Gunners must outfox Euro expert Rafa
PUBLISHED: 15:00 01 April 2008 | UPDATED: 10:16 22 July 2010
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SOME believe that Rafael Benitez is only ever focused on the Champions League, but it is even more the case after his side s humbling at Old Trafford on Sunday. Any lingering thoughts Liverpool fans had of being involved in the title race were firmly desp
SOME believe that Rafael Benitez is only ever focused on the Champions League, but it is even more the case after his side's humbling at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Any lingering thoughts Liverpool fans had of being involved in the title race were firmly despatched, with the Anfield side now 14 points adrift of the top and more worried about seeing off neighbours Everton in the battle for fourth place.
That has been the norm for Liverpool during the Benitez years - although until this season the Anfield faithful have not been moaning too much after the Spaniard won the Champions League in his first season with the 'miracle in Istanbul.'
They had to settle for the FA Cup in 2006, but last year the five-times European Cup winners were back in the final, only for Milan to exact revenge with a 2-1 win in Athens.
This season was supposed to be the year Liverpool finally challenged for the title again, but indifferent home form has scuppered those hopes. Once again Anfield looks to the Champions League for salvation.
The two semi-final triumphs over Chelsea in 2005 and 2007 show that Benitez is a master of the two-legged clash, and expect Liverpool to come to the Emirates on Wednesday with a game plan based on containment.
Benitez likes the 4-2-3-1 formation, with Fernando Torres, the £26million man signed from Atletico Madrid last summer, the pivotal spearhead.
Steven Gerrard is handed a central role in behind Torres, with Ryan Babel on the left flank and Dirk Kuyt probably preferred to ex-Gunner Jermaine Pennant on the right.
That allows Benitez to play two defensive midfielders, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, if he has recovered from his Old Trafford fit.
Benitez is likely to return to his European defence of Sami Hyypia and Martin Skrtel in the centre and the robust Jamie Carragher on the right in place of Steve Finnan.
Fabio Aurelio is preferred at left back to John Arne- Riise these days, but all eyes will be on Pepe Reina after his howlers at Anfield. He doesn't usually slip up in Europe.
With the cauldron of Anfield waiting in the second leg on April 8, Arsene Wenger will know that a first leg lead could be crucial, but even more so will be not conceding that priceless away goal.
I think Arsenal may manage that on Wednesday, but it may not be enough to win the tie overall.
Gazette predicts: Arsenal 1 Liverpool 0