After crashing out of the Champions League and slipping to seventh in the league, Liverpool play host to Arsenal for Sunday's big Premier League clash. Both teams are fighting for a spot in the top four to ensure European football next season.
AFP - Rafael Benitez believes Liverpool will use Sunday's showdown with Arsenal to kick-start a season in danger of spiralling out of control.
Benitez's side have won just three of their last 14 matches, a woeful run that has seen the Reds crash out of the Champions League and slip to seventh in the Premier League.
They suffered one final indignity in Europe's elite club competition on Wednesday as a distinctly average Fiorentina won 2-1 at Anfield, but Benitez is convinced that result could prove the catalyst for a far more successful second half of the season.
The pressure to finish in the Premier League's top four and qualify for next season's European Cup is growing by the week. Yet Benitez is confident that the return of fit-again Fernando Torres will inspire his team, who start the weekend 12 points adrift of leaders Chelsea and four behind fourth-placed Tottenham.
Torres returned from a groin injury to make a substitutes appearance against Fiorentina and the Spain striker is poised to start against Arsenal along with Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani.
"I think we will be in a better position if we don't have too many problems with injuries in the next few weeks," Benitez said.
"Torres and Steven Gerrard didn't play too many games together last season, but the team did well.
"It is the same this year. If both are fit and can play together, we will push them, but we also have to protect them.
"The Arsenal match is important, but every game will be important until the end of the season.
"We have to start with this one because Arsenal are near the top of the table, so if we can win we will be closer and will have a better chance of finishing in the top four.
"Every year you have to approach the season thinking about wining something, but each season is different.
"We have had some problems before, but now our idea is to improve in the league and afterwards think about the Europa League and the FA Cup.
"Sometimes the team has a bad moment, but that is the same at all the clubs. The only way to change things is to work harder and try to do things well."
Benitez has been forced to issue a biting response to the criticism flowing his way in recent weeks.
He singled out former Anfield boss Graeme Souness and Jurgen Klinsmann, the ex-Germany coach linked with the Liverpool job two years ago, after they wrote off his team on television following the Fiorentina match.
Speaking about Klinsmann, Benitez said: "I think he was an expert in marketing. His management career? Short."
He added: "There is always criticism but I don't listen. I turn off the volume on the TV.
"If someone talks too much, it is their problem, but the fans know the record they both have as managers, fantastic!"
Like Liverpool, Arsene Wenger's Arsenal have been cast adrift in the title race.
The Gunners are four points and four places better off than Liverpool, but Wenger's men have lost two of their last three league games and arrive on Merseyside on the back of a 1-0 Champions League defeat against Olympiakos.
Wenger insists the game is as important to his side than it is to Liverpool, and is refusing to write off Benitez's side.
"For us, it's a very big game," Wenger said. "I don't deny that. We go into this game with that feeling.
"Everybody has a real chance of not making the top four if you don’t perform right.
"They’re (Liverpool) a contender like everybody else. It’s very early in the season still, with many games to be played, and Liverpool have the quality."
Wenger has also had to contend with the loss of key players to injury and will once again be without Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner, while Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Eboue are also out.
Date created : 2009-12-13