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Are Liverpool the new Arsenal... and not in a good way?

Brendan Rodgers’s side are facing another summer transfer saga surrounding one of their best players.

 Raheem Sterling: eyeing move to London, reportedly.
Raheem Sterling: eyeing move to London, reportedly.

IF ARSENE WENGER shared a glass of wine with Brendan Rodgers on Saturday, he would have sympathised with the Liverpool manager’s experience in his post-match press conference at the Emirates Stadium.

Rodgers spent almost the whole of his media duties handling questions over the future of one of his star players, insisting that Raheem Sterling will not be sold this summer despite his contract stand-off with the club.

Wenger has sat in the same seat and said the same things about the likes of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the past. The Frenchman knows how this ends.

While Arsenal are far from perfect, it looks like those days are behind them. Now, the Gunners are a club that sign big-name players and they could look to add Sterling as their marquee arrival this summer.

Liverpool fans will cry about a move to Arsenal being a sideways step for Sterling, but it’s not.

This is their place in the food chain now and it was confirmed by the thumping 4-1 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday, a result that Rodgers admitted has more-or-less ended his side’s chances of a top-four finish.

Liverpool are a massive club. They have won 18 domestic titles and five European triumphs.

But a 20-year-old like Raheem Sterling cares more that they last won the title in 1990, that they have won just one trophy — and it was the League Cup — since Steven Gerrard’s FA Cup heroics in 2006.

He will care more that the club’s brief Champions League campaign this season might have been a one-off given it was their first in five years but ended at the group stage.

And that’s why Liverpool are likely to have to spend another summer talking about a potential £50 million sale rather than what they can do to return to Europe’s elite competition.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Arsenal v Liverpool - Emirates Stadium Source: Daniel Hambury

In the last two summers, Luis Suarez’s future has dominated the transfer agenda for the Reds but it’s nothing new.

They have been a selling club ever since Rafael Benitez’s team was broken up. Xabi Alonso joined Real Madrid in 2009, Javier Mascherano moved to Barcelona in 2010 and Fernando Torres made a controversial £50m switch to Chelsea in 2011.

All three have gone on to win domestic titles and the Champions League at their new clubs. Suarez will fancy his chances of following suit and so might Sterling.

It is a cycle that is difficult to break. Owners Fenway Sports Group were rewarded for their tough stance on Suarez in 2013 when they turned down an offer that Arsenal believed had triggered a £40m clause in his contract.

But an unhappy player can make it impossible for the club. Fabregas and Van Persie were Arsenal captains but engineered transfers with public statements and refusals to play in pre-season, leaving Wenger with little choice if he didn’t want a poisoned dressing room.

If Liverpool can win the FA Cup this season — where the most likely scenario is a final against Arsenal — that would go some way to proving that they are not nearly men.

As brilliant as their title charge was last year, the way they blew it with the defeat to Chelsea and incredible 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace suggested they are a soft touch when the pressure is really on.

In December, they needed to beat Basel to reach the Champions League knockout stages but could only manage a draw. In the last two games, they have lost comprehensively to Manchester United and Arsenal after working so hard to get back in contention for the top four.

Wasteful

Liverpool play some fantastic football and at full flow are a joy to watch, but they have been wasteful in front of goal. After 31 league games last season they had scored 84 goals, at the same stage this season their tally stands at just 45.

Rodgers is an excellent coach with an exciting attacking philosophy and a bravery to make big decisions when it comes to his formation, tactics and selection.

But he will feel his hands are tied behind his back if he has to start another season without one of his most important players.

That cycle left Arsenal in limbo for years. They were good enough to qualify for the Champions League but never to challenge for major honours.

The blow of losing their best players often led to slow starts and contributed to a notoriously weak mentality that still emerges from time-to-time, not least in their Champions League last 16 exit to Monaco.

Rodgers has to plan how he can prevent the same happening to Liverpool and get them back to the top.

- Greg Stobart

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