Liverpool look to break Arsenal jinx

Liverpool can extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to four points if they can defeat Arsenal on Sunday. With title-holders Manchester United in Japan for the Club World Cup, and second-placed Chelsea not playing Everton until Monday, Rafael Benitez's side can steal a march on their rivals at the Emirates Stadium.

If they are to do that, they will have to end the hoodoo which has seen them fail to beat Arsenal on the Gunners' own ground since February 2000. But Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina is confident this particular trip to north London won't prove a frustrating day out for the Merseysiders.

"It is possible for us to win on any ground," the Spaniard said. "We have already won at Stamford Bridge, which we'd not done (recently), so we're confident we can now go to the Emirates and win there too."

Arsene Wenger's men, leapfrogged into the fop four by Aston Villa, are known to save their best for the other leading sides whilst being inconsistent against the lesser ones. It is a trend reflected in their results so far this season - Arsenal have beaten Chelsea and Manchester United but lost to Hull, Stoke and Fulham.

Their form has led to some calls for Wenger to sign new players during the January transfer window. But the Frenchman said: "At the moment, I am more keen to develop the team we have. If it appears we can make something special, then we will do it - but at the moment I can sincerely say we have not seen anything special that can really convince us we will be much stronger."

Confronting task
Saturday will give new Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce an idea of the scale of the task confronting him as the Premier League strugglers welcome Stoke City to Ewood Park. Allardyce was appointed on Wednesday, a day after second-bottom Blackburn sacked Paul Ince following a run of just three wins in 17 matches which left them five points adrift of safety.

Former Bolton and Newcastle manager Allardyce insisted he was under no pressure to get rid of players, including £15 million Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz. "We don't have to sell anyone," said Allardyce. "I know how good the players are and it is one of the reasons I am here, so why would I want to sell any of my best ones?"

Aston Villa, looking to break the 'Big Four' monopoly on top positions in the Premier League, are away to a West Ham side now put up for sale by Icelandic owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson.

Strength in depth could prove a problem later in the campaign for Villa and defender Luke Young believes it's vital the English duo of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, who have so far scored 17 goals between them this season, remain injury-free. "It is crucial people like Gabby and Ashley stay fit for the remainder of the season," he said. "When you've got the likes of Gabby up there with his pace, it is hard to bring someone else in like that."

Newcastle and Tottenham Hotspur, both enjoying a revival under the guidance of two veteran managers in Joe Kinnear and Harry Redknapp, meet on Saturday with the hosts buoyed by last weekend's 3-0 win away to Portsmouth.

Redknapp, who rejected the chance to become Newcastle manager while at Pompey before leading the south coast side to the FA Cup, would have been almost as encouraged by the clean sheet Spurs kept against champions United. However, both sides, who have 19 points apiece, are just a point above the relegation zone which makes their meeting at St James' Park the proverbial 'six-pointer.'

"We had two points when I arrived," said Redknapp. "If we'd just gone on normal form, say a point a game, we'd be sitting there now with 11 points and bang in trouble."

Portsmouth, who had conceded 13 goals in six games before Wednesday's 3-0 UEFA Cup win over Heerenveen in a 'meaningless' tie, will look to re-establish domestic defensive solidity away to Bolton. "Maybe because I have come in as manager I had taken my eye off the ball a little bit," said Portsmouth boss Tony Adams, the former Arsenal and England centre-half, who took charge following Redknapp's exit.

High-flyers Hull face Sunderland on Saturday when Fulham look to cement a position of mid-table safety against Middlesbrough. Sunday sees basement club West Brom travel to Manchester City, who for all the wealth of their Abu Dhabi owners, are only above the relegation zone on goal difference.

Fixtures (1500GMT unless stated):

Saturday: Blackburn v Stoke, Bolton v Portsmouth, Fulham v Middlesbrough, Hull v Sunderland, West Ham v Aston Villa (1730GMT)

Sunday: Arsenal v Liverpool (1715GMT), Newcastle v Tottenham, West Brom v Manchester City

Monday: Everton v Chelsea (2000GMT)