28 October 2007


By Mike McGrath, PA Sport

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has warned Liverpool that crashing out of the Champions League could affect their hopes of mounting a challenge for the Barclays Premier League title.
Traditional football theory suggests Liverpool will concentrate on the league if they fail to claim the three wins to reach the knockout stages of Europe's top club competition, although Wenger doubts whether this would be the case.
"You don't know the psychological consequences it can have on a team in the next five or six vital points until you bounce back and find a balance again," said the Frenchman.
"If you go into the UEFA Cup it can be worse."
Juggling the two has proved difficult as well, with a perception that Liverpool's progress in Europe has come at a price, with domestic form suffering.
This season they are unbeaten in the Premier League but have dropped points at home, bringing Rafael Benitez's rotation policy into question.
Their talisman, Steven Gerrard, was substituted last week and Peter Crouch, who inspired victory against Arsenal last season, has been in and out of the team.
It means Wenger has been left guessing Benitez's starting line-up ahead of Arsenal's trip to Anfield tomorrow.
Wenger would not question Benitez's policy, though.
"I agree with Rafa that it is the person who is right in May that counts," he said.
"He has been in two European Cup finals in three years so you have to respect that. He must be doing something right.
"Frankly I don't like the phrase 'to keep everyone happy'. What does it mean? If a player doesn't play he is not happy. It's like something has been discovered when a player isn't happy.
"People react surprised that there is competition but that is the essence of our job. We have to accept that. If I am a player and go to Arsenal Football Club I know it will be difficult because there is competition. I substituted Thierry (Henry), of course."
Wenger's success, though, has come from a settled line-up.
It is so settled that Gilberto Silva cannot get in the team at the moment and Jens Lehmann will have talks with Wenger over comments he made this week after losing his place in goal to Manuel Almunia.
Wenger has found a team that has won eight out of nine matches difficult to disrupt - and their only dropped points came from Lehmann's blunder at Blackburn.
The questions that remain include whether they can beat the other teams in the 'big four', and also how they will react when they are finally defeated, with the 'Invincibles' of 2004 suffering after Manchester United ended their run of 49 league matches.
Wenger said: "There is one thing that is different. In the past we had such a long run that it was the end of an era. This is the start of a team. Should a defeat happen it will not be taken in the same way.
"After 49 games, nearly 18 months, the guys had been on the top of Everest and the next day you are down at the level of the sea again. Then you say 'let's climb up again'. (They would say) 'C'mon, give us a little breather'.
"The team is empty because there is nothing to go for any more."
utusanLFC : woaaa... a friendly warning to Rafa?

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