Arsenal’s season has been dominated by good cheer, then rage, then further rage, and then apocalyptic predictions over the exchange of players in the transfer market.
The furore reached its peak on Friday when no new signings were made on deadline day, with many educated types calling for Arsene Wenger’s head, with proclamations he had lost the plot and that the season was heading down the drain.
Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal.
Read that again. Savour it, you bastards. Because moments like this provide a hell of a lot more to enjoy than any fantasy signing.
This article sums it up brilliantly about the fickleness of the supporter base. I had some absolutely shambolic comments on here the other day about how ‘papa’ Wenger had to ‘go die’ because he didn’t sign X, Y and Z. Diaby is the poster boy for such beliefs, a waste of space and someone we need to sell urgently. He is also proof that Wenger, while he has his faults, generally knows what the hell he is doing.
Did that man put a single foot wrong all game? In a cynical fashion, I was waiting for him to make just one single mistake, which finally came at about 85 minutes: an overhit pass to the wing which went out for a throw-in.
Diaby was exemplary in midfield and showed what the centre of this team can achieve when everything clicks into place. His passing was perfect, his dribbling and ability to spin past his marker was thrilling. Most importantly, his partnership with Mikel Arteta – who was also superb – meant Arsenal was largely in control throughout the encounter.
The opening exchanges were a little hairy, but that’s to be expected at Anfield. Liverpool did their best to put us under pressure, with the defence called up time and time again to head crosses clear.
A lot of good was done in this game, but I’ll get the crap out of the way first. Arsenal still needs to improve in two areas: crossing and clearances. I remember as far back as 2004, even with Pascal Cygan in the side, our team was capable of putting the ball in the proverbial Row Z. Headed clearances seemed to balloon to the half-way line. And crosses were either whipped in the air, or played hard along the ground.
Now the clearances seem very weak, with the defence having to ping-pong the ball around off the head for a bit before playing it out of defence. Similarly, I really, really want Kieran Gibbs to upgrade his cross from the spooned-lob to something lower, harder and with a bit more spin on it.
But enough of that. Arsene Wenger had a game plan at Anfield and his team executed it to perfection. For 80 minutes, Arsenal set up their defence and played a superb counter-attacking game, with Diaby, Arteta and Santi Cazorla running the show.
The last 10 minutes were spent mostly in containment, holding a desperate Liverpool at bay. Vito Mannone, again deputising for the injured Szczesny, came up big when required, putting in a number of good saves at the death.
Up front, Olivier Giroud’s goalless streak continued, but good work came in other departments. He fought for every aerial ball sent his way, winning a stack of aerial duels and playing the ball back to the midfield engine who then advanced further up the pitch.
Podolski put in a solid shift on the left and was rewarded for his tenacity, both attacking and defensive, with the opening goal. Popping the ball to Cazorla, he sprinted past the jogging Glen Johnson as Cazorla made his way forward. Spotting the reverse angle, Cazorla deftly put the ball in the German’s path, who thumped it low past Pepe Reina.
Cazorla would get his reward in the second half as he sprang from the left flank into the box before hitting a low shot at Reina, who somehow elbowed it into his net. The goal was lucky but the run was a thing of beauty. Passing off to his team-mate, his looping sprint around Jonjo Shelvey was found by Podolski before taking one touch in the box before shooting. At first I thought the ball was out for the corner. Once my corner of the pub exploded into life, I realised the result was so much better.
As a quick note, some have found my ratings quite strict in previous matches. That’s not to say I’ve relented for the ratings below, I felt performances all round were great. For reference, I start every player that comes on the field with a ‘6’, and work up or down from there.
Mannone – 7.5: Untroubled for much of the match, but then earned his pay packet in the final 10 or so minutes. At least three very good saves to make sure the points were safe. Troubled under the high-ball, but a lot of that had to do with Suarez’s illegal antics.
Jenkinson – 7.5: Another fine effort from the right-back. I’m becoming increasingly convinced he is more than suitable back-up to Sagna. Nothing got passed him of note. Very solid.
Mertesacker – 7: Some butterflies early on, but I thought his yellow card was very harsh. Recovered well and dovetailed well yet again with Vermaelen.
Vermaelen – 8: A titan in defence. Came out battered, bruised and sore, but with a clean-sheet. Got forward once or twice, but did his main job of taking charge of the defence with aplomb.
Gibbs – 7: Becoming more and more reliable. Strong in the tackle, good going forward. Really want him to provide a better cross, though. Got beaten once or twice late on.
Arteta – 8: Such a professional. Held his position superbly. He is a wonderful asset to this side and mopped up several mistakes made by other players.
Diaby – 9: Best performance since the League Cup final against Chelsea. Near-perfect performance. Best moments came with his trademark spin past players to find himself in acres of space. Nothing lazy about this shift. Now the hard part comes in doubling up with a spell of consistent form.
Cazorla – 8: Got off the mark in an Arsenal shirt. Great assist for Podolski. His markers never knew which way he was going to turn next. He is on a sensational run at the moment and really enjoying his football.
Podolski – 8: A hard worker in defence and clinical when given the chance. Got back well whenever Gibbs ventured forward.
Chamberlain – 6.5: Put in some hard yards when running the ball out of our half.
Giroud – 7: Endured a thankless task up front but won important aerial duels up front. Some good link-up play with Cazorla. Missed a chance late in the first half on his stronger foot, but many are confident the goals will come.
SUBS: Ramsey – 7: Replaced AOC after the winger went off with a calf complaint. Beat his man once or twice and mopped up defensively.
Santos – 6: Not a huge amount of time to impose himself, but joined in on the tiki-taka fun.
Koscielny – 6: Good to have him back. Put in a few headers to keep the hosts at bay late on.
Hype Meter time: a big boost with that win takes us to 5 points out of a predicted 7: 71% and roaring up the ladder. Only 1 point was predicted from Anfield, so it’s a big catch-up result.
So our first win of the season comes with the first goals of the campaign, both for the team and for two of the new boys, and we are the only side in the league to have not conceded a goal.
And that is worth highlighting again, especially with what we had to put up with at Stoke and Anfield. Thomas Vermaelen was a star last night, contending with Suarez’s usual ‘gamesmanship’, including a juicy stamp on his calf-muscle. As rewards for his efforts late on, he got a nice diving tackle from behind by Steven Gerrard who should have received an instant red. But the clean-sheet is testament to what was a brilliant captain’s innings.
How is it that a win changes perspective to such a radical level? Things look a whole lot rosier all of a sudden. The midfield is sparkling and the defence is resolute. We could do with one more attacker, but with Wilshere and Rosicky still to return, I say it’s time for some goddamn positivity in this place for once.
Was it good enough for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.