After two consecutive goalless games, a Diaby-inspired Arsenal played Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday. The Gunners left the north-west with their first win and goals of the season and are still the only team in England not to have conceded.
Despite traditionally being a tough away fixture, some corners of the Arsenal support quietly relished the prospect of facing a more offensive team after huffing and puffing to no avail in the Stoke and Sunderland games. Against Liverpool they blew Brendon Rodgers’ Scouse house down.
Both teams had questions to answer following idle climaxes to the transfer window but it was Arsenal’s new boys that vindicated their manager’s transfer policy (for now at least). Liverpool were the first to muster a shooting opportunity but Borini’s attempt form an angle was high and wide of Mannone’s goal. Arsenal replied soon after as Cazorla found enough space in the crowded box to fire a tame effort into the hands of Reina.
Midway through the first half Liverpool tried to barge their way through the well organised back line of Arsenal but a wayward Gerrard pass broke down the attack. Eight seconds later, Arsenal took the lead.
The ball landed at the feet of Vermaelen who instantly found Podolski. The normal-sized German took a touch before passing to Cazorla who found space in between Liverpool’s stretched midfield and defence. No one closed him down as he carried the ball at speed to the edge of the box where Podolski was arriving on cue to pick up the perfectly-weighted through ball. He steadied himself and unleashed an unstoppable drive into the corner, wheeling away to the travelling fans as they sung “Lukas Podolski, he scores when he wants.”
Scoring is of course the easiest and quickest way to win over new fans but Podolski’s industrious performances are fast making him a fans’ favourite. The wide man chased every loose ball, tucked in obediently in support of Gibbs and made himself available in good positions whenever Arsenal were on the front foot. Take note Theo and Gervinho.
Liverpool looked for an instant fightback and came close after some poor defending from the Arsenal captain. Trying to head the ball away from danger the Belgian’s weak clearance landed at the feet of Sterling, whose clever turn fooled Chamberlain. Bearing down on Mannone at an angle the young winger thrashed a shot that hit the outside of the post.
By this point the Arsenal midfield had settled into a rhythm. When they didn’t have the ball they worked tirelessly as a unit to regain possession and when they had a hold of it they were they looking sharp.
Shortly before half-time Podolski again tidied up after a failed Liverpool attack and quickly fed Diaby. Arsenal’s #2 was in the mood on Sunday and this passage of play epitomised his performance. Turning from Podolski’s pass he lifted the ball over Johnson’s attempted tackle and began striding toward goal. Nuri Sahin was in tow but Diaby simply powered away from the Real Madrid loanee at a ferocious pace. And in the blink of an eye Arsenal were bearing down on goal. Giroud arched his run, outfoxing the two Liverpool centre halves. Diaby’s through ball was just as cute.
If there is a defence for what followed perhaps it’s because Giroud shot as the ball was slightly behind him. Perhaps it was a lack of confidence that meant his run wasn’t perfect. Whatever it was, Giroud powered a shot well wide of goal.
Not long in to the second half Liverpool continued their hunt for an equaliser. Suarez claimed to have been pushed over by Mertesacker while trying to reach a cross but the referee rightly deemed him to have gone to ground too easily.
Soon after Jenkinson burst down the right wing, passed inside to Giroud who passed to Cazorla who switched play to the left. Podolski held the ball on the edge of the box waiting for his fullback to overlap. Gibbs duely obliged and shot first time from the German’s lay off. Reina had his angles covered and parried away to safety.
Then it was Liverpools turn again. A long ball upfield was picked up by Downing who’s clever back heel found Suarez in space on the edge of the box. The Uruguayan wound up to blast an effort that Mannone did well to push over the bar.
With Diaby driving at Liverpool’s defenders with power and purpose, Arsenal looked sure to double their lead and almost did moments later. The Frenchman turned on a pass and immediately gained ten yards of Liverpool turf before offloading to Podolski. He fed Cazorla who twisted and rifled a low drive that went the wrong side of the post. A goal for Arsenal looked likely and sure enough it arrived soon after.
Again Arsenal’s midfield looked neat in possession. Cazorla found space and dribbled out to wide left, playing a one-two with Podolski. For some reason Shelvey stopped tracking the minute Spaniard. He collected the return pass and hit a left footed shot from a tight angle. This time the Liverpool goalie got it all wrong and allowed Cazorla’s low drive to ricochet off his arm and over the line. Two nil, Arsenal.
Liverpool put their collective foot on the gas in search of a comeback. Shelvey hit two well struck long range drives that Mannone was equal to and Suarez should have got one back for the hosts after beating the offside trap but his high shot was poor.
Then it was game over: no surprise twists, goalkeeping howlers or hilarious own goals. Just the sweet sound of Arsenal fans cheering a well deserved away win.
This was the most pleasing Arsenal game I’ve seen in a very long time. Call me a nostalgic fool but I saw on Sunday so much of the great Arsenal teams in the last ten years. Arsenal counter-attacked at pace with a lanky, black Frenchman bossing the midfield while a tiny Spaniard majestically pulled all the strings. And at the back a well-drilled defensive five marshalled under the instruction of a man with no hair (but we don’t care!) snuffed out the opponent’s attacks.
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