/ 1 April 2008

Gunners count on fear factor to sink Liverpool

Arsenal will be hoping the fear factor outweighs Liverpool’s vast European experience when the two sides cross swords in an all-English Champions League quarterfinal.

Rafael Benitez has guided his side to two out of the last three finals of Europe’s elite competition, but Liverpool’s Spanish boss will also be acutely aware that, on the domestic front, Arsenal have had the edge over his side in recent times.

Arsenal effectively destroyed Liverpool’s best chances of silverware last season by knocking the Merseysiders out of both the League Cup and the FA Cup in quick succession, and defender Kolo Toure believes the mental scars left by those defeats can help his side take control of the tie in Wednesday’s first leg at the Emirates Stadium.

”It is an exciting tie,” the Côte d’Ivoire defender said. ”Last season we played them four times [twice in the league and in both domestic Cups] and we showed how strong we were — we beat them in three of those games.

”It is going to be really tight, we know that, but we have the quality and I think they will be scared to play against us.

”We need to show them that we have continued to improve and are even stronger than last season. We are used to playing against them, so we know we are in for a battle.”

Arsenal go into Wednesday’s match at Highbury buoyed by having snapped out of a five-match winless run in the Premier League in morale-boosting fashion, the 3-2 win over Bolton at the weekend having been secured from two goals down with ten men.

But Liverpool are also on something of a high after effectively securing their return to the Champions League next season by beating Everton, their only rivals for fourth spot in the league, 1-0 at Anfield on Sunday.

Fernando Torres’s 28th goal of the season settled the derby clash and gave Liverpool a five-point cushion over their neighbours, as well as some room to breathe ahead of their trip to London.

”For the time being the pressure is off because we have got the five-point gap, even if we have a lot of hard games to come,” admitted Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who has recently seen his role in the first team evolve to the point that he is now virtually a support striker for Torres.

Benitez has admitted that the success Torres has enjoyed in his first season in English football has exceeded even his expectations.

”You always have confidence in a player that arrives with energy and desire and who has great quality,” Benitez told the Times. ”However, the truth is that he has been a fantastic success. He has already scored 28 goals and the level of play he brings to the side and his commitment to the team is hugely significant.

”We formulated a plan when he arrived, focusing on trying to keep him up front close to the defenders because with the speed that he has, if you give him a good pass he’ll latch on to it.

”The problem is, with so many games we haven’t had bags of time to work on specifics. We’ve tried with the group to work on certain technical individual aspects as well as helping the players to learn how to execute at crucial moments.

”In Fernando’s case this involves tuning up his finishing, for example. We try to find time to work as well on Steven Gerrard’s new role, which he is certainly enjoying.” — Sapa-AFP