Friday’s Back Pages: Pre-Arsenal

As Liverpool prepare for the second round of three clashes against Arsenal in the space of six days tomorrow, we take a look at what the newspapers are saying this Friday morning.

Liverpool are at the Emirates again tomorrow lunchtime for the second time in four days, with the chance to severely disrupt the Gunner’s title chances and send out a warning for Tuesday night’s Champions League quarter-final second leg clash at Anfield.

But the Reds have midfielder Javier Mascherano suspended for tomorrow’s league fixture, after the Argentine international was handed a two game ban by the F.A. for his reaction to being sent off by referee Steve Bennett in Liverpool’s recent 3-0 defeat to Manchester United.

Liverpool though are thought to be appealing against the two match ban, writes Andy Hunter of The Guardian‘¦

Liverpool believe the two additional games for his refusal to leave the pitch after his dismissal by Steve Bennett goes beyond recent precedents, and point to the lack of action against Ashley Cole when the Chelsea defender turned his back on Mike Riley. That incident sparked an FA call for more respect for referees, which made Mascherano’s indiscretion especially untimely.

Hunter goes on to weigh up Liverpool’s options, which could leave Mascherano eligible to play in tomorrow’s Premier League game.

Liverpool do not contest that Mascherano deserved to miss an extra game but may ask for the two-match ban to be suspended and any appeal to be held next week, which would free him to face Arsenal. Alternatively they could accept his ban against Arsenal but challenge the third game, with a hearing to take place before next Sunday’s Blackburn game.

In a different article in this morning’s paper, Hunter discusses the role of Dirk Kuyt in the Reds set-up. The Dutchman is wrapped in controversy after Arsenal were denied a penalty when he brought down Alexander Hleb in the Liverpool penalty area during Wednesday night’s European tie at the Emirates.

Kuyt was tireless at the Emirates Stadium, not only in scoring the away goal but also in impressing defensively. Yet his name was daubed on a training-ground wall when Liverpool’s season reached its nadir against Barnsley in the FA Cup, as protestors urged Rafael Benítez to cast aside a player tormented on and off the pitch. The death of his father last summer deeply affected him and his reinvention in a supporting role has come at the expense of time in the penalty area, a loss of confidence in front of goal and fierce criticism. However, the 27-year-old has still to convince the critics that he can flourish as a creator rather than predator.

The Times’ Nick Szczepanik runs a story on the Kuyt penalty decision controversy.

Conspiracy theories abound that Pieter Vink, the Dutch referee in the 1-1 draw between Arsenal and Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-final, first leg on Wednesday, did not award Arsenal a penalty for a foul by Dirk Kuyt because the Liverpool and Holland forward comes from a village five kilometres from his home.

But Kuyt and the referee have both denied these claims of local bias. After the game, Kuyt said, ‘œI do know the referee. I played in Holland lots of times where he was the referee. We both come from the same area. It is wrong, though, to say that because I know the referee, he made decisions in my favour.’

On the decision, Tim Rich of The Telegraph writes:

You wonder how long Arsene Wenger will nurse a grievance over the ‘ghost penalty’ that almost certainly deprived Arsenal of victory in the first leg of their quarter-final against Liverpool.

Meanwhile the front page of The Independent runs a story today about an unnamed footballer with a gambling addiction accepting £50,000 bribe to help throw a game.

According to a source familiar with the circumstances, the player ‘“ who has a Premiership club on his CV ‘“ racked up a £50,000 debt with a bookmaker. The bookmaker said he would write off the debt if the player got himself sent off and also persuaded three team-mates to get booked in a specific game.

Liverpool face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow in the Premier League, with a 12.45pm kick-off. The match is live on Sky Sports.