By Joe Behan
As Liverpool join Manchester United in the Champions League quarterfinals, Arsenal fail once again to keep up with the big squads of European and EPL football.
The C.L. proved yet again too strong for Arsenal as the Gunners failed to hit the target against Juventus. Even the outstanding Thierry Henry missed a penalty as Juve’s lone goal was enough to send Arsene Wenger and Co. back to London with their C.L. dreams destroyed.
The Gunners have the talent, but lack discipline, a fundamental component in all top teams. A better team effort to minimize the number red and yellow cards is a good place to start. Perhaps it’s time for manager Wenger to stop overprotecting his players — their cards cannot be incorrect all of the time. Besides, suspensions break the momentum of the game plan and disrupt squad rotation.
Thierry Henry’s recent dismissal did inhibit a brilliant Gunners run. But, in reality, that run slowed then came to a stop first in the FA Cup against Newcastle and then the C.L.
Wenger is good enough to get the discipline right on the field, but off the field is a matter the French manager will most definitely review, as will the oft-disciplined Patrick Vierra. The sensationalism of Vierra’s visit to Real Madrid was unprofessional. Yes, Arsenal went on a run afterward, but that stint of wins stemmed from trying to assure all was OK with keeping Highbury Vierra-happy. Players of this caliber should know better than to rock the boat when a club has so much to play for. Had it been at United, Sir Alex Ferguson would have sorted it out by either letting him go or by giving him a new contract and then dropping him. The professional will come back a better team player if reprimanded.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
There are doubts as to just how strong Wenger is when it comes to getting his players in line. For the sake of a better team spirit and indeed team performance, would discipline help Arsenal improve? While Arsenal are capable of doing a domestic double, they will need all their top players available to do so. Is the depth in the squad good enough to keep the Gunners winning all of their remaining games? It will be one game at a time, but a must-win situation, which is a tall order. If, however, the unexpected suspension arise once again, are there replacements? Wenger may succeed in keeping a winning formula within the club is one thing, but then there’s the competition.
Waiting outside the gates of Highbury are Manchester Untied and Liverpool. There is no doubt that all first-team players are committed to playing at all three clubs. The difference is Arsenal does not have the ammunition that Liverpool and particularly Manchester United has. There is that atmosphere of doubt and ill feeling toward selection at Highbury. Vierra in particular has had problems with not achieving C.L. status at Arsenal. The highly competitive French international is now down the pecking order of midfielders in the Premier with United’s Roy Keane and Liverpool’s Steven Gerard the kingpins. There is, however, more and better depth at Old Trafford and Anfield than at Vierra’s Arsenal.
While Arsenal have had a handful of C.L. chances in the last few years, Liverpool are now back on the European scene after winning the UEFA Cup last year, alongside the FA Cup and the Worthington. The return of manager Gerard Houllier to the dugout for the required 2-nil win over Roma has lifted Liverpool to the heights of the C.L. quarterfinals. It’s incredible that Houllier has made this comeback after some fatal heart problems. Echoes of Bill Shankly’s statement about life and football are indeed a reality with Houllier on the sidelines. The middle-aged manager didn’t look the best as his once solid frame has disappeared with weight loss. Literally, his team are out there ready to die for him as thousands of fans cheered and chanted his name repeatedly before, during and after the victory against Roma. It sure looks like Houllier is on his way back and so is Liverpool.
Once the most attractive team to watch in Europe the Super Reds are now a grinding machine that play with a calculated mission. There is a demanding discipline in the side and once the creativity ignites, they are somewhat unstoppable. They have not reached that level really so far this season, but they did finish last year in style and were in fact brilliant to watch.
Houllier and one of Liverpool’s favorite sons, Phil Thompson, have laid the foundation in the club for the Pool to become invincible. Houllier has always claimed it would take five years or so to start achieving what Manchester United have done. What Houllier has built is a tactical and disciplined side based on team defense and relentless teamwork. The motivation at the club is at an all-time high and Houllier is on the threshold of reviving Anfield to its rightful place in Europe.
Manchester United comeback
In Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson we may have one of the best motivators and decision-makers in the modern game. Once Ferguson decided not to retire, his squad has responded in a manner that makes him seem unbeatable. United have sailed through the final group stage of the C.L. and are a favorite alongside Real Madrid. In 2001, it looked like Ferguson would finish with a wooden spoon, but somehow the shrewd operator got back in the race and hasn’t looked back since. Many of his buys and decisions have been questioned and criticized, but right now not a single critic in the world can say anything at all about Ferguson and his Red Devils.
Ferguson’s canceled retirement is like something famous rock stars and actors do. While his intentions may well have been to actually retire, he has once again bewildered the football world. With comeback after comeback, United continue to remain the team to beat, and beating them is still not enough to put them away. What Sir Alex has done with committing to another three years simply reflects what the club has been doing for many years now. Ferguson’s decision to stay in the game was based on his desire to win the C.L. again. Nothing else would suffice.