So it was our third game of the season and our second away game in a row. This time the team traveled to Anfield, a ground where we have had a lot of success in recent years. The team remained the same with only one change in the form of Oxlade-Chamberlain to replace the rather inconsistent Gervinho who lacks end product. Szczesny failed his fitness test which meant Mannone keeps his place in the starting eleven. Koscielny was match-fit but not fit enough to start, so we continued with the rock solid centre-back pairing of Mertesacker and captain Vermaelen.
We put in a good performance and even though Liverpool had a slight advantage in terms of possession, our attacks had more bite and defence was a lot more solid. We had good speed on the counter with Gibbs, Podolski and Chamberlain. But the most encouraging thing to see was the way our attacking players were tracking back to defend – especially Podolski. On more than one occasion, Gibbs saw himself lose the ball when he was running down the flanks or when he tried whipping in a cross. Liverpool tried to counter but Podolski charged back putting in strong tackles. Steve Bould has done a fantastic job with the team so far – noted our defensive weaknesses and has rectified them, which is a really encouraging sign. The other positive was the way our new players are starting to fit in really well in the team and contribute more and more with each game. Both the goals coming from new signings. All in all, a good away performance which was worthy of three points.
Liverpool had more of the ball for the first few minutes and showed a lot of attacking intent. Once we got into the game, we managed to keep more of the ball, slowly building and creating a few half chances. After the first 25 minutes, Liverpool had the better of the chances in terms of quantity but never really looked like scoring. In the 31st minute Vermaelen intercepted an attempted pass and knocked it on to Podolski who then passed it to Cazorla and then made a charging run through the midfield and into the Liverpool box when Cazorla made an inch-perfect pass to Podolski who calmly put it past Reina at his back post. One nil to the Arsenal. Liverpool then had a great chance after a lot of attacking in the form of 17 year old wonderkid, Raheem Sterling, who made a superb turn in the box and took two great touches before pulling the trigger only for the ball to hit the post and go out for a goal kick. By the 50th minute, Suarez had already had three penalty shouts turned down, and rightly so. At the hour mark, Stewart Downing who had just come on for Borini forced a good save out of Mannone who tipped Downing’s shot out for a corner. We started to be more direct with our passes and strung together a few passes which finally culminated in a great move which saw Cazorla have a low shot at goal from close range – an attempt that should have been saved by Reina but he couldn’t get down in time and the ball went in off his arm. A bit unfortunate for Liverpool, but the build up to the move was worthy of a goal. Mannone made a couple more good saves but we looked solid at the back and sharp moving forward till the final whistle. First win of the season.
After the game, Arsene said he was pleased with the performance:
Overall I am pleased with the quality of our performance, offensively and defensively. In our first two games you could feel some potential but we lacked a little spark and that is getting better now. We come out of the game with the feeling we had a good performance but there is also a good potential and team energy and that is always very interesting because there is something to work on.
There were a lot of positives from the game. One of the biggest positives was Abou Diaby. He put in a man of the match winning performance, which was great to see. And he can only get better the more he plays. He held the ball well and managed to get past a few Liverpool defenders by himself on a couple of occasions. From a statistical point of view, he had a passing accuracy of 91% and made 2 key passes. He also completed 3 successful dribbles and made 4 clean ball winning tackles and 3 interceptions. A great overall performance from the midfield man who has shown what he is capable of if he isn’t injured. Arsene Wenger expressed both his happiness and his concerns with regard to Diaby:
You can see it is massive for us because he is a tremendous football player. He has absolutely everything you want in midfield. He hasn’t played for a year but he had a good pre-season where we had him 45 minutes every three days and now he looks in good shape. There is more to come from him but what he has shown today is very good. I was worried about him highly but I always stood behind him because not only is he a fantastic football player but a fantastic guy as well. Let’s hope he survives the break because the national team travel a lot, play two games in four days and let’s hope he comes back in good shape.
This is something you’re going to hear a lot this season. Cazorla had yet another great performance, being involved in both of our goals. It is clear that he has a heavy influence when we attack. He coordinates the attack along with Arteta, picking the right pass almost all the time. He too had a high passing accuracy with 90% of his passes finding a teammate. He also made 3 key passes and had a goal and an assist to his name. Cazorla is definitely one of the most complete players I’ve seen in an Arsenal shirt. He has pace on the counter, the vision to pick the right pass, a left foot which is as strong as his right and a belter of a shot.
So we’ve finally felt the euphoria of putting the ball in the back of the net this season and still haven’t conceded a goal after 270 minutes – especially since 180 of those minutes were away from home. That for me is the biggest positive about the season so far given our defensive track record. The only small complaint I can have about the season so far is Giroud’s finishing. I’m not criticizing him, but it definitely could get better. He is coming from a different league and it’s understandable. But it is clearly an area he needs to improve upon. But on the converse, he has great movement and positioning and is very strong – all very uselful traits in the Premier League.
There was another thing that I noticed during the game that I think a lot of people didn’t – Vermaelen’s leadership qualities. When the defence were off the ball and the ball was with he midfielders, I could see him helping the young boys Gibbs and Jenkinson with their positioning and telling Gibbs when to push forward and how much. I found this to be really encouraging. He is already showing signs of a great team leader.
No club football this weekend as there are international friendlies. Something no one is happy about but that’s just the way it is. All we can hope for is that all our players come back unscathed.
To sum up, five points after three games out of which two were Stoke and Liverpool away is a solid start and lets hope we can maintain this form and discipline all throughout this season and maybe we can achieve something. Our next fixture is only on the 15th of September, home against Southampton – a team which has caused a lot of trouble for both the Manchester clubs this season. Let’s hope we don’t let them cause to much trouble against us and we come out with three points.
Come on you Gunners!
(All the great stats in this post are from WhoScored. You should check them out!)