Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday September 3 2012
Anfield has proved to be a fruitful ground for Arsenal in recent seasons. We haven`t lost there in the league since March 2007 and have won 6 of their last 12 trips there overall. Nevertheless, last season`s injury time triumph at Liverpool probably represented our least deserved three points of the whole season with only Liverpool`s profligacy and van Persie`s brilliance preventing a resounding home win. This time around, the mood around both clubs has been foggy. Arsenal have started solidly but failed to click in attack with two goalless draws. Liverpool responded to a heavy defeat at West Brom with an encouraging draw against champions Manchester City. Both sets of supporters had reason to gnash their teeth on transfer deadline day with key personnel remaining unreplaced. Our train journey North pervaded this sense of frustration from both sets of fans given the huge amount of Liverpool fans that travel to Anfield from London and that were on our train.
Liverpool gave a full debut to Arsenal target Nuri Sahin, whilst Arsene Wenger replaced Gervinho with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain compared to the draw with Stoke last week. The game began slowly, though Arsenal took a foothold of the game early on, with Diaby and Arteta imposing themselves above Gerrard and Joe Allen. This gave Santi Cazorla the freedom to roam and make his impression on the game. He strode to the edge of the box, but his left foot snap shot was comfortably gathered by Reina.
Arsenal have looked much more defensively organised in the opening three games, but they really ought to have been one goal down when Gerrard`s floated corner found Daniel Agger completely unmarked on the six yard line, but he took his eye off the ball and missed his header. This morning we are lauding Steve Bould`s influence on a defence that has stayed unbreached. Had Agger connected with his header, it might have been oh so different. Lines can be pencil thin in the world of football.
The Gunners were giving themselves a platform upon which to build, Diaby and Arteta simultaneously protecting their defence and providing a springboard for attack. Gingers 4 Limpar`s post http://gingers4limpar.com/?p=2146 on the match uses statszone data to highlight that Diaby completed three successful "take ons", made three interceptions and four tackles, Arteta made the same number of tackles and completed 95% of his passes, Diaby completed 92%. Cazorla made the difference by scoring a goal and creating another, but he did so because the platform provided by Diaby and Arteta allowed him to. Much is made of the 49 goals Arsenal shipped last season and to outsiders that view the game more simply, this has been used as an indictment of Arsenal`s defenders. I always felt it was more of a midfield problem and it`s no coincidence that good starts to the season by Arteta and Diaby have begat a better defensive record. I do still worry greatly about how we keep that together if Arteta gets injured.
Arsenal`s first goal was all about two of the new boys though. Brendan Rodgers is slowly trying to introduce a more tika taka style play to Liverpool. One player that clearly does not fit in with this style is Steven Gerrard, who repeatedly humped the ball into the box with no avail. It was he who was guilty of giving the ball away in Arsenal's half. Lukas Podolski, placed in front of his full back, picked up the loose ball and fed Cazorla. The German then raced sixty yards up field, with Glen Johnson showing none of the same desire to get back. Cazorla drifted through Liverpool`s midfield. Sahin is still clearly rusty, he looked as though he was running through treacle trying to catch a player who was almost a teammate. Giroud`s run pulled Skrtel away and Podolski ran into the space. Cazorla`s nudge found Podolski, who controlled before slotting calmly into the corner. "Lukas Podolski, he scores when he wants" was the cry from the Anfield Road End. The away support was in boisterous voice throughout, though it did get a bit tiresome with every other chant harbouring a bitter obsession towards our ex captain.
Liverpool briefly threatened to equalise in the 41st minute. Daniel Ageer`s diagonal ball was excellently kept in by the otherwise ineffective Borini, he hooked the ball back into the area, Mannone was intimidated from collecting by Suarez, who backed into the Italian keeper. It was frustrating to see Webb penalise for the slightest glance at Reina, yet Mannone was not afforded the same dizzying levels of protection. In any case, the ball worked back towards Sterling, whose shot clipped the outside of the post. Arsenal should have extended their lead when Diaby clicked majestically into his stride to lope beyond the Liverpool midfield, he found Giroud with a clever reverse pass as the Frenchman ran across the face of the box, but he found himself off balance as he lashed his shot wide. A chance almost identical to the one he missed against Sunderland.
Giroud`s work rate is beyond reproach, even when he doesn`t win the multitude of aerial duels he competes for, he always at least ensures that the defender`s clearance is not emphatic. This is where his teammates need to get used to him and get closer to him to take advantage of his strength. Particularly Podolski who plays quite far in field. Possibly if and when Ramsey plays, we`ll see this strength utilised more as Ramsey likes to run beyond the forwards from deep. But equally, Giroud too often looks to provide an unsubtle 'target man` option, which doesn`t suit our style. He needs to be a bit cleverer with his movement. The chances spurned against Liverpool and Sunderland show he`s capable of a subtle run, as did his run to take Agger away from Podolski.
