Last night’s 2-1 win over Liverpool appears to be a turning point for this Arsenal team in so many ways.
It marks the first win at Anfield for six years and the first win over big four opposition this season. It was just the first time we have come from behind at half-time to win and closed the gap at the top to just six points with a game at hand.
But most importantly, it appears to be the game that Arsene Wenger awoke from his slumber and dished out the type of comments that these so often nurtured players have needed to hear for three seasons. At 1-0 down and playing exceptionally poorly, according to Cesc Fabregas, Wenger absolutely let his players have it:
“The boss screamed. He was really disappointed with us in the first half. I’ve never seen him like that before. He said we didn’t deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt and he was right because we really weren’t good, we weren’t up for it. But that gave us a boost and the second half was one of the best second halves we have played this season.”
While it’s debatable that the boys produced one of the best second halves of their season, it’s undeniable that Wenger’s tirade procured its desired effect. The way the boys turned things around at Anfield last night was reminiscent of the Invincibles fantastic comeback against Liverpool in 2003 when Robert Pires produced a superb winner.
In truth this was not a game that needs a lot of analysis. In the first-half Liverpool produced the sort of high-tempo effort that they always tend to find with at home against the big sides, while we created very little. Eventual match-winner Andrey Arshavin struggled to find space as a diminutive striker and Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott did not really help out on the wings.
Liverpool probably should have had an early penalty when William Gallas brought down Steven Gerrard and were good value for their first-half lead, yet as they have done so often this season they crumbled. Wenger’s intelligent move to switch Nasri and Walcott paid dividends as the Frenchman crossed low and the presence of the Englishman forced Glen Johnson to put through his own net.
Less than eight minutes later Arshavin popped up to score a sensational second. Once again Walcott’s presence caused the issue as he challenged for Fabregas’ cross before the enigmatic Russian pounced to flash home an amazing finish. Johnson’s defending was good but when you’re up against a player who needs as little space as Arshavin needs to punish you your defending needs to be great.
Our one-two punch knocked the stuffing out of Liverpool much in the same way that Robin van Persie’s brace did against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season. I expected Liverpool to really go at us but Fernando Torres tired early while Yossi Benayoun had a quiet match. Meanwhile Denilson and Alex Song had Gerrard in their pocket.
Many people have said that this was not an outstanding performance but given the position we were in at half-time and the lack of our striking options, I beg to differ. Our defence – aside from a very flappy Manuel Almunia – played like lions after a difficult opening stanza with Thomas Vermaelen particularly impressing. Song was immense yet again while Armand Traore enjoyed his best game since breaking into the first team.
Given the results that preceded last night’s contest, to come away with three points is absolutely massive to our title ambitions. It has catapulted us straight back into third and assuming we win our game in hand, will lift us to within just one win of Chelsea. Given the top two’s form and the relatively generous run of fixtures over December and January anything is possible.
In a period where I really expected us to struggle without proper forwards, to get two wins from the last three games has been a major bonus. Arshavin has stood up admirably despite obvious injury concerns while the rest of the team have collectively done just enough to ensure we’ve profited from our rivals mistakes.
You can probably tell by the tone of this post just how happy I am with things at the moment. To achieve success when you don’t expect it is one of the most enjoyable things in life and in the last two games that is exactly what Arsenal have done.
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