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Liverpool, Arsenal in tricky ties


LONDON — Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers knows his side will face a tough task against Christian Benteke and Aston Villa today.


Liverpool travel to Villa Park for the Premier League fixture on the back of an impressive 1-0 win against Stoke City in their opener last week, while Arsenal are at Fulham.

But Rodgers feels they will have their hands full trying to stop a young Villa side that has also started well.

Paul Lambert’s men won 3-1 at Arsenal on the opening day, and were unlucky to suffer a narrow 2-1 defeat at Chelsea on Wednesday.
Benteke scored three goals in those two matches and was a thorn in the side of Liverpool last term.

The Belgium international – who handed in a transfer request during the close-season before revoking it — scored three times in the two Premier League fixtures against Liverpool in the 2012-13 campaign.

And Rodgers has warned his defence to be wary of the threat posed by the 22-year-old, as well as his team-mates, this time around.

“There’s no doubt Benteke is the reference point for the team – the ball goes up to him and he holds it up well. He’s a big, powerful boy,” the Northern Irishman said on Thursday.

“I very much expect for them to have a very good season.

“They are very much a counter-attacking team that set up to defend half a pitch and then break out with the pace of Benteke, (Gabriel) Agbonlahor in particular and young Andreas Weimann on the side.

“But our focus is really on our own game. We know the form we’re in and with the mentality and confidence of the players it should be a really good game.”

Liverpool were excellent in their win against Stoke and should have scored more goals, but were denied by the woodwork twice and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic on several occasions.

Daniel Sturridge scored Liverpool’s goal from 20 yards and was particularly impressive, as was Philippe Coutinho and Iago Aspas in the continued absence of the suspended Luis Suarez, who is sidelined for a further five matches.

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last nine Premier League fixtures and are only missing defender Sebastian Coates (knee) due to injury. Villa stunned Liverpool at Anfield with a 3-1 win in December, but Rodgers’ side responded with a 2-1 away win of their own in March.

Meanwhile, Arsenal are confident they can bounce back from a shock home loss to Aston Villa when they visit Fulham in the Premier League today.

Arsene Wenger’s men made a dreadful start to their league campaign, suffering a 3-1 home defeat to a Villa side who only just avoided relegation last term.

But the Emirates Stadium outfit recovered strongly on Wednesday, posting a terrific 3-0 win at Fenerbahce in the first leg of their Uefa Champions League play-off.

Theo Walcott starred for Arsenal, creating two of the goals, and feels his side can beat anyone at their best.

“If everyone works hard for each other we can get the results,” Walcott told Arsenal’s official website.

“I think at the weekend that probably wasn’t the case, and we knew how disappointing it was. You don’t want to start a season like that.

“We’ve forgotten about that and we’re concentrating on Fulham. And if we perform like that (Wednesday), with that intensity, we can beat anyone.”

Defender Laurent Koscielny suffered a deep cut to the head in the match, but was suspended for the trip to Craven Cottage anyway, while Wenger is also without club captain Thomas Vermaelen as he recovers from a back injury.

Midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) is sidelined for up to three months, leaving Wenger short of midfield options with Abou Diaby (knee) and Mikel Arteta (thigh) not expected back any time soon.

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