Champions League places in focus for Chelsea's weary pursuers

Pirate IRWIN
Beating Liverpool would consolidate Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side's hold on a Champions League place

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Arsenal's long serving boss Arsene Wenger have both seen promising title challenges turn to dust making Saturday's match between their clubs potentially crucial to hopes of securing a Champions League spot.

An Arsenal win at Anfield would see them move four points clear of Liverpool, and with a game in hand, would consolidate their hold on what is at the moment the fourth and last Champions League place.

Second-placed Tottenham -- who trail leaders Chelsea by 10 points and have a three point advantage over their north London rivals -- have a tricky home game with Everton on Sunday.

Third-placed Manchester City, who are a point behind Spurs, should pick up another three points when they travel to bottom side Sunderland also on Sunday.

A much-improved and in-form Manchester United -- two points in arrears of Arsenal -- are also in the mix and could move into the top four temporarily at least if they beat a slumping Bournemouth in Saturday's early game.

Chelsea face the short journey across London to West Ham on Monday.

Question marks have yet to be raised about Klopp's future.

However, with just two wins in 12 matches in 2017 -- their most recent performance a limpid 3-1 defeat by struggling champions Leicester last Monday -- the heady days of topping the league in November are a distant memory.

Klopp's urbane and charismatic image has been seen as one of his strengths but he has now been reduced to having to defend himself against accusations of taking Liverpool's slump lightly.

"I am not a clown -- even though a few people think I am," said the 49-year-old German.

"I am not always laughing like crazy, I am a normal person.

"It is not about laughing the whole week and ignoring the problems you have.

"We cannot ignore the things that happen around us but I am 100% optimistic again when I think about the Arsenal game -- but I cannot say I am in exactly the same mood as the start of the season (when they beat the Gunners 4-3 on the opening day)."

Wenger for his part could never be accused of being a clown with his earnest professorial aura although this week he claimed being a football coach is the equivalent of entering the priesthood.

The 67-year-old Frenchman is not looking for divine intervention but for his present flock of Arsenal players to deliver an uplifting performance.

"They owe themselves a performance," he said.

"For us, this kind of game like Liverpool is of course an opportunity that we want to take. We have to go and take it and not wait for the result."

Leicester host Hull in the pivotal game regarding relegation battlers on Saturday with the Foxes seeking to prove the dynamic performance in the win over Liverpool was not a one-off.

Second from bottom Hull, who are just three points adrift of Leicester, are a more resilient side under Portuguese handler Marco Silva and could prove a more obdurate foe than Klopp's players did.