A POINT TO PROVE
ARSENAL v LIVERPOOL
(Tonight, 11.55pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 111)
A specialist in failure. That's what Jose Mourinho thinks of Arsene Wenger.
Over the next few days, the Arsenal manager has a chance to prove him wrong.
A win over Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium tonight will leave a path to FA Cup glory open.
A strong performance against Bayern Munich in midweek will mean a chance of European success.
How Wenger would love to do that and then rub these comments in Mourinho's face.
But he will know, too, that events over the next few days could actualy prove Mourinho's point.
Arsenal were thrashed at Anfield last weekend and battered by Bayern when the German giants last visited north London.
These are not the two games on which he would have preferred to stake his reputation.
It's a harsh judgment from Mourinho, but then that's exactly the effect he was looking for.
Wenger hasn't lifted a trophy in 8½ years, but he has rebuilt the team twice on a relatively limited budget while keeping the club in the Champions League places every year.
Their opponents tonight, exiled from Europe's top table for four seasons, would love to specialise in that kind of failure.
In a way, Wenger should be delighted with Mourinho's comments.
The Chelsea manager wouldn't waste a planned and pre-packaged insult on someone he didn't deem to be a threat.
For all the worrying in north London, the Gunners are just a single point behind Chelsea and are better placed for a title challenge than they have been since that ghastly collapse in 2008.
But it's clear, on the back of the last two games, that the mood has changed profoundly around the club.
When Arsenal were beaten 6-3 by Manchester City last December, they responded with a grim 0-0 draw against Chelsea and then a run of five successive victories.
Another grim 0-0 draw was secured against Manchester United in midweek, but the five successive victories seem rather less likely at present.
Arsenal were so disappointing against United.
They lacked imagination and drive, something they couldn't have been accused of earlier in the season.
When they pushed into the final third, the runners simply weren't there, there were no options for the man on the ball.
With Olivier Giroud in such shaky form, Wenger's decision not to reinforce over the January break is called into question again.
They need to find a spark from somewhere, especially against a team like Liverpool.
They cannot waste such a good start to the campaign by sleepwalking through to May now.
The Reds were disappointing against Fulham in midweek and could easily have been beaten but, while Arsenal have to work for their goals, they come naturally to Liverpool.
The Reds have failed to score in the league only on two occasions this season, ironically drawing their last blank at the Emirates last November.
Luis Suarez is, by his standards, experiencing something of a drought and is without a goal in three games, but Daniel Sturridge has no such problem.
The Englishman has failed to score in only three games this season, and one of those occasions was at the Emirates last November.
The Reds are vulnerable at the back, where walking accident Kolo Toure is a constant threat and, more worryingly, Simon Mignolet has become tentative and wary on crosses.
Wenger will know that there are weak spots that can be exploited.
But only if they can actually get the ball. At Anfield, their few moments of possession usually ended with a misplaced pass and widespread panic.
Liverpool have nothing to lose, they weren't expected to do anything more than challenge for a distant fourth, let alone fight a title challenge and go on a run in the FA Cup.
Their fans are delirious with enthusiasm, their players are confident and Brendan Rodgers' management style has been vindicated.
But you wonder if today is the day that Wenger will slap Mourinho back down. An FA Cup win over the league's form team would certainly achieve that.
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