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BBC Comment


And for the lazy.....


Take your mind back to the first week of January - the week when Arsene Wenger was hailed as the great visionary and Rafael Benitez as a bungler who did not know his best team.


Arsenal dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup on the Saturday then became the first visiting side to score six at Anfield for 77 years in a Carling Cup tie on the Tuesday.


Wenger's brilliant band of youngsters ran Liverpool ragged, with Benitez accused of betraying Anfield's great traditions by fielding weakened sides.


Liverpool supporters voiced disapproval, but Benitez was unrepentant, effectively saying he had not come to Anfield to win the Carling Cup.


He wanted the Premiership or the Champions League.


Arsenal and Wenger, in contrast, were almost obliterated by the bouquets hurled in their direction. The world was at their feet.


How we laughed. At Benitez.


Turn the clock forward to where we stand after a dramatic two nights of Champions League football and who is laughing now?


Wenger's season has collapsed in the space of 10 days that have damaged Arsenal's image and left them empty-handed in their glittering new Emirates Stadium.


Arsenal were outstanding in defeat against Chelsea in a Carling Cup final that ended in acrimony, but were then promptly dumped out of the FA Cup by Blackburn.


And the Champions League exit at the hands of PSV Eindhoven capped a miserable 10 days.


Benitez, on the other hand, has been hailed as one of the finest tactical brains in football after meticulously plotting Barcelona's downfall to reach the last eight.


Arsenal went the way we always knew they would. Passing the opposition into submission, then missing the chances that should have sent them through.


The glitter has been taken off Wenger's golden generation - for now at least.


Benitez is an altogether more pragmatic figure. If you want romance, send flowers but don't look for it in his football teams.


He deals in the small details, whereas Wenger is an admirable man of footballing principle who embraces the beautiful game.


But after two seasons without a trophy, it may be time for Wenger to adopt a little of Benitez's hard-nosed realism.


No-one would suggest for one second Wenger is under pressure, but two seasons without a trophy is not good news for Arsenal as they settle into a new home.


Benitez's insistence that he was seeing the bigger picture has arguably made Liverpool the best-equipped of the Premiership trio still in the Champions League to go on and win the trophy.


And that statement is made with the knowledge that Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson have set their heart on reclaiming the trophy.


The Spaniard still fails to nail down the Premiership, but he has no peers when it comes to plotting a route around Europe.


And Liverpool's fans will start to see uncanny echoes of 2005, when they emerged from the shadows to win the trophy in Istanbul.


Examine the evidence.


Benitez was criticised for fielding a below-strength team in an FA Cup defeat at Burnley, but then a succession of high-quality opponents fell by the wayside in Europe.


Make no mistake, no team in the draw will want to be paired with Liverpool in the quarter-final.


And this is not just because of the prospect of facing Steven Gerrard or confronting The Kop. It is also the fact that they will have to out-smart Benitez.


Wenger will be a miserable man after their loss.


He is a bad loser at the best of times, and three hammer blows in less than a fortnight will not be well-received.


Unthinkable as it may seem, maybe it is time he put his principles - laudable though they are - to one side and put a little bit of the Benitez philosophy into his talented but flawed Arsenal side.


He must dwell on that while Benitez eyes up another Champions League crown - but wasn't that what he said he was doing after losing 6-3 to Arsenal in the Carling Cup?

Edited by AE
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