Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Arsenal

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  • Liverpool have only won once in their last 13 PL games against Arsenal
  • Arsenal have tallied 26 points away from home, the joint-best in the PL
  • This fixture has produced more hat tricks (5) than any other rivalry in PL history

On Saturday at Anfield Liverpool host Arsenal (watch live at 7:45am ET on USA and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) with the home side looking to close the gap on the league leaders.

Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side have only lost at home once this season and welcome the Gunners to a true fortress. But the away team are looking for a third-straight win at Anfield as Arsene Wenger’s men are in fine-form heading into this massive match.

Arsenal have 11 clean sheets this campaign and have let in just 21 goals, the second best record in the PL. But the central defensive pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have a tough task to keep Liverpool’s star duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, known as S.A.S., quiet on Saturday. The Gunners managed to do that in the corresponding fixture back in November, when Arsenal won 2-0 at the Emirates against a below-par Liverpool.

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All season Liverpool have failed to win a point against the three teams above them, and if they are serious about finishing in the top four, Rodgers’ side need to deliver against Arsenal on Saturday. The Reds also welcome Chelsea and Manchester City to Anfield in April, so they will have a big say in the title race even if Suarez and co. aren’t lifting the trophy in May.

In team news Liverpool are again missing defenders Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson, while Lucas Leiva, Mamadou Sakho and Jose Enrique are also ruled out.

Arsenal will assess Jack Wilshere before the game, while Mathieu Flamini serves the second game of his four-match ban and Mikel Arteta returns to fitness.

What they’re saying

Brendan Rodgers on the importance of Liverpool’s home support: “It makes a difference. It is genuinely like an extra man for us. That real passion of the supporters, it really has pushed us over the line a lot of times this season. Hopefully we’ve entertained the supporters, particularly at home, but in those so-called big games – the likes of Manchester United and Everton – those supporters have helped us. Hopefully that will be the case on Saturday, I’m sure it will because the support has been absolutely fantastic.”

Arsene Wenger on the threat of Luis Suarez: “The key is for us to dominate the game and leave them as few balls as possible. That will be one of our targets of course. At Liverpool the task might be a bit more difficult but the philosophy on our side has to be the same – to master the ball and to have the ball and to dominate the game. Liverpool have a strong offensive force with Sturridge, with Suarez, with Coutinho, with Sterling behind. All these players can score goals and make a difference. So what you want on our side is a strong defensive performance.”

Prediction

This is so hard to call. Having seen the power of the Anfield crowd in Liverpool’s dominant derby win over Everton last week, this could play a big factor. But Arsenal have been masters of grinding our results all season, especially on the road. And with Oxlade-Chamberlain returning to full-fitness and looking razor sharp, I think Arsenal could nick it. That said, I am going to sit on the fence and go for an entertaining draw. There will be a few goals in this one.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.