Arsenal had a promising launchpad for a second half which they controlled. With the one goal cushion, we were able to soak up Liverpool pressure and hit them on the counter attack. In the first half, pressuring Liverpool high up the pitch disrupted their flow and prevented them from getting into the flow of their passing game. In the second half, Arsenal were happy to let Liverpool pass the ball in the Gunners` half. Joe Allen completed 15 passes in the final third. Mikel Arteta completed 8 in Liverpool`s. Yet there`s no question as to which player affected the game more and only one of Allen`s translated into a "key pass." Is this a brave new Arsenal? More compact? More pragmatic? Time will tell. The "back six" as it were (that is to say, the back four plus the two screening midfielders) has stayed the same for the first three games and that continuity has helped.
But it won`t last all season. It may not even survive the international break. It is an attitude that will need to prevail when the likes of Sagna, Koscielny, Rosicky, Wilshere, Coquelin, Djourou, Santos etc. come in, as they inevitably will do. Indeed, the decision to persist with Gibbs when he and Santos effectively shared the left back role last season seems to be a nod towards this. Wenger has put his stake in the younger man in Gibbs. That said, Liverpool really could have had a penalty when Mertesacker appeared to pull Suarez back in the area from Borini`s cross. I suspect had it not been Suarez, complete with his customary triple pikes and his (deserved) reputation for being one of the most cynical players on the planet, Howard Webb may have been more obliging. It`s also worth remembering Mertesacker was on a yellow card at the time too. It was a frustrating day for Suarez, who found each one of his three attempted take ons foiled by Mertesacker and Vermaelen.
Arsenal had the greater verve and looked to exploit Liverpool`s right hand side, where Glen Johnson proved to be a forgiving opponent. Cazorla found Podolski, tucked in from the left, encouraging Gibbs on the overlap. Podolski found Gibbs, whose shot was pawed away by Reina from a tight angle. Jenkinson and Cazorla had left footed strikes from the edge of the area which went close. But Arsenal got their goal just after the hour mark. Cazorla again prowled around Liverpool`s defensive third with the ball and prodded the ball to Podolski. Jonjo Shelvey was caught napping as the nippy Spaniard continued his run between Johnson and Skrtel. Podolski fed Cazorla who moved into the box and unleashed a low left foot shot. His compatriot Reina ought to have saved it, but it squirmed under his body and into the net.
Arsenal played the waiting game thereafter and were content to soak up Liverpool`s pressure. Ramsey replaced Chamberlain on the right hand side and Santos came in for a tiring Podolski. Not at all surprising he was fatigued given his exceptional work rate. The home side attacked in a vain attempt to rescue the game. Shelvey`s shot was beaten out by Mannone and Vermaelen was swift to the rebound to clear the danger. Joe Allen found Suarez`s bending run but once again the Uruguayan`s finishing let him down as he prodded over under pressure from Mertesacker. In the end it was a complete away performance. The three midfielders played their role to perfection. Arteta the protector, Diaby the link man, Cazorla the tormentor. All three could have made a case for man of the match. All four defenders too enjoyed near faultless afternoons and Podolski found that hard graft brought reward, which should be more than enough for Giroud to continue in the same vein.
The challenge really is to maintain that consistently. Southampton will present a different challenge. They won`t be as open as Liverpool and we`ll once again have to field the task of a team playing predominantly not to concede. But four goals against City and United this season shows they have the potential to hurt us defensively too. Going a goal up at Anfield enabled us to dictate the game on our own terms and a repeat is essential against Southampton. The international break presents obstacles, of fitness and continuity now the team has demonstrated an understanding for the first time. But after Friday`s damp squib in the market, a win was a perfect tonic for a train journey home that was so short on mixers. LD.
LIVERPOOL: 25.REINA, 2.JOHNSON. 37.SKRTEL, 5.AGGER, 3.ENRIQUE, 4.SAHIN (37.Shelvey `67), 24.ALLEN, 8.GERRARD (c), 29.BORINI (19.Downing `54), 31.STERLING, 7.SUAREZ. Unused: 1.Jones, 14.Henderson, 23.Carragher, 29.Coates, 34.Kelly.
ARSENAL: 24.MANNONE, 25.JENKINSON, 4.MERTESACKER, 5.VERMAELEN (c) (6.Koscielny `89), 28.GIBBS, 8.ARTETA, 2.DIABY, 19.CAZORLA, 15.CHAMBERLAIN (16.Ramsey `74), 9.PODOLSKI (11.A.Santos `82), 12.GIROUD. Unused: 14.Walcott, 22.Coquelin, 27.Gervinho, 35.Martinez.
Date:Monday September 3 2012
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