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Stuart Dalgleish 11th Dec 2009 - 21:21

Returning stars can give Liverpool a big lift

Liverpool's nightmare season continued as they lost another Champions League game to a late goal on Wednesday.

It leaves Liverpool looking at the prospect of Europa League football not just for this season but possibly for next season as well, unless they can start putting points on the board at a more consistent level than at present.

The good news for the Reds is not just that Fernando Torres and Alberto Aquilani are both available to start, but that their run of fixtures coming up after this game are all winnable to say the least.

Pool have matches against Wigan, Portsmouth, Wolves twice, Stoke and Bolton all before February; a perfect chance to put their European woes behind them and concentrate on making sure they're in the Champions League for next season.

Qualification for Europe's premier competition is vital for Liverpool as finances at the club aren't quite on the same level as their other rivals for the top four - Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham.

It's looking increasingly likely that one of Liverpool and Arsenal will miss out on the Holy Grail, as Man City are almost certain to add to their squad in January, and Villa and Spurs now also have strong squads and unlike Arsenal they won't be affected by the African Nations.

Before all that though there's this game to think about, and I can't quite see it being a classic like last season's incredible 4-4 draw.

Both sides are certainly vulnerable at the back, highlighted by Liverpool's late defeat in midweek, but neither side is prolific of late, especially since Arsenal lost the services of Robin van Persie.

The Gunners were flying before the brilliant Dutchman picked up an injury on international duty and since then the goals have dried up a little, having scored just four in their last six games, hence why Arsene Wenger has hinted at bringing in a striker in the New Year.

Liverpool have been a little bit better in front of goal but still rely heavily on Torres and Steven Gerrard; they too should look to bring someone in when the transfer window opens but Rafa Benitez seems confident his squad is strong enough, I'm not so sure.

At least now the Reds' fans will get to have a look at Aquilani, who is a good player and might fit in well at Liverpool, but if you know he's injured when you sign him then you'd want a bit off the asking price of around £20 million wouldn't you? And you'd certainly want to make sure you have a dependable back up while you wait for him to get fit, i.e. signing someone on a couple of months loan deal.

Now I clearly haven't got the experience of Benitez (apart from on computer management games!), but it just seems obvious that you don't sell one of your star players unless you have somebody ready to step into the first team straight away to replace him.

But what's done is done, and the Anfield faithful will hope that they can put the Alonso issue behind them now and that their Italian midfielder will have been worth waiting for.

The hosts, with former Roma ace Aquilani likely to be in their starting line-up, go into the game as slight favourites at odds of 23/20, the two sides have drawn their last four league meetings home and away and that eventuality happening for a 5th time is a 9/4 chance; the Gunners haven't enjoyed a league win at Anfield in six attempts and as such are understandably the outsiders at 12/5 in the betting.

We all remember what happened in this fixture last season when it was the Andrei Arshavin show (incidentally the 4-4 draw happening again is a whopping 200/1), but that night Yossi Benayoun (9/1 to grab the first goal, 10/3 to score at anytime of the match) and Fernando Torres (9/2 first, 6/5 any) also got on the score sheet more than once, and so far this season the pair are leading the Liverpool scoring charts - with the Spaniard notching ten times (all in the league) and the Israeli finding the net six times in all competitions.

That man Arshavin will be leading Arsenal's line following Van Persie's injury, and the Russian star is 13/2 to grab the opener, 15/8 to score at any point of the game and 40/1 to repeat last season's heroics with another hat-trick, Theo Walcott will be pushing for a start alongside him and the young England star is a tempting 12/1 to score the first of the game, 5/1 just to get a goal at any point of the afternoon.

Make sure you join us for what is sure to be a fascinating game, as William Hill's In-Play service will be offering you a massive range of in-running markets making it impossible to look anywhere else.



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