liverpool and Arsenal face-off in a test of their Top Four credentials

Liverpool v Arsenal, Premier League, December 13, 2009

Liverpool 23/20; Draw 9/4; Arsenal 12/5

Sunday’s big match in the Premier League sees Liverpool and Arsenal, like two drunks duking it out, face-off in a battle to prove that they are still honourable members of the Top Four brigade.

Forget about last season’s 4-4. This time round neither side are playing particularly well. Neither team has performed consistently since the season began. So which ever team turns up on the day and performs has a chance of claiming the three points.

Arsenal (8/1 to win the league) fans will still be habouring hopes that the Wenger Boys can get back into the title race. Victory at Anfield plus another victory in their game in hand will see the Gunners move into striking distance of Manchester United (2/1 to win the league) and Chelsea (4/6 to win the league) at the top, but to turn that big “if” into a reality Arsenal need to take advantage of the recent demise Liverpool find themselves wallowing in.

With Fernando Torres (9/2 to score first, 6/5 to score anytime) having been recuperating on the sidelines Liverpool have won only two of their last eight Premier League games, against Manchester United and Everton, and in all competitions they have won just two out of nine. Steven Gerrard (19/2 to score first & Liverpool win), surviving as the lone talisman, has hit a rough patch of form at just the wrong time. And, with Benitez repeatedly benching Yossi Benayoun (10/3 to score) with the rest of the team struggling for form, Liverpool currently sit a gaping ten points behind the Red Devils and a whopping twelve points behind the Blues.

Of encouragement for the Reds, Torres, a substitute from the bench against Fiorentina in midweek, could make the starting line-up at the weekend, as could Italian schemer Alberto Aquilani (11/2 to score), who played three quarters of the match against the Viola in the 2-1 Champions League defeat.

Javier Mascherano will anchor the Merseysiders in his customary position in front of the back four, with Yossi Benayoun, scorer in midweek, looking to secure a starting place in midfield with Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt (16/5 to score & Liverpool win) also likely to get the nod against the North Londoners.

After Albert Gilardino sunk the Scousers with a late goal last Wednesday, Rafa Benitez is set to ring the changes to his backline with Stephen Darby, Martin Skrtel and Diego Cavalieri primed fall-guys for the returning Glen Johnson, Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina.

Should everything fall into place, Rafa Benitez will arguably field his strongest starting XI since the season began. That will definitely come as a concern for the visitors who themselves have been off the pace since their team were setback by a series of injuries to key players.

Strewn of Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner, and with Carlos Vela having experienced a stinker in the 1-nil defeat at Olympiakos, Wenger has the option of continuing to Andrei Arshavin (six goals and 18/5 to score & Arsenal win) as the main frontman (which worked to good effect against Stoke last time out) or drafting Eduardo da Silva (two goals and 9/4 to score), back into the team as the spearhead up top.

Across midfield, the likely battleground were the game will be won or lost, Arsenal will field Alex Song, Denilson, Samri Nasri and/or Theo Walcott (10/1 to score first), with leading goalscorer Cesc Fabregas (18/1 to score first & Arsenal win) carrying the responsibility to lead the troops as captain.

The lack of fit left-backs leaves Wenger with the choice of playing the youthful but inexperienced Armand Traore, or the experienced but sometimes reckless Mikel Silvestre at full-back. That hole though should be Arsenal’s only weakness to their starting defence, with Almunia guarding the net behind Sagna, Gallas and free-scoring Belgian Thomas Vermaelen (7/1 to score).

Picking a winner in this match is a coin-toss, with logic leaning towards a draw (9/4) as the struggling opponents cancel each other out.

101predicts: Liverpool 1 – Arsenal 1 (5/1)

Liverpool 23/20; Draw 9/4; Arsenal 12/5

Full match odds here.