Friday 07 February 2014
Former Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour believes Liverpool can make a statement of their intent to finish in the top four of the Barclays Premier League when they face leaders Arsenal on Saturday.
Arsenal, who are leading the table by two points from Manchester City, travel to Anfield for the early kick-off, hoping to extend their unbeaten run to nine matches. But Liverpool, who are in fourth, are also in good form, having won three and drawn two of their last five league fixtures, and will be desperate to close the gap on Arsene Wenger’s men.
"Liverpool have been fantastic this year and if they can win on Saturday, it is marker that they do belong in the top four," Parlour told premierleague.com. "Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez are a real partnership up front, Steven Gerrard seems to enjoying playing in that deeper role and is very influential, Jordan Henderson has got a great engine - he gets up and down the field - and Philippe Coutinho has got that little bit of quality. They are a good side now. Arsenal will have to be at their best to get a result.
"Suarez and Sturridge are such a handful"
"It is a massive game for both clubs. The early kick-off can be very important to put points on the board before the other teams kick off. You can put a bit more pressure on teams like Chelsea and Manchester City."
Liverpool lost 2-0 in the reverse fixture at the Emirates Stadium in November, making Arsenal only the second team this season to prevent the Reds from scoring in the top flight. Parlour says Arsenal must produce another defensive impressive display if they are to nullify the threat of Suarez and Sturridge, who between them have scored 37 goals this campaign.
"Stopping them will be key for Arsenal," he added. "If they don't do that, it will be a really tricky match for them. Suarez and Sturridge are such a handful and Arsenal will have to stop the supply of passes to them. It will be interesting to see where Gerrard plays. Oliver Giroud might have to do a job at times and chase Gerrard down because he can pick any pass out if you let him have time on the ball.
"Mikel Arteta in the holding midfield role will have to watch Suarez coming deeper. It will be important for Arsenal's midfield and defence to have good communication, to pass the marking of a player to someone else. As a centre half you can't get pulled out of position too often because these players are very clever, one will go out and the other will make the run into the space.
"Arsenal have been defensively sound so far this season, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have been excellent, and that will have to continue at Anfield. They will have to dig in at times because they will come under a lot of pressure."
Parlour, now 40, had a glittering career at Arsenal where he made 333 Barclays Premier League appearances between 1992 and 2004. He won three League titles with Arsenal, and was part of the unbeaten ‘Invincibles’ squad in 2003/04, while he also won three FA Cups.
This weekend's match will bring back special memories for Parlour, as Anfield was where he made his Arsenal debut in January 1992.
"Anfield is a fantastic stadium, the atmosphere is always electric"
"It was an amazing experience to play there on my debut," he said. "I joined Arsenal as an 11-year-old hoping that I would play in stadiums like that. It was a little bit daunting but I enjoyed every minute, even though I did give away a penalty!
"Anfield is a fantastic stadium, the atmosphere is always electric. Just coming up to the ground is special. Walking down the tunnel and you see the 'This Is Anfield' sign and you get the sense that this is a special place. The atmosphere spurs you on, that's why you want to be a footballer, to get that feeling of 'this is amazing'."
Parlour will again sample the unique atmosphere of Anfield on Saturday when he travels to the match as part of the Barclays Buses scheme, which is a free-travel initiative being laid on by Barclays, the title sponsor of the Barclays Premier League, over the next three seasons for the most loyal away fans to say thank you for their support. This Saturday's event is for the away Arsenal fans ahead of the Liverpool match, and Parlour will be meeting them for breakfast before joining them on the bus up to Merseyside. The scheme was launched in October 2013 with Ian Wright and the Crystal Palace away fans.
"I have always been a passionate man about supporters," said Parlour. "People don't realise how much money they spend on away trips and going up and down the country following their teams. The away fans make you go that extra mile. When you go away from home it's always tough but if you have got a good support there, it really perks you up.
"I am really looking forward to meeting the fans because that is what it is all about. Barclays are giving something back to the fans, it’s a great idea."
For more information on the Barclays Buses programme, visit www.facebook.com/barclaysfootball and join the conversation using #YouAreFootball