Liverpool must front up to save season

Arsenal 4 Liverpool 1: Brendan Rodgers always talks a good game, but now his Liverpool players have to give voice to his optimism if they are going to save their season after this humbling defeat.

Liverpool must front up to save season

They are fifth in the Premier League table, six points behind Manchester City, who play their game in hand at Crystal Palace tonight.

Rodgers, though his team was thoroughly outplayed by Arsenal, thought the result was not a fair reflection of the afternoon, did have the grace to concede the result rules them out of a return to the Champions League next season with just seven games to go.

He knows all they have left to play for is potentially three more matches in the FA Cup, which resumes in the form of Wednesday night’s quarter-final replay at Blackburn.

Failure to win against the mid-table Championship side or in the ensuing semi-final against Aston Villa before winning the trophy, means Rodgers will then have a long, hot summer when he will struggle to persuade players to join his Anfield revolution, let alone convince the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson to stay and fight for it.

Either way, Rodgers knows this result makes his task a whole lot harder even though he claims the season should still be regarded as a success.

He explained: “It’s more frustrating when it comes to progressing as a team. We always felt this year was going to be difficult, that was the reality of it. Our run last year nearly brought us the title. We lost a world class player and lots of other developments happened within the club. This year was always going to be difficult for us.

“But it’s frustrating that we got ourselves in a position over the last three months, very close, to then come up short in the past two games. But I look at Arsenal and their bench, the players, the world class players on the field with big talent and it shows the continual work we have to do.

“For me, it’s about restoring Liverpool to the challenge. I think over the course of the last three months we’ve been able to challenge again. We want to be in the Champions League, that’s important and it’s key for us. But it’s highly unlikely this year.

“I think most players want to be in the Champions League. I think it’s also — and I’ve said it before — that Liverpool is a great club. I said that before I came into it, it’s rubber-stamped now that I’ve been here for two and a half years.

“It’s a phenomenal club that players want to play for. But, of course, players want to play at the top level of the game and if you’re not in the Champions League it makes it difficult for you. We know that. But we just have to continue to fight in order to be a stable club in there.”

This defeat was also marred by the senseless sending off of Emre Can for a mindless second booking with the match already lost. He joins skipper Steven Gerrard and defender Martin Skrtel on the suspended list.

And should Liverpool cope without their bad boys and still beat Blackburn and Villa, then it is likely the holders Arsenal (who face Reading in their Wembley decider) will be waiting for them. On this form, the Cup will be staying in London.

For Rodgers’ counterpart, Arsene Wenger, Easter was all about renewed hope and belief. He has again defied his critics to all but secure a remarkable 18th consecutive season among Europe’s elite, a top-two finish is not beyond him and the FA Cup is tantalisingly close to being retained.

This latest victory, making it nine from their last ten Premier League matches, was secured by prolonged dominance following a flurry of late first half goals from Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Henderson pulled a late penalty back for Liverpool before Olivier Giroud’s last minute cracker put a justified margin on the result.

While his big-money stars shone again, Wenger knows his latest run owes a lot to the unlikely form of blooming youngsters such as right-back Bellerin and midfield enforcer Francis Coquelin.

The French coach said: “We have a good mentality and good cohesion in the team. There is something happening. You can see that. You can’t cheat on that. People smell that.

“That of course is a good basis, and defensively we are getting better. I think you also have to give credit to players who get less, such as Coquelin. In the first half he broke up many attacks in a convincing way.”

ARSENAL: Ospina 6, Bellerin 7, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 6 (Gabriel 49, 6) Monreal 6, Coquelin 8, Ramsey 5 (Flamini 62, 6), Ozil 8 (Welbeck 73, 6), Cazorla 7, Sanchez 8, Giroud 7.

LIVERPOOL: Mignolet 6, Can 5, Toure 5, Sakho 5, Henderson 6, Allen 5, Lucas 6, Moreno 6, Markovic 5 (Sturridge 45, 5), Sterling 6, Coutinho 6.

Referee: Anthony Taylor 5/10

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