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"Crazy Period" Kills Off Liverpool's Challenge for a Champions League Spot

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Three goals in eight minutes condemned Liverpool to defeat at the Emirates, and while Brendan Rodgers conceded that his side's challenge for a top four spot are gone, he also underlined the need to finish the season as well as possible as they look to build for next year.

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For six consecutive Premier League matches away from Anfield, Liverpool had managed to go without conceding a goal. Their defense, led by outstanding individual and collective performances from the first-choice unit of Emre Can, Martin Skrtel, and Mamadou Sakho, had suddenly become a strength, and Simon Mignolet found himself among the favorites to win this season's Golden Gloves award after having been dropped midseason for Brad Jones.

And then, for the first time in over 600 minutes of league play, they leaked a goal. Seven minutes later, they'd conceded two more, and in all fairness, they were lucky not to have done so earlier in the match. Arsenal were excellent, pressing Liverpool high up the pitch and forcing a string of individual errors, with Simon Mignolet the only thing keeping them from a two- or three-goal advantage.

It was, as far as disastrous spells in a match go, as bad as it's been all season, and Brendan Rodgers noted as much post-match while ruling out a chance at qualifying for Europe's top club compeition for the 2015-2016 campaign:

"If you can get 1-0 in front, especially when you're playing well, you can hopefully dominate the space as well as the ball. But we didn't manage to do that and then we had the crazy period just before half-time. If you look at our last six or seven games away from home, we have defended very well and kept clean sheets, but we defended very poorly in that period and before you know it you're 3-0 down. In the second half you're playing for pride and the players did that and were much better in the second half.

"We haven't performed as we would have liked and that has cost us in terms of the results. I very much doubt we'll be in the top four now come the end of the season, there's too much ground to make up - that's the realistic view for me. Now we must really focus on the FA Cup and that's going to be very, very important for us. Overall, there's been a lot of learning taken place this year, both in terms of myself and all the competitions we've been in so far, young players have improved and got better as the season has gone on. Now we'll try to finish the season as strongly as we possibly can and take all of this going into next season, when we'll have to make a really bright start in the opening eight games."

The first three games of this season were just fine, with wins over Southampton and Spurs bookending a loss away to Manchester City. The next two and a half months were absolutely miserable, with a string of poor performances and bad results domestically and on the continent, effectively ruling them out of contention in two of the four competitions in which they participated. Some fortunate results elsewhere in the Champions League group left a chance at qualifying and another excellent run in the Premier League kept top four hopes alive, but both have fizzled in disappointing fashion.

They can still finish strong, as Rodgers mentions, and they are capable of winning silverware via the FA Cup as long as they rebound quickly for Wednesday's visit to Blackburn. But for many the focus has now shifted to the summer and the start of the next campaign, with hopes that they'll strengthen in the right areas and round out a squad that's close--but not yet close enough--to competing.