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Hodgson rules out Liverpool challenge

LIVERPOOL, August 14- Roy Hodgson does not expect Liverpool to challenge for the Premier League title this season because he has not had enough time to work with his new squad.Hodgson welcomes Arsenal to Anfield on Sunday for his first Premier League game as Liverpool boss after replacing Rafael Benitez during the close-season.

The former Fulham manager was the number one choice to replace Benitez because of his honesty and straight-talking values, something he displayed time and time again during his successful three-year tenure at Craven Cottage.

And he has sought to dampen some of the expectation on his side’s shoulders ahead of the new Premier League season.

The signing of the likes of Joe Cole plus the expected takeover of the club from controversial co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett has raised hopes on Merseyside that Liverpool can become a side to contend with – starting against the Gunners.

Yet Hodgson sees things differently.

"After seven training sessions with what I regard as the key players, it is pretty obvious to all that we are a long, long way from being a team like Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea," he said.

"I don’t even pretend that the team after six or seven training sessions are going to be anything like the team we want to be.

"It would be ridiculous to suggest that we can be at the top of our game now in terms of how I want the team to play."

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Hodgson has to decide if he plays midfielder Javier Mascherano in the club’s opening fixture against Arsene Wenger’s side after the Argentina captain made it clear he wants to leave the club.

Inter Milan are the favourites to sign him because Benitez wants to be reunited with him but as far as Hodgson is concerned, Mascherano, at least for the time being, is going nowhere.

"At the moment I can quite categorically state there has been no offer from any club for Javier Mascherano," he added.

"And as a result, I don’t see why I should put his loyalty or desire to play for the club in doubt every day.

"I don’t want to let Javier Mascherano go. At the moment, Javier Mascherano has shown no signs of going, so it’s not a question of replacing him."

Ahead of Arsenal’s visit to Anfield, Gunners boss Wenger is refusing to give up on an unlikely challenge for the Premier League title and he considers a difficult opening game against Liverpool will help back up his claims that he has a squad worthy of challenging for the championship.

Wenger said: "We have a tough start against Liverpool but it is a good opportunity to show that we are ready to fight for the title. The team is ready, ambitious and prepared to fight.

"It is a good thing to start at Liverpool because you know you are going into a game where maximum concentration is demanded.

"We are encouraged by a good pre-season and that’s why we go there with belief and aim to fire on all cylinders.

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"It could be a race between six or seven teams. It is important to be consistent and win the big games.

"We have an advantage that we know each other well and we know how we want to play. If you look at the expectation level this team gave a lot last year. But we want to improve from that and I believe we can."

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres could be used as a substitute after recovering from a thigh strain ahead of schedule, while Arsenal are likely to be without Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner.

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