Frenchman talks up importance of clash between league’s first and third-placed teams, writes Greg Leedham
Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal can confirm their title credentials on Saturday against a Liverpool side he feels are equally capable of competing for honours.
Both sides have started the season strongly, though Wenger’s side have succumbed to successive home defeats in the Champions League to Borussia Dortmund and then to Chelsea in the League Cup on Tuesday.
Now Arsenal face a crucial week in which they face Liverpool followed by Dortmund away on Tuesday and a trip to Manchester United next Sunday.
Nonetheless Wenger believes his players can rise to the challenge. “It is an important period of course, but I am quite confident and am quite relaxed because I have the complete confidence that we will deal well with it,” the Arsenal manager said.
“I take it as an opportunity to show our strengths and I am completely sure that the players will be up for it and take this opportunity. We are a very stable team who, since January 1, has taken more points than anybody else.
Wenger added: “We want to be and I think we are title contenders, and Liverpool as well. You have four other teams certainly, or five, who will be title contenders this year.”
Liverpool sit third in the Premier League, just two points behind Arsenal, though Reds manager Brendan Rodgers lowered expectations at his pre-match press conference on Thursday by saying that today’s result won’t define his side’s season.
“It is a good benchmark for us,” Rodgers said. “We have shown that we have quality in the team, that we’ve got a winning mentality, which is important, and that we can consistently bring that to the table.
“Saturday won’t be the be-all-and-end-all in terms of whether we can make the top four or not, but I think what we have shown so far is that we are going to be in the conversation.”
Arsenal welcome back Mikel Arteta from suspension, but Mathieu Flamini (groin) is out. Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho returns to the squad, but defender Jose Enrique (knee) is sidelined.