A trip to Anfield is always full of trepidation, despite Liverpool’s recent decline, they are still a team that hold many dangers. If the Kop are allowed to get into the game they can be a telling 12th man roaring their team on. With this in mind Arsène Wenger and his newly arranged squad deserve a large amount of credit for making the game a very relaxed enjoyable affair for us fans.
Photo courtesy of chas – our man at the match
Quite simply we looked comfortable from the 1st minute, even when passes from the back went astray the team had retained its shape and there was no sudden chase to catch opposition forwards with the defence and midfield looking all at sea.
Liverpool tried to press as Swansea did last season but the lads in the main looked calm and collected as they moved the ball in neat triangles around the red shirts, most importantly they moved themselves as well to a position where they could receive the ball again, too often last season we saw an Arsenal player pass the ball and stand still or move as if pre programmed not reacting to what was happening around him. At our worst last season the man in possession was lucky to have one man available when faced with the press, yesterday he was unlucky if he only had two options.
The first twenty five minutes saw the two teams sizing each other up, apart from Mertesacker pulling down Suarez after letting Suarez drift off and spin him quickly and a couple of dodgy cross field passes by Jenkinson there was not too much goalmouth incident at either end, a couple of speculative efforts from either side and nothing more.
Any foray into our half by Liverpool was dealt with comfortably, any foray into Liverpool’s half by us resulted in an overhit cross or a missed pass.
On the half hour mark With Liverpool pushing forward again and committing men forward Gerard played a pass which Vermaelen read and dealt with quickly, the ball played straight to Podolski who turned and found Cazorla, for the first time in the match he was in space between the midfield and defence, Cazorla drove at the heart of the defence, Giroud pulled right and Podolski was busting a gut to join in on the left of Cazorla.
Cazorla delayed until he had the attention of the four men in front of him and as they started to think about closing a potential shot down he played a pass into the path of Podolski, one touch to set and the second touch sent the ball low and hard past Reina. One nil to the good guys, a good pacy counter attack. Perhaps the best thing about this goal was not even the goal itself, it was evidence that lessons have been learned, look behind the front three and not one other Arsenal player had left our half.
Amongst all the action something exciting was happening in the middle of the park, we were seeing the player we have been dreaming of since about 2005 when Vieira left for Juve, we were seeing Diaby stamp his authority on a football match.
Arteta was quietly and effectively mopping up the pieces in front of the back four, Cazorla was pushing and probing in the final third, and in between the two Diaby was doing whatever he wanted. Throwing dummies, back heels, twists and turns, running with the ball at pace, pressing opponents and tackling. In short the lad was class and reminded all of us just how good he can be, and precisely why Wenger has persisted with him.
Before the half ended Diaby drove with the ball through the Liverpool lines and picked out Giroud’s run, unfortunately our new front man couldn’t quite get his leg round the shot and it went harmlessly wide. To be fair to Giroud he had spent most of the first half watching crosses from Gibbs sail over his head, this was his first real chance of the game.
The second half started in the same way as the first half ended, Liverpool had possession, but they didn’t threaten sufficiently to cause the nerves to start jangling. Gone from our performance in the second half were the half hit misplaced passes, everything was being done efficiently and the team was moving up and down the pitch as a cohesive unit.
Mertesacker took our lives (and his place on the park) in his hands when he tickled Suarez under the arm which I can only imagine sent the Uruguayan weak at the knees and he couldn’t help but fall to the ground. I think this decision was probably the hardest for Webb all match, he knows he is not supposed to help Arsenal but he is definitely never allowed to help Liverpool under the terms of his contract with ManUre.
As the Arsenal midfield started to control the game more pressure was put on the Liverpool area, Gibbs was released into the 18 yard box by Podolski, his cross come shot was well saved by Reina. Cazorla going across the box let fly with his left foot to see his effort go just wide of the right post.
Finally the second goal cushion was achieved, a classic Arsenal goal, a swift one two between Cazorla and Podolski released Cazorla into the box, he drove his shot low and hard, and Reina could only parry it into the net. Two nil and cruising.
