In a season that has often lurched towards disaster both on and off the pitch, both Liverpool and Arsenal enjoyed their finest day of the year by some distance last Sunday.
Under immense pressure, Arsenal came from two goals down to thump local rivals Tottenham Hotspur 5-2 and breathe new life into a campaign that looked like it was going dangerously off the rails in the wake of crushing exits from the FA Cup and (effectively) the Champions League in a matter of days.
Liverpool, meanwhile, ended a six-year trophy drought with a hard-fought penalty victory over Championship side Cardiff City which, despite its laboured nature, was full reward for treating the competition with the utmost respect and negotiating some difficult ties en route to the dramatic Wembley final.
Had Spurs hung onto the lead until half-time at the Emirates or Cardiff made the most of their spot-kick advantage, either of these sides could well have been deep in despair.
But such are the margins of football that both Liverpool and Arsenal will be looking to a potentially season-changing weekend to be the catalyst for a final push towards Champions League qualification.
Whether Kenny Dalglish or Arsene Wenger could look in the mirror and say they deserve to dine at Europe’s top table next season is a moot point, but that is the primary aim for both (Liverpool would certainly sacrifice the FA Cup) and it makes Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off of vital importance.
Despite being largely average this season, somehow Arsenal are currently in fourth place, seven points ahead of their hosts having played a game more, and they will travel to Anfield knowing a victory would open up a gap that would almost be unassailable for Liverpool.
Bwin make an away win a 13/5 chance, with Liverpool quoted at even money and the draw that does the hosts little favours a 12/5 shot.
Harry Redknapp’s baffling tactical substitutions helped turn the game in Arsenal’s favour – perhaps he is fit to be England manager after all. But the eventual emphatic nature of the scoreline isn’t going to fool me into thinking Arsenal have turned a corner.
A draw would be a fine result for Arsenal, but as we know they are not set up to contain with their defensive issues and it is these faults that have me leaning towards a Liverpool win.
In the euphoria of a convincing victory, the fact that Arsenal looked as vulnerable as ever seems to have been ignored.
For the first half an hour, Tottenham looked as though they could score on the break every time they regained possession and it was only when they inexplicably stopped passing the ball that Arsenal gained an ascendency they never lost.
It must also be said that Harry Redknapp’s baffling tactical substitutions helped turn the game in Arsenal’s favour – perhaps he is fit to be England manager after all.
But the eventual emphatic nature of the scoreline isn’t going to fool me into thinking Arsenal have turned a corner.
This is still the same Arsenal side that surrendered so pitifully in Milan and at Sunderland – which ended their hope of silverware for the seventh season in succession – and away from home their form has been very poor.
The Gunners have lost six of their last nine away games in all competitions, winning just two, and have scored only eight goals in the process, drawing four blanks. ,Above anything else, it highlights their lack of backbone and their over-reliance on Robin van Persie to provide the firepower.
Yes, they scored five on Sunday, but instead of basking in the plaudits, Theo Walcott should ask himself why his brace against Spurs were only his fourth and fifth league goals of the season.
It is one thing turning up to play your rivals at home, but like so many of his team-mates, Walcott is too inconsistent to rely upon.
Liverpool have been inconsistent too, and again, I’m not being kidded into thinking that landing the Carling Cup will result in a confidence boost to the point where a winning run that has so far proved beyond them will materialise.
But Liverpool are unbeaten at home all season and played very well against the other teams in the top six at Anfield, so a repeat of that level of performance will be enough to beat Arsenal.
Only twice in the league this season has Anfield enjoyed more than three goals and with the early kick-off (I firmly believe 12.45pm starts take some time to get going) I will be swerving the even money on a Liverpool win – that is far too short – and look instead to the 9/5 that the Reds prevail in a match that produces under 3.5 goals.
There have only been 22 goals in Liverpool’s 12 home matches, an average of 1.83 goals a game. With Arsenal’s poor recent scoring record on the road, it may be tight and the 9/5 for Liverpool win with three goals or less is my play.
Recommended bet: Liverpool to win a game of under 3.5 goals @ 9/5
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