OpinionKevin Moran

Liverpool miles off the Premier League pace

Done four: Giroud celebrates scoring Arsenal's last goal against Liverpool
Done four: Giroud celebrates scoring Arsenal's last goal against Liverpool

What a lunchtime feast Arsenal put on for their fans at the Emirates yesterday.

And what a let-down for Liverpool supporters who hoped their team could build on their decent efforts of late and finish in the top four this season.
They were blown away and anyone in the red half of Merseyside who doubted that their club is still miles off the pace at the top of the Premier League knows the truth now.
In successive games they have now gone down to Manchester United and Arsenal and that has been an issue for Liverpol all through this season – they have fared very badly in the head-to-heads with the big clubs. It’s at this time of year too that you need a strong squad and Liverpool are now being found out as suspensions and injuries kick in.
Steven Gerrard, Emre Can and Martin Skrtel will all miss Wednesday’s crucial FA Cup quarter-final at Ewood Park and their absence will be felt. And on yesterday’s evidence the players who will replace them are not up to the task – not up to the level of winning a big Premier League match against rivals at the top of the table, or a passionate away Cup tie against fired-up local rivals.
I don’t believe the Raheem Sterling business during the week had an actual effect on the players’ performances. But it is a bad sign for the future of Liverpool when a superb talent, barely out of his teens, is doubtful about committing some portion of the next ten years of his career to the club.
I believe Liverpool have handled this whole Sterling contract thing very badly. Don’t start a big fuss about a player’s contract just when the season is reaching a high point. It should all be kept in-house and then dealt with during the summer!
Never go public on things like that. you just encourage other clubs to sniff around your best players. I mean, it’s not as though Sterling can leave next week, he is under contract until the summer of 2017. Maybe Liverpool will get it together, on and off the pitch, over the next three days, but I’d have my doubts.
This was always going to be a defining game for Liverpool. They had recovered from a bad start to the season and put together a decent run. But in this tie they were about to face a side on exactly the same upward curve as themselves,  and they were found out. 
I suppose you have to give Liverpool credit for one thing. It might have been very different had Lazar Markovic rolled the ball into Raheem Sterling’a path for an open goal, instead of making him stretch and miss the chance  with the game scoreless.
‘Goals change games’ is one of the oldest and truest cliches of football and  if Liverpool had gone ahead they could have defended in depth, and attacked Arsenal on the break with the pace of Sterling and the passing of Coutinho. Yet once they missed that big chance to dictate the course of the match, you feared it would not end well for Liverpool.
That was their big opening to put the pressure on Arsenal and once the home team escaped, they kicked into another gear and now another season in Europe’s top competition looms. For Arsenal this was a big win, and it was done in style.
They played to Arsene Wenger’s style of working the ball around, inter-passing, and trying to create openings. Sometimes it is very frustrating to watch and I know a lot of Gunners’ fans who wonder how many wins they have left behind over the course of the Wenger years because their players wouldn’t shoot from distance and wanted to walk the ball int o the net.
But when it works, as it did yesterday, their fluid movement, and the vision and skill of their world-class players, is a joy to behold. You have to think that Wenger’s summer plan is to hold on to his all his attacing options - and remember that class acts such as Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin didn’t play yesterday.
To that package he must add a quality goalkeeper, a dominant centre-half and a defensive midfielder. Think David Seaman, Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira in their prime.
Now players of such quality are not easily unearthed, but they are all Arsenal need to be a truly major force over the next two or three seasons. In this game, that patient Arsenal play worked beautifully because of the poverty of the opposition.
It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility now that Arsenal will turn the screw on Chelsea at the top of the table. I know the Blue London club still has a decent advantage at the top of the table this morning.
But Chelsea’s next three fixtures are away to QPR, who are fighting for their Premier League lives, home to Manchester United and then away to Arsenal in what could be a cracker. Chelsea could easily drop five points in those matches and then their Premier League lead would not be a tasty as it looks today.
Arsenal will be full of confidence now and you’d have to fancy them to turn over Reading in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday week.
Defending that trophy is now very much within their orbit, as well as making Jose Mourinho and Chelsea sweat a bit on the way to the Premier League title. Yes, it was a really good day for the Gunners yesterday.