The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Depleted Gunners take on Liverpool

London: Liverpool play host to Arsenal Saturday in a Premier League clash offering both sides a chance to cut their mounting problems down to size.

Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has been under fire for his side’s lacklustre football and some equally mixed results, which culminated in last weekend’s embarrassing 2-3 defeat to Charlton after being a goal up.

Arsene Wenger, though delighted his Arsenal side are top of the table, faces major problems on both the injury and disciplinary front, with the latter threatening to undermine their season.

Victory for either Frenchman at Anfield would therefore be an invaluable morale boost for their players and would also keep their respective critics quiet for a while.

Despite a few media brickbats, Houllier’s position at Liverpool is not under serious threat. But the euphoria of their trophy treble back in 2001 has gone, their runners-up position in the 2002 league has not been followed by a credible title challenge and they now lie a modest eighth in the table.

Reflecting on the fickleness of the press, Houllier told the Liverpool website on Thursday: “Had we won at Charlton, people would have been saying I was the Manager of the Month. Instead we lost and people are saying (Celtic boss) Martin O’Neill is back in the picture.

“What makes me angry is when people make such clear-cut judgements on things so early in the season.” Houllier also has injury problems of his own, having lost German midfielder Dietmar Hamann before the start of the season and also being without keeper Chris Kirkland, defender Jamie Carragher and Czech striker Milan Baros.

Midfielder Danny Murphy is out for up to four weeks with an ankle ligament injury, while Swiss defender Stephane Henchoz is only just coming back from injury.

Wenger’s injury worries are equally acute as he is missing inspirational skipper Patrick Vieira, midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg and forward Dennis Bergkamp on Saturday.

There are doubts too over the availability of Sol Campbell, who has not played since Arsenal’s dismal 0-3 Champions League defeat at home by Inter Milan on September 17, following the death of his father. The England central defender has trained this week and, given the other absences, can be expected to play.

Wenger also has disciplinary problems looming with six players facing misconduct charges after last month’s bust-up at Old Trafford, and some — if not all — risking possible suspension.

If there is plenty to prey on Wenger’s mind, there are some positives to be drawn on by the Highbury faithful.

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