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Top four at stake in Liverpool-Arsenal clash

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LONDON, England, March 2 – Liverpool and Arsenal will face each other at Anfield this weekend after potentially season-changing performances before the international break.

Kenny Dalglish’s men lifted the League Cup at Wembley after a six-year trophy drought for the club, going a goal down before eventually defeating Cardiff on penalties to end their wait for silverware.

Earlier in the day, Arsenal were trailing themselves before coming back in spectacular fashion to beat their fierce rivals Tottenham 5-2 at the Emirates Stadium.

The two victories could have a positive impact on both clubs’ attempts to qualify for the Champions League.

Arsene Wenger’s side are now fourth and have ambitions to overtake third-placed Spurs, while Liverpool are seventh heading into the weekend fixtures.

“We can use that (Spurs win) to our advantage in the games coming up,” said Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. “We’re there now. We’re six or seven points behind Tottenham.

“Hopefully we’ll have momentum and Tottenham will drop a little bit. We want to push on and finish as high as we can.

“After the last game we certainly believe we can finish not just in the top four but challenge Tottenham for the spot we deserve.”

The Spurs win came just at the right time for Arsenal, who face Newcastle in their next game after Liverpool, with Alan Pardew’s men also chasing a top-four finish.

“If we can repeat the Tottenham performance I’m sure we can get a result against Liverpool and Newcastle,” Szczesny added.

Wenger has fitness concerns over Thomas Vermaelen and Tomas Rosicky, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is ready to return into the midfield after starting on the bench against Spurs.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, who scored for England Under-21s in midweek, feels he is now ready for regular football.

“To be honest, when I arrived in August the main thing was just to get comfortable with my surroundings and gain in confidence,” said the ex-Southampton midfielder.

“Hopefully I already had the raw materials. I’ve learned a lot here and developed my game, but the main thing has been belief in myself.

“When you play in a few games and realise that maybe you can cope in the Premier League you do take confidence from it.

“That’s what I’ve done – I do thrive on pressure and being put into these situations, and I’m looking to push on now.”

Liverpool’s joy at Wembley has been dampened slightly by a double injury setback.

Dalglish said defender Daniel Agger was facing several weeks on the sidelines with a cracked rib while Steven Gerrard picked up a hamstring injury on duty for England.

Liverpool captain Gerrard came off in the first half of Wednesday’s 3-2 friendly defeat to the Netherlands.

Liverpool have yet to assess the extent of the problem, but Dalglish refused to blame England’s caretaker manager Stuart Pearce for Gerrard’s setback.

“Until we know exactly what has happened it is difficult for us to presume anything,” said Dalglish on Thursday. “I have fantastic respect for ‘Pearcey’ – he played for us (under Dalglish at Newcastle).

“He is a really straight, honest guy so I don’t think he would do anything harmful to the football club.”

Agger was forced to withdraw from international duty with Denmark after cracking a rib against Cardiff and is set for a spell on the sidelines.

Having secured the League Cup, Liverpool are guranteed a place in next season’s Europa League. But Dalglish’s side can still secure a Champions League spot if they finish fourth.

They start the weekend seven points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal, and Dalglish said: “We’ll just plod on.

“We’ll add the points up and see where we get to. I’ve not looked at the points – I know we’ve got Arsenal Saturday and that’s all we’ve got to do.”

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