It did not really matter which team one supports, but my Liverpool’s performance in their English Premier League match at home to the then league leaders Arsenal was simply stunning and caught everyone by surprise. I do not remember if I have seen such attacking intensity as was seen in the opening 20 minutes when even the sensational 4-0 line flattered the visitors. It was simply spell-binding football.
Until last Saturday, many pundits felt the Reds 5-0 away defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in December was their signature win, a performance that would make people sit up and notice the steady progress the team is making under Brendan Rodgers. Then came the home 4-0 win over Everton last month. For these people, the victory over the Arsenal was the result that ushered Liverpool into the title race.
For me, however, much as I thoroughly enjoyed last Saturday’s performance and would give anything to see it repeated in forthcoming matches, my belief that the team could finally make the top four at the very least was born on Wednesday night when the team struggled to beat bottom side Fulham. With so much pressure after Saturday’s performance and going behind early on, that was a game former Liverpool sides should have lost.
Of course, it is important not to get carried away and I like the fact that Rodgers is trying his best to dampen fans’ expectations by insisting that getting into the Uefa Champions League remains the team’s target. The team will try to finish as high as possible, but the fact is that there are several squads that are much stronger than Liverpool man for man and it is rare for a team to move from position seven to one without substantial financial injection.
For the Arsenal, it was important that they avoided defeat against a team that they have played second fiddle to for a long time after that Anfield debacle. Dropping five points in four days would hurt, but it is important for them to reclaim the confidence that has kept them at the top for most of the season. Most fans would be hoping that the curse of February that has been their undoing in previous seasons is not back.
And there is no better chance for the Gunners to regain their pride than tomorrow’s FA Cup tie when Liverpool visit the Emirates. If last Saturday’s match haunted the players, this the match when the ghosts are exorcised. Any failure tomorrow would mean one trophy gone and confidence would greatly dwindle, which is the last thing you need ahead of a fixture against European champions Bayern Munich only three days later.
Wednesday’s goalless draw meant the Gunners failed to return to the top of the league, but it also meant another setback in Manchester United’s quest for Champions League football. They are now 11 points adrift of Liverpool and on current form, it is difficult to see how they can overhaul them. Indeed, if the Reds were to stutter in the remaining 12 games, there are teams that are better poised to profit than the Red Devils are.
As they enjoy their retreat in Dubai, therefore, David Moyes’s men should know that they have left themselves with too much to do and making it into next season’s Champions League would be their biggest feat and would beat their sensational last-minute comeback in the 1999 final of the same competition. I know this team peaks in the second round, but we are in the middle of February and still no signs of recovery.