Raheem Sterling
Sterling won a second-half penalty for Liverpool, but was unable to prevent a heavy defeat against Arsenal.Getty Images

Brendan Rodgers has defended Raheem Sterling after a long and difficult week for the Liverpool midfielder culminated in a disappointing 4-1 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.

Sterling, 20, has been the subject of fervent press attention in recent days after his contract saga took another twist with the player's admission that he has rejected the opportunity to sign vastly improved terms at Anfield.

Such a refusal led to speculation as to whether Sterling could leave Liverpool in the summer, with the likes of Arsenal, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich said to be interested in his signature.

As you might expect, all eyes were firmly fixed on the England international, as he started ahead of Daniel Sturridge as the lone striker for the trip to North London. But despite his lack of end product in a heavy defeat, Rodgers was full of praise for his individual performance.

"I thought Raheem was outstanding today, in fairness the kid's done great today," the Liverpool manager told BT Sport after the match, as reported by the London Evening Standard.

"It's not distractions, we were just poor defensively. You see from our record the last six games we haven't conceded away from home. It's just a disappointing day when you concede bad goals, you're always going to be up against it against a team that's obviously got good confidence."

Sterling won a second-half penalty for the visitors after being felled by Héctor Bellerín, but was unable to inspire a comeback as the Gunners cruised to a comfortable win.

He was, however, robbed of a first-half goal with the score level at 0-0 after a panicked Lazar Marković overhit his pass with the net gaping.

Defeat for Liverpool, only their second in the league in 2015, follows the disappointing result at home to Manchester United a fortnight ago and their chances of closing the gap to secure a place in the top four now look doubtful at best.

For Arsenal, meanwhile, a seventh successive Premier League victory sees them rise to second in the table and they will be full of confidence ahead of their FA Cup semi-final date against Reading on 18 April.