Nothing bothers me more in football than when myopic TV pundits and journalists alike ignore the facts. I’m talking about facts. With the Annual Arsenal Write-Off duly shown two-fingers by the Gunners and Liverpool putting in an uninspired (to say the least) performance at White Hart Lane, you have to ask whether pundits and journalists should have seen this coming. Perhaps, it is Liverpool, not Arsenal, who should be looking over their shoulder at the likes of Man City.
While pre-season remains a dodgy indicator of how a team will perform when the Premier League starts (e.g. Man City this season, Tottenham last season), it does give us a glimpse of how a team will perform. You would like to think that pundits making predictions would maybe, just maybe, cast their eye on Liverpool’s pre-season results when tipping them to do well again this season.
Espanyol brushed a full strength Liverpool aside, Espanyol being the team that fought to stay in La Liga, let alone challenge at the top. Then Atletico Madrid got the better of Liverpool at Anfield with Liverpool fielding an equally strong team. Now, of course, this doesn’t serve as sufficient evidence to suggest that Liverpool should not be mentioned in the same sentence as “title challenge” but it does show that Liverpool were not well geared to hit the ground running.
A criticism that is still regularly (somewhat legitimately) levelled at Arsenal is a lack of squad depth. The fact that Arsenal face such criticism yet Liverpool’s surprisingly small squad does not, represents some of the blindness of current pundits and journalists. When you actually take a look at the squad list, it’s bemusing to see how this group of players are being tipped to win the league while Arsenal are being prophesised to drop out of the top four.
A simple question that few have answered is where the goals will come from. Of course, Gerrard and Torres are always liable to score around 20 goals a season each, but who else? Kuyt and Benayoun will surely chip in but then it gets to the also rans. David Ngog. Ryan Babel. Andriy Voronin. Benitez cannot be allowed to claim that injury to either Torres or Gerrard means they won’t win the title, if he does little to replenish a team that looks like it will struggle for goals.
Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano will remain the midfield powerhouses that they are, but the absence of Alonso was clear for all to see in the 2-1 defeat to Tottenham. Lucas Leiva, a possible heir to Alonso’s position, is a player who has failed to convince on various occasions and is simply not good enough to play central midfield for a supposedly title challenging team.
The £20m acquisition of Roma’s Alberto Aquilani also comes shrouded in questions. By the players own admission he is a different type of player to Alonso, one who likes to go forward much more often. His injury record is worrying for a 25 year old, not to mention the fact that he won’t appear in a Liverpool shirt for up to 8 weeks. Dirk Kuyt, Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun can again be expected to put in decent shifts, but once you scratch the surface of the Liverpool midfield, the shallow squad depth is there for all to see. Players like Ryan Babel, Nabil El Zhar and a host of unproven and mostly unknown younger players (far from the calibre of Arsenal’s starlets) provide the clearly inadequate cover.
Something that has been mentioned all too often by the media mob is the relationship between Gerrard and Torres. “If they keep Gerrard and Torres fit…”, “If Gerrard and Torres stay fit…”, “With Gerrard and Torres fit for the whole season…” Let’s debunk this here and now. It’s all too easy to forget that both Gerrard and Torres were fit and firing on all cylinders in the 2007/2008 season. Gerrard played 52 games, scoring 21 goals, with Torres playing 46 games and scoring 33 goals. Yet Liverpool finished a distant fourth.
Also conspicuous in its absence is any mention of Arsenal’s injuries last season. We’ve heard about Gerrard and Torres, but what about Fabregas, Walcott, Eduardo and Rosicky who all faced months, if not the majority of the season on the sidelines.
It should also be noted that Arsenal’s demolition of Everton happened without Walcott, without Rosicky, without Diaby, without Djourou, without Nasri, without Vela and without Wilshere.
There’s romanticism about backing Liverpool, a team with a rich footballing history, passionate fans and some true football legends. However, this is no reason to ignore the harsh reality of a Liverpool side that has been overhyped and overrated that ultimately punched above their weight last season. Arsenal have their own issues, yes, but the criticism they have faced has been incredibly far-fetched in its hostility and propensity to ignore the true facts. It’s all too easy to pick on Arsenal, but all the pundit’s backing in the world won’t help Liverpool win the title.