What do Arsenal and Liverpool have in common? Great histories, multiple league titles, fantastic supporter base, American owners – and neither of them will be playing Champions League football next season.
Controversial? Maybe as far as the Gunners are concerned, but as the two teams meet at the Emirates on Wednesday evening it is impossible not to concentrate on both sides’ many flaws and how two of the giants in English football have fallen so far off the pace they are nothing but a speck of dust in the rear view mirror of the title-chasing clubs.
Just three points separate the two sides as Arsenal sit in sixth with Liverpool a place further back and I think that is a fair reflection of the gap in quality between the two teams, with the north London side just ahead of the Merseysiders on and off the pitch.
But more to the point, it is an accurate gauge of where they are as football clubs – miles away from competing at the top of the table.
For Arsenal, this has been a slow deterioration that started as soon as the Invincibles kicked the last ball of the 2003-04 season.
Yes, the FA Cup was won a year later, but that remains the last trophy to be put on the mantlepiece and Arsene Wenger has overseen a decline that has seen the Gunners go from title winners to title challengers to Champions League certainties to top-four contenders thanks to a policy of selling their best players and replacing them with inferior models.
But at least Arsenal have a brand spanking new stadium and 15 consecutive years of Champions League football to speak of.
Liverpool can only dream of being in that situation and, ridiculous as it may seem to talk about league titles after 23 years without one, the Reds are as far away as ever from the holy grail they used to take for granted.
They won’t be finishing in the top four this season and it is hard to imagine how, without their own much-trumpeted new stadium, they will be competing at the top unless their American owners put their hands in their pocket (that’s another thing the two clubs have in common, of course).
On the pitch, both have been maddeningly up and down all year, so what will happen when the most inconsistent and frustrating teams in the Premier League do battle on Wednesday?
For me, the prices on both teams are too short. Arsenal are 23/20, Liverpool are 21/10; much more viable is the draw at 5/2, which is the biggest quote of the three.
Neither of these teams can be trusted and you never know what you are going to get, which puts me off backing both of them.
The Gunners have won two games on the trot, thrashing West Ham at home and winning at Brighton in the FA Cup, but are they in good enough fettle to win three in a row? Wenger’s side have achieved that just twice all season – a surefire sign of their inability to put results together.
And at 23/20, they look a bit short. Sunderland, Fulham, Schalke, Chelsea, Swansea and Manchester City have all avoided defeat at the Emirates this year and I always think Arsenal are there to be opposed: just ten wins from 23 league games proves as much.
When you have a clanger like the display at Bradford in you, I don’t want to back you at short prices. But then again, when you have a clanger like the display at Oldham in you, I don’t want to back you either and Liverpool are not big enough at 21/10 to be tempted in.
The Reds have also managed to string three consecutive wins together just twice all season and their terrible performances – Aston Villa, Stoke City, Oldham to name but three – remain more memorable than their accomplished moments.
Brendan Rodgers’ side have won six out of their last nine in the league, which is a decent enough return, but the fact remains that the ex-Swansea boss is yet to mastermind a victory against a team currently in the top half of the division.
So I am happy to take the 5/2 on the draw, which could potentially be worth £70 to punters backing it with their free £20 bet after joining bwin.com.
Liverpool have drawn at Chelsea and Everton this year, so they aren’t completely useless on the road against the better sides, and with just three clean sheets in 15, Arsenal are vulnerable against the Reds’ potent strikeforce of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
What’s more, Liverpool have a reasonable recent record at the Emirates.
The Reds won there 2-0 last season to grab their first victory at Arsenal in 11-and-a-half years, which suggests a poor record in north London, but they have actually only lost two of the last seven visits in all competitions.
With that in mind, I reckon they can nick a point in a match between two fallen giants who, all things considered, are quite evenly matched.