Arsenal, Liverpool relish test of title claims
LONDON (Reuters) - The title credentials of leaders Arsenal and third-placed Liverpool will come under scrutiny when they meet in a heavyweight Premier League clash on Saturday.
Arsenal, top of the table with 22 points, have only lost one league match this season, on the opening day against Aston Villa, but have been beaten by Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Chelsea in the League Cup in the past week.
The visit of Liverpool (1730GMT), on 20 points, is only the second time they have met a team with realistic top-four ambitions following a win over local rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Manager Arsene Wenger fielded a weakened side against Chelsea and he said it was important not to read too much into recent results.
"Let's not jump too quickly to conclusions because if you take the points we have made since the first of January, we have made more than anyone else," he told reporters after the 2-0 home loss to Chelsea.
"I believe that a longer distance reveals more about the quality of a team than the last few games. It is difficult to swallow that happened to us in the last week, but the mistakes are not so big that it cannot be corrected."
He acknowledged, however, that it was vital to get back on track against Liverpool, for whom Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge scored all the goals in last week's 4-1 thrashing of West Brom, especially with tough games against champions Manchester United and surprise packages Southampton to follow.
"It's a difficult (run), but that's part of the season. We know the games," Wenger said.
"We have to respond well against Liverpool. We are in a strong position in the league and have a good opportunity at home, and we have to turn this round. Away from home we are very solid, but at home you know it's important and vital to win the big games."
Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson said his team were determined to send a message that they were genuine contenders this season having not finished in the top five since 2008-09.
"They're all tough games in the Premier League and Arsenal have been flying of late," he told the club's website (www.liverpoolfc.com)
"But so have we, so I think it will be a good game to watch and hopefully we can get a good result.
"It would send out a message to the rest of the teams that we're here and we mean business. But I think the main focus is going there and playing like we have been."
Under-pressure Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew's side have picked up one Premier League win in the last five matches, and he believes Saturday's match against Chelsea (1245) and the following one against Spurs will define their season.
"We are coming into some games which are really what our season is all about. We have lost two games to teams in and around us and we have to try to make up those two against the top teams."
Champions Manchester United, languishing eighth after a poor start to the season, head to Fulham (1500), for whom Hugo Rodallega is doubtful with a groin injury after scoring two goals in the League Cup defeat by second-tier Leicester City.
Manchester City host Norwich City who have injury question marks over Robert Snodgrass and Nathan Redmond.
Stoke City host Southampton, West Brom play struggling Crystal Palace, Sunderland travel to Hull City and West Ham United play Aston Villa on Saturday.
Sunday brings the first ever top-flight match-up between Welsh sides Cardiff City and Swansea City (1600), while John Heitinga and Arouna Kone are unlikely to be fit for Everton's game against fourth-placed Tottenham (1330).
(Editing by Ed Osmond)