Stern test for Gunners

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger

LIVERPOOL. — Arsene Wenger says Arsenal will face a stern test of their English Premier League soccer title credentials when they take on Liverpool tonight. The match kicks-off at 10pm.

Wenger’s side head to Anfield two points clear at the head of the table and having won five of their last six league games.

The weekend FA Cup third round victory over Sunderland extended their winning run and Wenger acknowledges his side’s recent success has strengthened the belief they can push on during the second half of the season.

The Gunners manager, though, knows any meeting with Liverpool, who have confirmed the signing of defender Steven Caulker on loan from QPR until the end of the season, carries an extra edge that was demonstrated when the sides met on Merseyside last season, with the home side clinching a point thanks to Martin Skrtel’s stoppage-time equaliser.

“The momentum creates confidence and confidence is vital at that level,” Wenger said.

“In December and now in January we have been consistent and we go into a very important part of the season because we play many games.

“Every time we go to Anfield, we face a team who is up for it. It’s always a ferocious battle, no matter who the manager is.

“They had a very strong manager before, they have a very strong one now and Jurgen Klopp has the personality to do well there.”

Wenger hopes to add Basel midfielder Mohamed Elneny to his squad this week.

“I expect Mohamed yes, we are positive that this week it can happen,” he said.

And his options will shortly be strengthened by the return to fitness of Alexis Sanchez, although the Chile striker will not make the trip to Liverpool.

“We think he will be short for Wednesday (today),” said Wenger.

“He has a chance to be available for Sunday against Stoke. He is always keen to play.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has meanwhile saluted “football maniac” Wenger ahead of the Reds’ clash with Arsenal.

The Premier League leaders visit Anfield tonight, at the start of a year which marks the 20th anniversary of the Frenchman’s arrival in north London.

Klopp said he was already a fan of Wenger, but admits his appreciation of the Arsenal manager’s work has only grown since he joined him in English football back in October.

“My respect goes up day-by-day because it’s really intensive to work in the Premier League, especially in a team with international matches (for their players) too,” the German said.

“He had always my biggest respect but now it’s a little bit bigger since I’m here. That’s really a brilliant job he’s done — 19-and-a-half years.

“He’s a high-quality manager, one of the best in the world for sure. This long period, it’s really rare that you can do this but he did. He’s a football maniac, in the best (sense of the word).

“It was always a challenge to play against him and again a challenge that I’m looking forward to.”

Klopp and Wenger have become well acquainted with each other in recent years, having met in the Champions League group stages in 2011, 2013 and 2014 when the former managed Borussia Dortmund. Arsenal won three of those games, Dortmund two, with one match drawn. But Klopp has an excellent record this season against the Premier League’s high-flyers.

As well as defeating Leicester and drawing at Tottenham, the Reds’ dominant away wins over Manchester City and Chelsea have proved to Klopp that his players can produce in big games.

“After 10 minutes at Chelsea it was a very, very good away game and from the first second against City,” he said.

“The main information we should take out of these two matches is we have to be really good. If we are good, then it could fit for this game of course.

“But Arsenal, together with City, are the two best teams at this moment in the Premier League. To stay in a good position against Man City, they need all the points, they cannot (pick and choose) where they want to get it.

“They will show us that they have real ambitions this year. They’re in a good moment.

“We can be, we’re not that consistent in the performances in the last weeks but (the 1-0 win over) Stoke was a good sign of what my team is capable of.”

Klopp’s remarks regarding Wenger, looking to lead Arsenal to a fourth league title but first since 2004, reflect his initial impressions of managing in England.

Klopp, who took over at Anfield in October, said that the number of fixtures has been the biggest difference to managing on the continent, with Liverpool facing the possibility of playing nine games in January.

That workload is stretching a squad that has been badly hit by injuries, although Klopp hopes to have a number of key players back for the game tonight when the eighth-placed Reds will be looking for a third win in four league games.

After having no senior central defenders available for last Friday’s 0-0 FA Cup draw at Exeter, ex-Arsenal defender Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho are both expected to be fit.

Captain Jordan Henderson is also set to return in midfield and winger Jordon Ibe is fit after hamstring trouble. —AFP.

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