| Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia at a training session in London Colney on Tuesday, the eve of their Champions League match against Liverpool. (Reuters) |
London: Arsenal and Liverpool will break new ground in their 115-year rivalry at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday when they meet in European competition for the first time.
The Champions League quarter final first leg will be the 200th occasion the sides have clashed and although they have faced each other in FA Cup finals and a title decider in the past, few of the previous encounters have had as much at stake.
A place in the semi-finals against Chelsea or Fenerbahce awaits the winners, with Mays final in Moscow looming just over the horizon.
Wednesdays match is the first of three between the sides in seven days with a Premier League meeting at the Emirates on Saturday to follow before the return leg at Anfield on April 8.
Arsenal, buoyed by their gutsy 3-2 comeback win at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday when they overturned a 0-2 deficit with only 10 men, are set to recall Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor to the starting line-up.
Adebayor, who scored 22 goals in his first 31 appearances of the season, has scored just once — a 90th minute strike against AC Milan in the previous round — in his last nine matches, and was rested at the weekend.
Manager Arsene Wenger, who brought Adebayor on after an hour against Bolton, said he looked jaded recently, but Liverpool will need to be wary of the rangy strikers threat.
Likewise Arsenals defence, missing the injured Bacary Sagna, will need to watch Fernando Torres, who scored his 21st league goal of the season and 28th in all competitions against neighbours Everton on Sunday.
Before Saturdays victory, Arsenal had gone five league games without a win and their central playmaker, Cesc Fabregas appeared to have lost some of his early-season dynamism.
Fabregas sparked back into life in the second half, having a hand in the 90th minute winner, and if he gets the better of his Spanish compatriot Xabi Alonso on Wednesday, Arsenal could live up to their tag as slight favourites.
Both Wenger and Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez know what it takes to reach the Champions League final with one or other being involved in the last three. Liverpool won in 2005 and lost last season while Arsenal were runners-up in 2006.
Arsenal are third in the Premier League, one place and eight points better off than Liverpool with the five time European champions unable to replicate their Champions League confidence and swagger domestically.
Benitezs side has not won at Arsenal since 2000, but with the home sides domestic dominance and the visitors European self-assurance, the stage is set for an intriguing battle.
Another intriguing aspect to this all-English tie is this: only two English players — Liverpools Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard — are expected to start.