The last twenty minutes was a case of getting the job done, this is where we would really see if things have changed in the team this season, and on the evidence of this final twenty minutes the answer is a resounding yes. We were not committing six or seven men forward when in possession, when players were in possession and isolated they waited for support or the foul to come, to use a US sports phrase, we ran the clock down. Not by walking the ball across the 6 yard box every goal kick, but by keeping the ball, and supporting each other around the park.
Liverpool’s best chance came on 87 minutes and it fell to Shelvey who drove low and hard, Mannone was equal to the shot, and Vermaelen was first to the bouncing rebound to clear the lines.
The final whistle brought a few boos from the Anfield crowd, well except that corner which was full of Arsenal fans who had been magnificent (as always) for the ninety minutes. Although i would ask them to drop the “She Said No” it does us as fans no favours.
Okay so having read all of that you must be thinking everything’s rosy and we’re on the march for the league, well I wish i could agree, a good manager I played under always said the time to put things right and focus on the negatives of a performance is after a win, that way you are not further demoralising the players and they are more receptive to the ideas.
Areas for improvement:
1) Row Z is never the wrong option for a defender, sometimes it is just needed, the defence need to understand this and not be afraid to hoof it into touch to relieve pressure rather than trying to find a difficult pass with opposition shirts close.
2) Supporting the front man, occasionally we went longer to Giroud, this is a good thing as long as it doesn’t become the only ball, occasionally when Giroud did manage to get the ball ahead of Skrtel and Agger he wasn’t getting enough support, or there was breakdown in communication between him and the player coming to support, resulting in losing possession when the chance to break was on.
3) Attacking set pieces still need more work (not that we had many).
And finally the ratings, always difficult for me as its all very subjective but I will start with giving my basis for scoring. Each player starts with a 7, that 7 is based upon what i know of them as a player not how they performed compared to others on the pitch, for example Sagna might have got a 7 for the performance Jenkinson put in, but Jenkinson will get an 8 because I don’t expect him to be at that level yet….make sense?…no? …..good you can’t complain about them then:
Mannone – 8 Solid performance from our oft criticised 3rd choice, he almost made me forget that horror goal in the CL last season
Jenkinson – 8 Despite a couple of dodgy passes he just never gives up, stuck to his task of dealing with the highly spoken of Sterling very well he didn’t get a sniff.
Mertesacker – 7 Exactly what we have come to expect from the BFG, calm and assured, puts himself in the right positions most of the times, how many centre backs in the PL would stay on the park after picking up a booking in 5 minutes against the likes of Suarez at Anfield?
Vermaelen – 8 Solid display from the skipper, strong in the air when needed, good on the ground, and a couple of well timed clearances.
Gibbs – 7 Defensively solid although Borini posed nowhere near the threat that Jenkinson had to contend with, supported the attack well but must improve final ball.
Arteta – 8 His normal influential self, disciplined to play the holding role, eager to break up opposition attacks, read the game brilliantly.
Diaby – 9 – MOTM Probably his best match for the club, simply magnificent in the centre of midfield drew opposition shirts too him and then fed the ball to the free men, he helped set the tempo of the game with Arteta and Cazorla
Cazorla – 8 An assist and a well taken goal, welcome to Arsenal Santi, head up football the whole time, good runs with the ball, two footed in possession, makes the game look too easy.
Podolski – 8 Strong performance, put in a decent shift up and down the left flank, also made the pitch narrower to help out on defence, superb finish, good assist.
Oxlade-Chamberlain – 6 This to some will be abit harsh, but i don’t think Ox got into the game, he was easily marshaled at the moment by more experienced players, he will learn a lot from his new teammates, and i expect huge development this year.
Giroud – 7 Worked hard for his team, in a thankless task, didn’t stop running for 90 minutes and looked dead on his feet at the end, will need to relax to score his first goal.
by Gooner in Exile