Can Liverpool or Arsenal take any positives from this season?

by Sam Rider

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

A season of so nears yet so fars

Unlike Arsenal, Liverpool has no youth policy to point to in excuse of a season bereft of silverware, so can the Anfield faithful truly call this be a season of progress and positives?

Arsenal are having to come to terms with yet another trophy-less campaign and this predicament can be mirrored in the inevitable failings of Liverpool. While the Gunners begrudge their frailties in youth, a commendable performance in both leading cup competitions will remind them how far this reliance has taken them. The Scousers, in contrast, have no such excuses to leap to in defence of a season that promised so much but delivered so little.

So Arsene’s “babies” – as Patrice Evra perhaps unfairly labelled them, maybe the language barrier confused him when he was actually trying to fondly reminisce of the Busby’s Babes, who knows – have inspired the team to two massive semi-finals in the FA cup and European cup. They have put together a scintillating run in the latter half of the season, not conceding a league goal at the Emirates in all of 2009 so far. And a certain slack-jawed Russian, who incessantly runs about with his head lolling and tongue hanging out (he can do what he wants when he has just smashed four past Pepe Reina) has taken the Premiership by storm. He could well have made the difference in Europe and he will certainly have a leading role next campaign.

Adebayor calls this a cross roads for the Gunners but the weight of expectation has not been pressed upon the Arsenal fans as it has on those in Merseyside in recent months. If anything, their progress has been a bonus and with some wise experienced additions in the summer the Emirates could well be a happy hunting ground next year.

So moving on to the main thrust of all the debate, what can Rafa the gaffer and co really hope to take from this year? They have relied on imports rather than their youth academy and the arrival of a twenty-goal-a-year-striker in Fernando Torres was supposed to signal their intent to consistently trade blows with the heavy weights of the Premiership and European football. Yet efforts to supplement the Gerrard-Torres partnership with another goal-getter backfired in Robbie Keane’s brief spell in red.

The focus has been on efforts to end Anfield’s barren 20 years without league success and come Christmas, all was going to plan at the summit. Rafa said back then that if Liverpool were leading at Christmas, his side would have “an 80% chance” of ending the season as champions. Well, I’m glad I didn’t take those odds. Even with an eight point lead at one point, successive draws against the leagues minnows have seen the gap swing back the other way for Manchester United.

Their Merseyside rivals knocked them out early on from the FA cup. A fourth-round failure to Tottenham saw them exit from the Carling cup. And an enthralling aggregate defeat to Chelsea in the quarters of the Champions League was swallowed with a belief that the league could regain their full attention. Yet this wasn’t to be with another mammoth 4-4 encounter against Arshavin, I mean Arsenal, sealing their trophy-less fate.

Is it all doom and gloom at Anfield then? No silverware in three seasons since winning the FA cup against the Hammers in 2006; going backwards in Europe since reaching two finals in three years; and no real sign of youth coming through the ranks.

Benitez’s response to such questions has suggested one attempt to cling onto positives amongst disappointments: “We are in a position that we were not in before – that is the positive thing.”

And rightly so. Liverpool have certainly pushed the leaders of the league all the way, coming closer to success than at any point during the top flight’s status as the Premier League in 1992. The closest the gap has been under Rafa’s reign was when they finished third, nine points adrift of Chelsea in 2005/06. This year the gap could still stretch but at present they are just three points off United, practically secured of at least second spot and the pressure will be right back on if the Red Devils fail to keep up their form against their City rivals and the return of the Gunners to Old Trafford.

Furthermore, their manager appears to have finally secured an all powerful reign in charge of all things football with the terms of his latest contract. Fringe players like Skrtel, Alonso, Riera, Kuyt and Benayoun have grown into accomplished and pivotal players for the Reds and two hammer-blows have been dealt to their main rivals, with victories home and away over United.

Ultimately, if this season’s run of form can be maintained next season at Anfield – which would be amply assisted by the expected arrival of another Spanish-Liverpudlian convert, David Villa – and the errors can be eliminated, then Rafa may well be sitting pretty at the summit this time next year, safe in the knowledge that the gap has been gradually bridged in a season of improvements and education.

If, however, there are no gleaming, sparkling cups standing in the trophy cabinet at the end of 2009/10, then Rafa could start to feel the weight from the fans and from the boardroom that have seen Arsene call last Tuesday’s defeat the most harrowing night of his career. Coming so near, yet falling so far can become a bad habit and it is a feeling that could become a familiar one for Rafa if his team don’t start delivering on the potential they keep promising every pre-season.

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  • Ray Stantonberry-banks

    Seasons not over yet… i sound sane?

    come on the reds!!!

  • Darren

    don’t be so unmisanthropic, its over!

  • Sam

    Elaborate please Darren – that comment has gone totally over my head. But anyway, yeah speak up Liverpool fans. All my mates who are Reds refuse to be down hearted but are they just kidding themselves. They should really be kicking themselves!!

  • Darren

    My friend Super Ray is a Liverpool fan, I would say it’s been a misanthropic or even for want of a better word a moribund season for them.

    I do remember United having a 4 year spell without winning a trophy so hopefully Arsenal will turn it around next year.

    Chelsea will have a mass clear out and are due for a bad spell, they’ve been at the top for the last 5 years so it would be nice if they just went out of business then all their fans can start supporting Man City

  • Sam

    It does stand in stark contrast to United’s season – where everyone was taking bets as to whether they’d take a clean sweep of all the trophies this campaign. Good of Fergie to leave the FA cup for the boys in blue to squabble over.

  • Darren

    you might actually be able to add Chelsea to this article!!

  • rob pullinger

    dont think the reds will do it this year, still you never know what will happen, personally i hope fergy has some more sqeaky bum time…….next year will be different i hope….let rafa have what he wants, give the team freedom and have another crack……..any true liverpool fan doesnt care about the fa cup, champions league, etc…..

    all we want is the league title……been far too long, no excuses….. cant let those manc take over us????

  • Ash

    It’s a shame for Liverpool, what with the lead they had and the fact that they’ve beaten Man U home and way this season it was really their best chance for league glory in years. But look like blowing cos of dropped points against the likes of Hull, Stoke and Fulham.

  • Patrick

    Problem for Liverpool next season will be the end game. If they strengthen in the summer with David Villa and a few other decent signings (so Dossena and Ngog don’t have to be used) they should be in the mix again come March/April, but at what point does it become mental for the likes of Gerrard and Carragher? Can they see themselves getting over the line with United (as they surely will be) close on their heels? I think it’s pretty certain they’ve blown it this time. Winning the Champs League is great but they fans desperately want the League. United should draw level with them on League titles in a few weeks bar a monumental collapse but the pressure next year will be immense cos if there’s one thing Liverpool fans don’t want it is being overtaken by United.

    As for Arsenal, I’m not sure it’s all as rosy as people think at the Emirates. Getting to the Champs League semis was a tremendous achievement but all season you could see that something was lacking in the side. Whether it was a really strong partner for Fabregas or better cover a centreback and fullback or even someone more clinical than Bendtner, it was obvious it wasn’t right. Adebayor may have commited his future but I don’t see the all of problems being ironed out over one summer in time for an assault on the summit next season. When it came to the really really big occasions you could see a lack of belief and that’s something that cannot be fixed overnight. I expect an offer from Barca for Cesc to temp him away. It’s been one trophyless season too many and he could go.

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