18 December 2014

Are Liverpool a big club anymore?

There once was a time when a trip to Anfield might provoke feelings of fear, trepidation, maybe even anger, but it's hard to figure out how to feel about those Scousers these days. Are they again a key-rival against whom we're vying, or are they upstarts whom we're hoping to suppress? Either way, it's dificult to ignore how the lustre has faded from this once-momentous rivalry. At a risk of sounding churlish, it's even harder to avoid laying the blame squarely at the feet of those Scousers, who, between us and them, have failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Sunday presents us at this end of the rivalry to create even-greater distance between fable and fact. A win at Anfield might not be quite enough to drive a stake into their season, but it would certainly drive home another nail in the coffin.

It was either this or the Charlie George celebration.
At the Kop end, the week has brought ambivalent results. Having fallen from the Champions League, Liverpool tumbled into the Europa League's final 32, against whom they'll face Beşiktaş, Those with a sharp eye for irony will point out that it's at Beşiktaş that one Demba Ba plays, he who scored for Chelsea when Steven Gerrard slipped to slam shut the door on Liverpool's title hopes last spring. It's perhaps telling then that Liverpool's best hopes for silverware this season may depend on their ability to see off Beşiktaş in order to progress in the Europa League—or to continue to chase the League Cup, towards which they took one step closer after seeing off Championship-side Bournemouth.

It's perhaps a stark contrast to mention that Arsenal very nearly won its Champions League group and will have to settle for facing AS Monaco with a very good chance of advancing past the knockout-stage to the quarterfinal. While it's true that Arsenal are already knocked out of the League Cup, it might be worth mentioning that it was against an in-form Southampton facing a makeshift Arsenal side. Liverpool may be very much alive and well on two fronts, but it's nearly impossible to suggest that either one rises to the level of the Champions League.

However, there's a larger picture to take in. I'm sorry to say that, absent a certain 5-1 scoreline, we at Arsenal have been a bit disappointed by the resistance offered by a once-mighty rival. Where are the Owenses, Keegans, Dalglishes, or the Rushes? Yes, there is still Gerrard, but he more a grizzled lion with an eye to retirement than a vital talisman with an eye on glory. While Liverpool's squad does boast a fair number of aspiring youngsters, it's difficult to point to any of them as the kind of players who are capable of elevating the club to its halcyon days. In fact, once we peer past Sturridge and Sterling, it's difficult if not impossible to identify anyone in the current squad who could impress, much less intimidate. There's vast potential there, to be sure, but it's difficult to reconcile that potential with potency of Liverpool's past, when they regularly contended for top honors. It's been perhaps a decade since we could count Liverpool as a rival for top-four honours. Say what you will about that fourth-place trophy, we at Arsenal can at least point to a certain degree of consistency, of excellence, to sustain our reputation through our own leaner years.

It's not just in silverware that each club's fortunes might be measured. Most recently, we two vied for the services of one Alexis Sanchez. Despite bidding £3m more for him than we did, Liverpool lost out as Alexis chose the brighter lights of London and Arsenal's superior chances at silverware. Playing alongside the likes of Mesut Özil, among others, Alexis saw a chance to win more silverware, perhaps listening attentlively to encouraging murmurs from the likes of Cesc Fàbregas regarding the benefits of playing for Arsène Wenger instead of Brendan Rodgers.

There was once a time when one could count Liverpool among the Prem's elite, but it seems that that ship has sailed, leaving the Scousers to pace the widow's walk, wondering when, if ever, glory will ever return. None of this is to suggest that Arsenal will arrive at Anfield on Sunday and walk away with all three points. To do so would confirm, perhaps irrevocably, Liverpool's status as a mid-table club. Should Liverpool find a way to win, it might be just enough to postpone the same inevitable outcome for another few weeks.