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Arsenal-Liverpool Preview

By CHRIS ALTRUDA

STATS Editor

(AP) -- This is the gauntlet that will make or break Arsenal. Both in the Premier League and beyond.

Arsene Wenger's side begin a vicious four-match stretch Saturday at Anfield, where Liverpool will try to take down the league frontrunners and further muddle the title race for their own gain.

Arsenal (17-4-3) enter the weekend two points clear of Manchester City and Chelsea, with Liverpool lurking (14-5-5) six points back in fourth. This is the first of two clashes between the teams over the next eight days, with a fifth-round FA Cup tie to be held at the Emirates on Feb. 16. In between those matches, the Gunners will host the wounded yet still dangerous league champions Manchester United and cap this run by hosting the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie against title holders Bayern Munich.

"When you're in a good position to fight for something, of course the closer you get to the end the more every game becomes vital," Wenger told the team's official website. "In a cup game it's decisive but in the Premiership now every point is important so it's a massive month for us.

"Mentally we are prepared and we have shown a great response throughout the season when we had difficulties. Physically we are prepared as well."

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 10 matches (8-2-0) across all competitions and regained the top spot in the league with their 2-0 win over Crystal Palace and Manchester City's home loss to Chelsea. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored on either side of halftime, giving Wenger yet another option on offence to make a difference during the stretch run.

"It took him a while to get back and I'm pleased he's now back to full fitness," Wenger said of the 20-year-old midfielder. "He had shown today that he can be a very important player for us."

Though goals are necessary, Wenger knows it will be his team's defence that will likely determine whether Arsenal leave Anfield with three critical points.

"We have to dominate the game and leave them as few balls as possible," the manager said. "Liverpool have a strong offensive force with (Daniel) Sturridge, with (Luis) Suarez, with (Philippe) Coutinho, with (Raheem) Sterling behind. All these players can score goals and make a difference. So what you want on our side is a strong defensive performance."

The aforementioned quartet have accounted for 42 of Liverpool's 58 goals in league play, with Suarez far and away the Premier League leader with 23. The Uruguayan turned playmaker Sunday, setting up Sturridge's goal in the 24th minute at The Hawthorns, but a ghastly giveaway by Kolo Toure led to an equaliser for Victor Anichebe as West Brom salvaged a 1-1 draw that left manager Brendan Rodgers knowing full well his team will have to rely on their dominant form at home to make up for those lost two points.

"We've been brilliant at home," Rodgers said. "I feel that the bigger the games are, sometimes, the better we play. Against Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Manchester United we showed that. These types of games are the opportunities that allow you to make a statement.

"We're really looking to show our confidence and belief and put in a performance that is going to get a win for us."

Arsenal, however, are unbeaten in their last six matches at Anfield (3-3-0) and have lost only once in the last 13 league matches (5-7-1) between the sides. The Gunners are going for the league double after a 2-0 victory at the Emirates on Nov. 2 on goals by Santi Carzola and Aaron Ramsey.

It was one of just five Premier League matches that Suarez failed to register either a goal or an assist, and the one-time Arsenal transfer target has failed to score in his last four games versus the Gunners after netting goals in the first two.

Updated February 6, 2014

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