Liverpool beating Arsenal to top four spot would see shift in balance of power and fortunes

Richard Jolly previews the final day top four battle in the Premier League between Liverpool and Arsenal.

Jurgen Klopp, left and his Liverpool side are in prime position to prevent Arsene Wenger, right, and Arsenal from making the Premier League's top four this season. Peter Powell / EPA
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The difference may seem comparatively small. According to a rather dry document Uefa released in November, Arsenal made €53.4 million (Dh219.8m) in prize money for their involvement in European competition last season. Liverpool made €37.8m.

Liverpool were in the Europa League and Arsenal the Uefa Champions League. Given the huge importance attached to qualifying for the more prestigious competition, some may wonder what all the fuss is about. Except that Southampton, eliminated in the Europa League’s qualifying rounds, banked just €450,000 while Manchester City, who were Champions League semi-finalists, were rewarded with €83.8 million. Liverpool’s gruelling run to the Europa League final was far less lucrative.


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Now, once again but in very different circumstances, they find themselves one game away from a return to the Champions League. Just as in 2006, Arsenal enter the final day as outsiders, reliant on others to do them a favour. They have precedents, but they are opposites.

Arsenal have competed in the Champions League for 19 consecutive seasons, Liverpool for only one of the last seven. Little wonder, then, that Jurgen Klopp reacted to the 4-0 thrashing of West Ham United by talking of the danger of “counting points before you have them.”

The odder comment came from Arsene Wenger when, following Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Sunderland, he said his side have “a good chance” of a top-four finish.

But their hopes rest with a Middlesbrough side who are already relegated, who have taken one point from their last seven away games and whose only victory on their travels came at Sunderland in August. Wenger requires his greatest act of escapology to date. He needs Liverpool, who have not won in three games at Anfield, to falter even more than before on their own turf.

Yet should the league table stay the same, it would represent a shift in the balance of power and in the fortunes of both clubs. The impression that Liverpool are making progress — sometimes in uneven, frustrating fashion — under Klopp would be cemented.

The sense that Arsenal are in a perhaps terminal decline under Wenger would be strengthened if they finished fifth, even though victory against Everton on Sunday would be their eighth in nine games and take them to 75 points, a record tally outside the top four.

And yet the reality is that Wenger’s Arsenal were not defined by their points total as much as their ability to secure top-four finishes. It may desert them.

It is not a straight shoot-out — City still require a point at Watford while, with some improbable results, there is the possibility of play-off between any two of the trio — but it will probably come down to Liverpool and Arsenal.

Whoever prevails, there will be consequences. Alexis Sanchez’s efforts invariably tend to be fervent but the Chilean has been like a man possessed in recent weeks, shrugging off injuries to take his personal haul to 23 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League alone. With his contract up in 2018, with interest among the European superpowers, it is harder to imagine him committing to a Europa League club.

At Anfield, meanwhile, Klopp has accepted this could be the start of a “new era” for Liverpool. He is adamant he will not bid for players whose sole motivation is Champions League football but accepted it would give Liverpool greater pulling power.

A manager with a transfer-market profit, partly by choice, would be able to expand his horizons. Life in the Champions League, as Arsenal can testify, can feel self-perpetuating, life outside, as Liverpool know, can feel never-ending.

It affects budget and status alike. It offers the impression clubs are headed in the right and wrong direction. It has a symbolic significance.

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