Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Arsenal 2 Liverpool 0

This was the first of the three massive games in the space of 9 days to test Arsenal's credentials as genuine title contenders. They passed it with flying colours, but the result was still not enough to silence the doubters completely, even after Arsenal increasing their lead to 5 points over second-placed Chelsea and Liverpool.

Arsene Wenger made only one change from the side that started in a 2-0 defeat of Crystal Palace last Saturday. Tomas Rosicky came in for injured Mathieu Flamini. As Jack Wilshere was ruled out due to an inflamed ankle (which is reported as a minor problem), Rosicky's involvement was widely expected. Rosicky is our favourite choice over Wilshere anyway as the Czech moves the ball around much quicker than Jack does and always provides more dynamism to our attack. Against what is dubbed as the Premier League's most deadly striking force, Mikel Arteta's return from suspension was crucial for us in the absence of Flamini in order to protect the back four.

As Brendan Rodgers admitted afterwards, our midfield (namely Özil, Rosicky, Cazorla, Ramsey and Arteta) was superb in terms of technical quality and mobility. We may lack recognised wide players at the moment, but when these midfielders are in full force, it is difficult to stop Arsenal's attack. Özi, Rosicky, and Cazorla in the advanced midfield provide so much creativity. 

With a clean sheet against the most prolific partnership in England's top flight, our defenders deserve credit as well. Mikel Arteta has done a very good job of what he was doing all last season. Our two centre-backs kept Suarez and Sturridge quiet. The back four contained the dangerous substitutes, Coutinho and Victor Moses, effectively.

Overall, it was an excellent performance from the league leaders against a joint second-placed Liverpool side. However, there is still room for improvement. Liverpool nearly scored from our free-kick at the other end, when Suarez broke and Sagna had to foul him to stop his run. Rodgers was obviously unhappy with the referee's decision to pull back play, but if we had been more alert, the controversy (not to our eyes, though) could have been altogether avoided. Later on, Mertesacker was seen giving Rosicky instructions when he went up for set-pieces, so hopefully our defenders are more aware of the danger of counter-attacks now.

Arsenal's impressive performance was convincing enough for Brendan Rodgers and even Liverpool fans to think that the better team won. The comprehensive win against one of Premier League's in-form sides seemed to have convinced more pundits that Arsenal CAN win the title this season, but many still think that Arsenal WILL NOT win the title. In fact, at the Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, many of the members don't believe that Arsenal will win the Premier League, although everybody hopes it. Wenger understands such supporters' feelings by citing the Club's 8-year trophy drought as a reason. We, the seasoned supporters, have seen our team's form collapse late February after we had had a good start to the season during those eight years.

The fact that Chelsea lost 2-0 to Newcastle earlier on the day speaks volumes for the importance of consistency. Mourinho was not happy with his side's lacklustre display (the shock result surprisingly received little publicity. Imagine how the media would have reacted if it had been Arsenal), but it just goes to show that even a team of quality players like Chelsea cannot just turn up and win a game. We are just happy that our team play easy-on-the-eye football most of the time, scoring some beautiful goals (the other north London club must be jealous). And when they cannot do that, then they grind out the result at the moment. It is simply wonderful that the team deliver both performance and result in a big game like this.

Whether Arsenal are real title contenders or not, time will tell (perhaps, haters like a certain ex-Newcastle striker will continue denying Arsenal's title credentials until the last game of the season, just like he maintained that the north London club would not finish in the top four last season). We just need to concentrate on the next game. The one thing certain is that the team will go into the next game full of confidence after the win. Sunday's match at the Old Trafford poses totally different complexion from the past seasons. At least bookmakers seem to think that we have a better chance to win the title than Man U at the moment. But before that, we travel to Germany for another massive game.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
Almost impeccable display apart from a careless throw which fortunately bounced back into his arms.

Sagna: 8
Solid defensively. His crosses have been improving significantly, one of which picked up Cazorla and led to the first goal. 

Mertesacker: 7
Solid apart from one pass directly to a Liverpool player.

Koscielny: 8
Kept SAS quiet.

Gibbs: 7
Made good runs forward. Suffered a calf injury and replaced by Vermaelen in the 78th minute. Hope his injury is not serious as he has been in such a good form this season, but Nacho showed that he is more than a capable deputy against Chelsea. We are not too much worried about it.

Arteta: 8
Influential. Protected our defence well and when he went forward, he delivered a perfect pass to Sagna, whose cross then led to Cazorla's goal. Made 7 tackles 2 interceptions and 106 passes with a 94% passing success rate.

Ramsey: 9
Scored a stunning goal. Had 2 shots on target and made 6 tackles, 2 interceptions and 84 passes with a 82% completion rate.

Özil: 7
Quiet game by his standard, but he still had 2 shots on target. Provided his 4th assist in the Premier League, which took him top of the assist table alongside Giroud and Ramsey.

Rosicky: 8
After the end of excellent movement he started, made a shot from a tight angle, which drew a finger tip save from Mignolet. Had a good game.

Cazorla: 8
Scored his first goal of the season through 
a superb half-volley from the rebound of his own powerful header which hit the woodwork. His celebration showed how much the goal meant to him. Getting back to his best after injury, more is expected from him.

Giroud: 7
Had a couple of clear-cut chances, but failed to convert them. Disappointing as his touches and finishing have been impressive this season. On the other hand, his hold-up and link-up play was good. 


Monreal: 7
72nd-minute substitute for Rosicky to ensure that the team would see out the 2-0 victory. Made good runs on the left flank. We were saying that Wenger didn't make these defensive substitutions before this season, but this day's bench might be one of the reasons. Bendtner and Akpom wouldn't have offered a strong attacking option. Wenger didn't have much choice. 

Vermaelen: 7
Came on for injured Gibbs in the 78th minute. Reliable.

Jenkinson: 6
Replaced Cazorla in the 84th minute. It was a good gesture from Arsene Wenger to give the 21-year-old a chance to redeem himself after the error in the midweek game and to show his faith. However, he was shown a yellow card for an unnecessary foul in his short appearance, of which sole purpose was to shore up the defence. On the other hand, he did well to keep the ball at the other end in the dying minutes.

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