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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 12 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Apr 2, 2008

Wenger readies Walcott for Liverpool clashes

Arsene Wenger believes Theo Walcott has made a 'big impact' for Arsenal recently - and is ready to throw the England squad man into the thick of the action again as his side take on Liverpool three times in a week.

Tonight's clash with the Reds at Emirates Stadium in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final begins a four-match spell which will end with the Gunners either still having it all to play for, or facing up to another barren campaign.

As well as their European clashes, Arsenal will also meet Rafael Benitez's men in the Premier League on Saturday before they travel to Manchester United on April 13.

With so many key fixtures coming thick and fast, manager Wenger will see his resources stretched to keep everyone fresh.

Walcott, 19, has put in a couple of lively displays from the bench despite Arsenal's dip in form, and grabbed his first league goals during the ill-fated game up at Birmingham.

The former Southampton trainee played his part in the European victory over holders AC Milan, which helped force him back into the England squad for last week's friendly against France.

Another pacey display when introduced in the second half at Bolton last weekend saw the Gunners claw back a 2-0 deficit to record a first win in six league games.

Wenger has been impressed by the teenager's development.

'Theo has made a big impact every time he has come on at the moment,' said the Arsenal manager.

'I will use him sometimes with him coming on, and at other times I will start with him.

'We will see. The first game (against Liverpool) will decide a lot.'

The manner in which his men fought back from midfielder Abou Diaby's sending off at Bolton to secure a morale-boosting victory - their first in the league since February 11 - was not lost on the Gunners boss as he prepared his squad for their latest European adventure, albeit against more `local' opposition.

Arsenal booked their place in the last eight of the Champions League with a superb victory over holders Milan, winning 2-0 in the San Siro.

To progress further towards Moscow, the Gunners must now also dispose of last year's runners-up.

Yet Wenger - who guided Arsenal to the final two season's ago - has full confidence in just what his side can achieve when on form.

'We feel we can beat them and that is the most important thing,' he insisted.

'On the day, it is about producing a good performance.

'If we do - I am convinced we will - we can beat Liverpool, Milan, everybody in the world.

'I want them to play without any restrictions, with no fear, just with belief that we are a great side and we can achieve it.

'I believe in my team. Is it better or less good? I let you judge.

'But I believe in the way we play the game and in our quality.'

Arsenal have a fine recent record against Liverpool and knocked them out of both domestic cup competitions last season.

However, the Reds have an excellent European pedigree and will go in search of a third Champions League semi-final appearance in four seasons, having won the competition in 2005.

Arsenal defender Kolo Toure insists the Gunners must focus on their own game.

'Liverpool are quite good in the Champions League, but we have to change that,' said the Ivory Coast international.

'We have the team and have the belief. The most focused and powerful team will win.'