Trophy Chance Missed but Liverpool Need to Look to Champions League for Success

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2014

Arsenal's Per Mertesacker, left, and goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, right foreground, celebrate their win as Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge, center, sits on the ground at the end of their English FA Cup fifth round soccer match at Emirates Stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Sang Tan/Associated Press

Liverpool will be disappointed to have suffered their first defeat of 2014 after losing the FA Cup fifth-round clash against Arsenal on Sunday, but Brendan Rodgers and his players have bigger fish to fry over the rest of the season.

The loss at the Emirates Stadium is a setback, yes, but once the frustrations of the cup exit abide, the coaching staff, playing staff and fans alike should all realise the importance of what lies ahead outweighs this undeserved defeat.

Far from being soundly beaten in return for the hiding they handed out to Arsenal a week ago, Liverpool were once again the better team and created more than enough chances to win.

On this occasion it was the finishing which let them down and nothing else.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Luis Suarez of Liverpool reacts during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on February 16, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Fingers will be pointed at Howard Webb's inexplicable failure to award Liverpool a second penalty, and while that case has its merits, Steven Gerrard could easily have been shown a second yellow card himself and Liverpool shouldn't have had to rely on penalties to find the back of the net.

Daniel Sturridge, on the verge of history for Liverpool had he continued his scoring streak into a ninth game, suddenly lost his way in front of goal. On another day he might have won the tie with two goals in the opening five minutes as the Reds wove through Arsenal's defence once again.

Luis Suarez's run of bad luck continues, this time in the form of impressive reserve stopper Lukasz Fabianski and one or two scuffed efforts, but really, Liverpool created enough clear, quality opportunities to have put another five past Arsenal on the day.

They didn't, it's disappointing...but they move on.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Nobody should try and pretend that the cup didn't matter; it does, and Liverpool had a great chance of winning silverware through it this season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12:  Manager Brendan Rodgers of liverpool looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Liverpool at Craven Cottage on February 12, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

But they now face the situation of playing one game per week up until the end of the season, time enough between games to recover freshness and fitness, apply tactical plans and have everybody ready to start each game flying from the first whistle. That is the challenge now ahead of Rodgers and Co.: keep the players focused on starting games well every week.

If they do that, the top-four place and the prize of next season's Champions League which comes with it is Liverpool's for the taking.

With Chelsea still involved in two competitions, Arsenal in three and Manchester City in all four over the last three months of the season, there is no telling who might lose focus and precious points domestically, especially with two of those sides yet to visit Anfield.

The FA Cup remains a prize Liverpool should aspire to win in seasons to come, but the greatest and yet most basic of successes they would have wanted this season was the return to the top four.

Even in defeat come positives and reasons for hope, and the Emirates reversal brought plenty of those for Liverpool on Sunday, once again being better than a club above them in the table and considered a contender for the league title.