Are Liverpool actually a 'bigger club' than Arsenal?

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Since Arsenal’s audacious £40,000,001 bid for Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was made last week, a heated debate ensued over which of the two clubs is ‘bigger’.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers urged the Uruguayan striker to show loyalty to the club that has stuck by him throughout his turbulent two-year spell in England.

Associates of the club such as former players John Aldridge and Michael Owen have come out publicly on the subject to echo the manager’s statement that the 26-year-old would be foolish to move to Arsenal, given the size and history of a club like Liverpool.

The issue if, of course, is that both clubs have declined in recent years. The Gunners haven’t won a trophy in eight years since their 2005 FA Cup win and Liverpool haven’t qualified for Champions League football in four years, despite winning the Champions League in 2005, FA Cup in 2006 and the League Cup in 2012.

In that same period Arsenal have been to a Champions League final and lost (in 2006), as well as quarter and semifinals of the continent’s most prestigious competition, a League Cup final and lost in 2011 and have finished in the top four in the Premier League for the last 16 years consecutively.

Which is the bigger club? The answer depends on how you define the question – if it’s about the number of fans Liverpool are the bigger club with Arsenal trailing, albeit not all that far behind globally. If it’s about history, Liverpool are undoubtedly the bigger and more successful club and if it’s about titles that remains the case.

But, these days, Liverpool do not have the same capacity to win titles every year – even the most faithful on the Kop would admit that the Reds haven’t had the quality to genuinely compete for the Premier League in a long time.

As I wrote last week, Liverpool have placed in the top four in five out of the last ten seasons where Arsenal have been there throughout that period. In the last decade, Arsenal have finished 1st once, 2nd once and 3rd three times. Liverpool have placed 2nd once and 3rd once but in the last five years, crucially, they’ve placed 7th twice, 8th once, and 6th once.

Rodgers himself, in the same press conference, questioned what Arsenal could offer Suarez that Liverpool couldn’t or haven’t and then, ultimately, answered his own question in the very next breath – Champions League football.

Suarez is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the world right now and understandably ought to be playing in the top competitions. I suppose what the fans of both clubs have been debating so adamantly in the last week is ultimately dependent on the question. Liverpool are the ‘bigger’ club but Arsenal have in recent years been the better team, also with a bigger stadium and larger gate receipts.

Until Liverpool improve in the Premier League, with or without Suarez, they’re not going to re-establish themselves as one of the best clubs in the country, never mind on the continent.

They are a very big club but they must do better to restore their reputation, which, much like Arsenal’s, has been diminished in the last few years. If they are to solidify claims from their own fans that they are bigger than Arsenal - it means holding onto Suarez and not letting him sign for the Gunners at any cost.

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