European glory is Wenger's obsession but Liverpool are perfect spoilsports

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The Independent Football

Four meetings between Arsenal and Liverpool last season produced an unlikely total of 21 goals. If the two Champions' League quarter-finals at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday and Anfield a week on Tuesday finish with about 20 fewer, it would be no great surprise. Then there is the complication of a League match next Saturday, adding up to a daunting three meetings in six days and recalling the year when the teams seemed to be playing a never-ending FA Cup semi-final of endless low-scoring replays.

This season's League game at Anfield was true to type, a 1-1 draw, though Arsenal could claim a moral victory after dominating the second half with glorious football, culminating in Cesc Fabregas's equaliser. The double precedent to give greater heart to Merseyside surrounds Liverpool's two European semi-finals against Chelsea in three seasons, both of which they came through, albeit by the narrowest of margins. Each time Rafa Benitez's side had the advantage of playing the first leg away, just as they do now. In 2005, they earned a0-0 draw before scraping home with what Jose Mourinho will go to his grave insisting was Luis Garcia's "phantom" goal.

Last season, Chelsea managed a breakthrough at Stamford Bridge with Joe Cole's first-half goal, only to be pulled back on aggregate by a cleverly worked free-kick scored by Daniel Agger in the second leg, after which the Anfield crowd again willed Liverpool through, on penalties.

It was a series of results not lost on Arsenal's Arsène Wenger. "At Anfield in European games they have 12 men and the crowd plays a big part," the manager admitted. "They turn many games." He insisted, however, that as long as the team playing at home first do not concede a goal, they still have an excellent chance. It is a theory borne out by one of the greatest single triumphs in his 12 years at the club, the 2-0 victory in Milan in the previous round after being held in front of their own supporters.

"You want to win the first game, but 0-0 is never disappointing, as we've seen many times," he said. "It puts huge pressure on the team playing at home in the second leg because they have the idea that if they concede they are out. You know a goal conceded at home is a killer, so you have to be more organised and cautious and defend well."

Supreme as the win in Milan was – all the more so coming in the midst of such poor League form – Wenger feels Liverpool present a different challenge. For once groping a little forle mot juste, he said: "They will be more... rough, edgy, more difficult to penetrate. Milan and Arsenal were more similar in style. It will be two tight games. When you play a local team in the European Cup it's always a test of character, and I believe that we have that strength of character. And discipline as well, linked to the importance of an away goal."

One similarity, he believes, is that Arsenal will be equally effective on the counterattack at Anfield because of Liverpool's new system, with two holding midfielders – Javier Mascheranowill be available whatever the outcome of his Football Association disciplinary hearing – and Steven Gerrard just behind Fernando Torres. "It gives them more defensive stability. That's why we'll be able to play away from home."

The perennial incentive for Arsenal remains the enormous disappointment of the 2006 Paris final when they lost a lead against Barcelona and with it, many felt, Wenger's best chance of winning the trophy he now admits has become something of an obsession. It is not difficult to imagine him watching it over again on the big screen at his Totteridge home. "We had chances to score a second goal and were caught for the equaliser, unluckily. But there's no guarantee. This club have never won it, Barcelona have won it twice in their history and I read that Real Madrid spent €570 million (£448m) in the past four years and didn't ever go past the last 16."

While Wenger was as happy as ever to look forward to a European night, albeit against English opposition, Rafa Benitez was keener to concentrate on one task at a time.

"We will try to win against Everton [today] and that will make it easier for me," he said. "Then I will think about Ars-enal. This is another kind of competition, but in terms of how to approach the game when your team are playing well, as we are playing more or less – we had seven games in a row playing well, and the same system – you will try to do the same. I don't think you will approach the games in a different way."

Just do not expect a goalfest.

Tuesday

Roma v Manchester United

Roma believe they are over the 7-1 humiliation at Old Trafford last season, managing to avoid being torn apart by the same quick counterattacks in September, though still being beaten 1-0. Having drawn the return group match with a shadow squad, United will be confident.

Schalke 04 v Barcelona

Frank Rijkaard's employment prospects at the Nou Camp, which have been keeping Chelsea very interested, have changed by the week during a fluctuating La Liga season. A favourable pairing here with the unfancied Germans, who are short of goals in Europe, should help him and his team to reach the semi-finals.

Wednesday

Arsenal v Liverpool

Liverpool will hope for a repeat of their two successful semi-finals with Chelsea, cagily defensive in London before squeezing home on the back of raucous support at Anfield. The bonus now for the Merseysiders is that they possess the tie's one natural goalscorer in Fernando Torres.

Fenerbahce v Chelsea

Drawing 5-5 on aggregate with Seville suggests the strengths and weaknesses of the Turks, who are managed by Zico, with Roberto Carlos and ex-Chelsea man Mateja Kezman in his team. May be fiery.

Latest odds: 3-1 Barcelona, Manchester Utd; 7-2 Chelsea; 5-1 Arsenal; 7-1 Liverpool; 14-1 Roma; 33-1 Schalke; 40-1 Fenerbahce.

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