They were surprise shocks felt around the world, or so much of the media would have you believe. Vultures scrupulously circled a cavernous Anfield as the Scouse nation struggled to surmount the sickly hangover of a late Liverpool crumble. Ferguson’s men shattered Arsenal’s fragile psyche, leaving them fighting to keep the fabric of the fantastic season from unfurling after their demonstrative drubbing. The Earth’s axis shifted slightly.
The FA Cup may have regained a bit of its magic, but like the Afghan government, it proves powerless and impotent outside of its meager radius. Punters can revel in the romance of a Havant and Waterlooville taking an Anfield lead, but the mighty stones comprising the football fortress remain motionless. Only the Big Four win and, for them, the trophy is merely blusterous window-dressing, bailing out the manager after an aborted title campaign.
One never wants to lose 4-0 or to a Championship side, but neither Liverpool nor Arsenal should be devastated by their defeats.
Liverpool have a pragmatic path put in front of them. They need to finish fourth in the league to retain their Champions’ League place. Another extended European adventure, would add some flourish to a forgettable year, but it pales compared to the primary goal. The FA Cup for the Reds was at best an amicable nuisance. Even if they had won the competition, their summer solution would still likely be a roster overhauled at the prodding of a new puppet-master. A win or loss against Barnsley fails to affect Liverpool’s bumbling malaise. The song remains the same for Rafa regardless. If anything, the lightened load of fixtures will allow him to rest weary legs.
There is the not so subtle embarassment of losing to the lumbering lower leaguers at home. However, how many times will Liverpool have the advantage in corners (15-3), shots (33-11) and shots on target (20-7) without winning? The loss looks ludicrous, but in the long-term it will matter little.
Similarly for Arsenal, the apparent FA Cup tragedy proves quite trivial. The Gunners still sit five points atop the table. Should they focus forward rather than down, rivalry will not ring relevant. Even another Old Trafford tumble would prove a mere hiccup on their track toward victory, provided they perpetuate their pace. A League Title would be tremendous. An extended European run would make fans ecstatic. An FA Cup would be a crappy consolation prize.
Realistically, their emaciated squad can only handle one competition effectively, or perhaps skate on the edge to manage two. The FA Cup would have drained rest and resources from the far more important challenges in the Premier League and in Europe. A 4-0 defeat to a rival never leaves a settled stomach, but it could quite conceivably win them the title. The effect on morale will probably resemble that after the Tottenham debacle, minimal.
The FA Cup provides compelling copy for media outlets, but when the “magic” and the “romance” reduce to real world concerns the results are hardly tangible. They swaddle Saturday as important, but really who could care less?
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