Sunderland produced a gutsy rearguard action to preserve their Premier League status with a tense 0-0 draw against Arsenal on Wednesday.
Dick Advocaat’s side knew a point at the Emirates Stadium would be enough to guarantee their survival and they achieved that goal with an obdurate defensive display that kept Arsenal at bay despite a barrage of pressure from the hosts.
Superbly marshalled by holding midfielder Lee Cattermole and central defenders Sebastian Coates and John O’Shea, Sunderland still needed a fine performance from goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon to emerge unscathed.
Pleased for Sunderland, but there’s not just one team in the North East that desperately needs a bit of direction. So much…drifting.
— Rory Smith (@RorySmithTimes) May 20, 2015
The Black Cats, now four points clear of third bottom Hull, can now start planning for next season instead of nervously facing a decisive trip to champions Chelsea in Sunday’s final round of fixtures.
Despite failing to win for the fourth time in their last five matches, Arsenal have likely done enough to secure a third place finish and automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League group stage.
Wenger’s side almost conjured a breathtaking opener when Wilshere floated a delicate chipped pass to Olivier Giroud, who waited for the ball to drop over his shoulder before volleying narrowly past the far post.
Jack Rodwell and Steven Fletcher came on for Sunderland at the interval and Advocaat’s changes almost paid immediate dividends.
Adam Johnson slipped in Fletcher down the right channel and the Sunderland striker’s snap-shot drew a good save from David Ospina.
After a complete lack of activity in the first half, Arsenal goalkeeper Ospina was suddenly in the thick of the action and he had to save with his feet after van Aanholt found space for a low drive.
Wenger’s side responded strongly as Giroud met Hector Bellerin’s cross with a flicked effort that Pantilimon clawed away before Kieran Gibbs’ looping header drew another acrobatic stop from the Sunderland keeper.
Fletcher almost caught Arsenal off guard when he latched onto Jermain Defoe’s pass and sprinted clear, however the Scot couldn’t get enough height on his chip and Ospina was able to save.
Theo Walcott came on for his 300th Arsenal appearance midway through the half, but his arrival was overshadowed by Fletcher wasting a glorious chance to put the visitors ahead when he sliced van Aanholt’s cross over from close-range with only Ospina to beat.
Sunderland were straining every sinew to keep Arsenal at bay, with one brilliant block from Coates denying Sanchez, yet Billy Jones almost undermined their efforts when the defender deflected Ramsey’s cross onto his own woodwork.
In a nervous finale, substitute Tomas Rosicky dragged his shot wide and Pantilimon made a fine stop to deny Walcott’s powerful strike before Sunderland’s ecstatic players and fans could finally celebrate.
The fractious relationship between Liverpool Football Club’s supporters and Raheem Sterling will be at breaking point later this week.
When the talented youngster and his representatives meet with manager Brendan Rodgers to outline his desire to leave, it will deal the club another bitter blow.
With the impending departure of captain Steven Gerrard to LA Galaxy coupled with the collapse of a dreadful season that saw their trophy hunt end with a whimper and failure to reach the Champions League, the Reds could do without a political warfare this summer.
Liverpool have been here before, just two years ago, in fact, when Luis Suarez tried to force through a move to Arsenal. But if one thing can be taken from that protracted saga it’s that owner John W Henry will not be pressured into a sale or held to ransom by Sterling and his representative Aidy Ward.
Ward was forced into somewhat of a backtrack when he claimed reports splashed across the back of every British newspaper that Sterling wanted out, had been “blown out of proportion”.
Liverpool have won 100% of their games WITHOUT Raheem Sterling (and just 40.4% with)… here, Sportsmail look … http://t.co/OzH0Bgmk5R
— Daily Mail Football (@MailFootball) May 19, 2015
That implies there may be some room for negotiation but the vultures are circling and Liverpool can expect a series of bids this summer from their rivals that may not match their expectations but will only seek to unsettle their prized asset even further.
It’s not clear if financial reward is the motivation for Sterling or whether it is the appetite for trophies but regardless, what does this say about Liverpool?
It’s easy to be roped into the club are the good guys and the player the bad guy but this is much more than that. Liverpool have become an easy target for star players to leave. Agents feed off vulnerability and right now, after the season they’ve endured, they are there for the taking. The Reds’ relative mediocrity is there for all to see. Sterling and Ward know that.
But what Liverpool supporters must remember is that Sterling is not in the same ilk of departing skipper Gerrard. Merseyside is not his natural home. He was born in Jamaica and grew up in London so the emotional ties to Liverpool are non-existent. They are simply his employers. The problem is, though, fans expect loyalty in an era where there is none and have reacted angrily, claiming they can afford to lose a talented player.
Don’t be fooled, a Sterling departure would be hugely detrimental to Rodgers. Believing Sterling is dispensable because he is not the finished product is laughable.
He’s 20 years old. Last season he was Europe’s best teenager and despite a dip in form this term, is still a crucial cog in the Red machine. Just look at the cold hard facts; first for successful dribbles, fouls won, attempted shots and second for goals, starts and assists at Liverpool.
Can they really afford to lose a player with that much impact, again? Suarez has gone, Gerrard is going and Daniel Sturridge is broken. To attract new players in the summer Liverpool must show ambition and keep their stars.
— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) May 19, 2015
With two years left on his contract it’s in their hands. They must, though, act and perform like a big club otherwise they will leave themselves at the mercy of those who do, namely Manchester City and Arsenal.
Should Sterling go it has to be on Liverpool’s terms and if he stays he has some making up to do with those who make the final judgement at Anfield; the fans.
Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling was booed by fans at the club’s end-of-season awards ceremony last night.
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The 20-year-old rejected a new contract from the Reds back in January and reports emerged on Monday (May 18) night – subsequently played down by his agent Aidy Ward – that he will tell the club this week he will not sign another deal.
Sterling, who earlier had been presented to the crowd alongside fans’ favourite and Player of the Year Philippe Coutinho, picked up Young Player of the Year award.
However, as he made a short acceptance speech there were shouts of ‘Stay Raheem’ and as he finished speaking and left the stage there were audible boos from some of the 3,000 fans assembled at the rear of the Echo Arena in the city.
When his name was mentioned in a video montage moments later there were more jeers.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 19, 2015
Commenting on Liverpool’s season, which has seen them miss out on Champions League qualification after an early exit in the competition, manager Brendan Rodgers, presenting the Goal of the Season award to Philippe Coutinho for his strike against Southampton, said: “Expectancy from last season was going to be high. Things that have happened, the distractions, you can’t plan for them.
“It has been a difficult, trying season but the players will all be better for it next year.”
At Manchester United’s awards ceremony, goalkeeper David De Gea was named Players’ Player of the Year.
Spaniard De Gea, who is being linked with a summer switch to Real Madrid, said: “I want to say thank you to my team-mates, they have been fantastic this season and I love them. We have a great dressing room and I would like to say thank you very much.”
— David De Gea (@D_DeGea) May 19, 2015