The image of Liverpool’s players trudging off the pitch having been beaten is not exactly a rare sight this season.
Wednesday’s defeat at the Emirates Stadium was the Reds’ 13th loss in all competitions in this campaign. Those defeats have ranged from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, but there was something different about the latest one, something that would have been clear to anyone who watched the game. Throughout the campaign, Liverpool have been told just how far away they are from the other members of the Big Four, how inferior and sorely lacking they are in comparison with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. On Wednesday night they were not. Arsenal and Liverpool looked like teams in transition. Both shorn of their main attacking weapon, you can only wonder how different this match would have been had Robin van Persie and Fernando Torres graced it with their world class presence.Nicklas Bendtner and David Ngog are eager, enthusiastic replacements, but both lack the experience and star quality that these two teams used to have in abundance. Cesc Fabregas and Steven Gerrard stood alone out there, trying to cajole and inspire performances out of those around them.
Despite their obvious similarities, both teams go about their football in different ways. Arsenal’s endless passing patterns may work against the lesser lights of the division, but they were never going to work against a Liverpool side who have very much gone back to basics since the FA Cup defeat to Reading. The Reds looked comfortable against opposition that they rightly consider their equals, yet the scoreline doesn’t lie. Arsenal 1 Liverpool 0. That is all that Arsenal will care about, and quite rightly so. Rafael Benitez is back at his drawing board, looking to pick up his players in time for the beginning of the assault on the Europa League with a home game against Unirea Urziceni next week, something that has become a bit like telling your children about the ‘birds and the bees’ for Liverpool fans. They have put off thinking about it for so long, but always knew that it was going to come around eventually.
The Reds shouldn’t be too downhearted about the Arsenal defeat. Howard Webb’s failure to spot Fabregas’ audition for the Spanish Olympic volleyball team can be forgotten about. There is nothing that can be done about it now, which makes the captain’s comments in the aftermath of the game unfortunate, but if that spirit of injustice is what inspires Liverpool to go on another unbeaten run then so be it. They were no worse than Arsenal – who will once again go trophyless this season – but nor were they any better than them. A point apiece would undoubtedly have been a fair outcome at the Emirates, but Liverpool did not get one. Third place will now be extremely difficult to reach, and so the focus shifts back to fourth, and a huge match with Manchester City next weekend. Before that comes Unirea. We’ll talk more about that game next time, as supporters head into a blank weekend with the familiar feelings of a defeat going through their minds. This time it was different, this time their team weren’t outplayed. This time they stood up and fought. This time you could genuinely believe that it would have been different had Torres, Alberto Aquilani and Glen Johnson – Liverpool’s three most expensive players – been available.
Maybe it was because Arsenal played badly, but Liverpool showed that they aren’t as many millions of miles away from the Gunners as many would like you to believe. With a little luck Ryan Babel could have pinched a point near the end, or Webb would have spotted Fabregas’ hands above his head. It did not happen, but they are nothing for Benitez or supporters to lose sleep over, not like many of the other defeats that the club have suffered this season. Restful nights can continue, until the next crisis-inducing loss anyway, and this certainly wasn’t one of those.
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