Arsenal faithful remain unconvinced by Wenger’s mantra of top-four success
An absence of silver for a coveted place among the elite will not upset Liverpool
Jose Mourinho: Spat with Manuel Pellegrini typical of Special One. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images
It turns out Arsene Wenger may well have had a point. When he declared a couple of years ago that a top-four finish was a “trophy” in itself, his view was met with a chorus of jeers.
For a start, there was no trophy for finishing in the top four, just a place in the Champions League and all the riches and glamour – sometimes alleged more than real – that comes with it.
This trophy devoid of laurels was seen as Wenger’s all too-clever camouflage for Arsenal’s failure to win an actual trophy, one with handles, since the FA Cup was hoisted in 2005.
But how do Liverpool and Manchester United feel about Wenger’s invisible trophy notion this morning?
Excited? Desperate? Both Brendan Rodgers and David Moyes would be happy to mime lifting silver if it meant they had qualified for next season’s Champions League. Wenger is being proved right in unexpected places.
However, it is likely to be a temporary sentiment, at least among supporters. The reason there were empty seats at Arsenal on Wednesday night for the United game was in part due to the trophyless nature of a top-four finish.
The race for the top four is stimulating this season because it is close, but also because Liverpool are in it and Manchester United are not. Swap Liverpool and United in the table and Wenger’s belief loses a lot of its appeal. Maybe novelty is as much a trophy as fourth place.
But Liverpool will snatch at it regardless. It will be hard, visible evidence to them of progress under Rodgers, and of the value of patience. Just as Wenger’s trophy idea would receive unforeseen affirmation from Merseyside, Liverpool’s place in the Champions League next season could be viewed (quietly) at Old Trafford as proof that sticking with a manager is all part of the rebuilding process.
Astute Liverpool boss
One year ago Brendan Rodgers’s stock among the faithful at Anfield was akin to Moyes’s now. To sit at Anfield on this weekend last year as Liverpool put five past Wembley-bound Swansea City and still feel unease within the ground was not something you could just set aside.
Whereas after the game Michael Laudrup was phlegmatic – he had rested several players for League Cup final against Bradford City the following weekend – Rodgers was circumspect.
He was delighted with the scoreline and Philippe Countinho’s full home debut, but this was six days after Liverpool had lost 2-0 at home to West Brom. It was three weeks after Liverpool had exited the FA Cup at third division Oldham Athletic.
Rodgers bit his lip. He had noticed that scrutiny of his every utterance had increased in intensity. He knew there were many inside the stadium yet to be convinced.
Such tension can become a story and what then goes unsaid is that Rodgers was seven-and-a-half months into the job. He was learning, Liverpool were learning and what can be said 12 months on is that Liverpool have benefited from it all. They are 17 points better off than at the same stage last season. But it was not inevitable; Rodgers has clearly done something.
Given that against Fulham on Wednesday Liverpool fielded a starting XI that included Gerrard, Skrtel, Suarez, Sterling, Flanagan and Henderson, with Agger a late sub, it has not been a Rodgers revolution in staffing. They all pre-date him.