LONDON - Brendan Rodgers has challenged his Liverpool stars to prove they can cope with the extra pressure of taking on a top-four rival when they travel to Arsenal on Saturday.
Prior to the international break, fifth placed Liverpool saw their 13-match unbeaten league run ended at home to fourth placed Manchester United, leaving them five points adrift of their bitter rivals as the battle to qualify for the Champions League hots up.
Defeat at third-placed Arsenal, six points ahead of Liverpool, would be a huge blow to their aspirations of featuring in Europe's elite club competition for a second successive season.
And Reds boss Rodgers knows they must avoid a repeat of the disappointing first-half display against United which led to their defeat.
"I think people might look at it (the trip to Arsenal) as a must-win game. For me, it is a must-perform game, we want to perform well and we know that when we do that we've got every chance of winning, whether that's at home or away," Rodgers said.
"We've had a long two weeks, it's probably one of the few games where after the international break we've had to suffer a little bit, because we didn't perform and lost, but there is extra motivation there to get something from the game and that is something that we clearly want to achieve.
"These final eight games are going to be exciting games and there is still every possibility for us to make the top four." Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana could both feature for Liverpool despite withdrawing from the England squad through injury, but Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel are suspended.
Liverpool's Raheem Sterling, meanwhile, is likely to find more than a few camera lenses trained on him after he confirmed that he has rejected a new contract offer and described reported interest from Arsenal as "flattering".
Arsenal are seeking to record a seventh league win in succession and with Manchester City not in action until Monday, victory would lift Arsene Wenger's side up to second place.
"It's a big game and an opportunity for us to continue our run, which is what we want to do," Wenger said.
"You know after the international break it's always important that you come back and straight away you are on it." United, a point behind Arsenal, will also have designs on supplanting City ahead of a home game with relegation-threatened Aston Villa.
Louis van Gaal's side appear to have clicked, belatedly, after stylish victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, but captain Wayne Rooney has warned that those wins will count for nought if they do not kick on.
Chelsea close in
Asked if the 2-1 success at Anfield had been a six-pointer, the England skipper replied: "Yes it was, but that means nothing if we don't beat Aston Villa on Saturday.
"Obviously Arsenal play Liverpool as well, so if we can get the win against Villa, that will be an even better result than Liverpool was for us." Tottenham and Southampton, both six points below the top four, have opportunities to make up ground on at least one of the teams above them.
Southampton travel to Everton on Saturday, while Spurs visit third-bottom Burnley the following day.
Six points clear with a game in hand on all their pursuers, leaders Chelsea can take another step towards the title when they welcome Stoke City to Stamford Bridge.
Jose Mourinho's side have stuttered in recent weeks, drawing successive home games against Burnley and Southampton, and midfielder Cesc Fabregas has urged his team-mates not to let their standards slip.
"Now we have to fight hard to win the Premier League and make this season a great year," said the Spaniard.
"We still have the chance to win the double (league and League Cup), and for that reason we cannot relax for a moment." Defending champions City travel to in-form Crystal Palace on Monday, by which time they could conceivably be in fourth place in the table and nine points below Chelsea