London – Branded a “specialist in failure” by his Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will hope his side prove otherwise when they host Liverpool in the FA Cup on Sunday.
In characteristic style, Chelsea manager Mourinho tried to up the tension in the Premier League title race on Friday when he accused Wenger of being a serial underachiever due to Arsenal's nine-year trophy drought.
The Portuguese was responding to a suggestion from Wenger that Mourinho's reluctance to talk up Chelsea's own title credentials stemmed from a “fear to fail”.
Chelsea currently lead Arsenal by a point at the top of the table, with Manchester City and Liverpool in close pursuit, and with the four teams facing off in the cup this weekend, sparks seem set to fly.
Chasing a first trophy since their 2005 success in the FA Cup, Arsenal will not want for motivation against a Liverpool side who thrashed them 5-1 when the teams met last weekend.
Brendan Rodgers's side smashed four goals past Wenger's men inside the opening 20 minutes of their game at Anfield as Arsenal were ruthlessly toppled from the league summit.
Arsenal recovered to draw 0-0 at home to Manchester United in mid-week, but Wenger admitted afterwards that his players has been left “nervous” after their chastening experience at Anfield.
Nevertheless, the London club prevailed 2-0 when the sides met at the Emirates Stadium in November and Wenger is confident that his players will be determined to restore pride after their capitulation seven days ago.
“These guys are winners. When they lose in that way, believe me, they are hurt,” said the Frenchman.
“When you can put things right, you want an opportunity to do that and we have an opportunity.”
Like Mourinho, Liverpool manager Rodgers has been eager to play down his side's title chances, but after winning 3-2 at Fulham on Wednesday the Merseyside club are only four points off the pace in the league.
The Northern Irishman described Liverpool as the “chihuahuas” of the title race afterwards, in a reference to a remark from Mourinho that Chelsea were the “little horse” to Arsenal and City's stallions.
Rodgers, however, is reluctant to become further embroiled in the verbal sparring that looks set to characterise the final three months of the season.
“It is getting stupid now, isn't it?” he said on Friday. “It is probably more for the media, who will make more of it than it actually is.
“I focus on the players and let them do the talking on the field. It is the job of the manager to release the pressure on the players to go and perform.
“It may affect some players, but I think for the majority of players with a strong mentality, it goes over their head.”
Liverpool are the form team in the Premier League at the moment and striker Daniel Sturridge can set a new club record by scoring in a ninth consecutive game if he finds the net against Arsenal.
Danish centre-back Daniel Agger will hope to start after making his return from a calf injury as a substitute at Fulham, with Kolo Toure's place potentially at risk after some high-profile blunders in recent matches.
Full-back Glen Johnson is more likely to feature in next weekend's home game with Swansea City, however, after a spell on the sidelines with ankle and groin problems.
Arsenal have doubts over Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla, who is ill, but French holding player Mathieu Flamini is in line to return following a three-match suspension.
With a home game against defending champions Bayern Munich in the Champions League next week, Wenger may elect to rotate his starting line-up and could rest striker Olivier Giroud.
The teams last played each other in the FA Cup in January 2007, when Arsenal eliminated holders Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield thanks to a Tomas Rosicky brace and a goal from Thierry Henry. – Sapa-AFP