Arsenal present convincing case for the defence against Liverpool

Posted by James McNicholas

This match was hyped as Arsenal’s first major test of the Premier League season. For some pundits, their position at the top of the table was merely the consequence of a kind fixture list. Today, Arsenal proved that they are very much the real deal.

In the cross-examination of Arsenal’s title credentials, Liverpool’s relatively easy path to second place was somewhat overlooked. Aside from a home fixture against an out-of-sorts Manchester United, the Anfield club had not faced a major test. Against a resurgent Arsenal, Brendan Rodgers’ team came unstuck.

During Arsenal’s surge to the summit of the Premier League, much has been made of the galvanising effect of Mesut Ozil’s arrival. However, Ozil was not at his mercurial best against Liverpool. Instead, this match provided evidence that the real secret of Arsenal’s success has been the improvement among players who were already with the club.

This is the season in which continuity appears to be key. The two managers who have lost their jobs this season, Paolo Di Canio and Ian Holloway, both spent the summer recruiting more than a dozen players each. The two Manchester clubs and Chelsea have both suffered substantial teething problems as they attempt to bed in new managers. By contrast, the consistency of personnel at Arsenal is proving invaluable.

Olivier Giroud provides a great example of Arsenal’s improvement. In 2012-13, Giroud showed plenty of willing but was all-too-often outmuscled by burly Premier League centre-halves. This season, he has metamorphosed into a veritable battering ram of a striker. In the first half, he found himself directly up against three Liverpool centre-halves and still took the game to the opposition, showing power and personality. Had his finishing been slightly sharper, he might have ended the game with a goal or two.

Aaron Ramsey’s transformation has been remarkable. His stunning volley was his 10th goal of a superb season. Ramsey is the front-runner for the Footballer of the Year award, and given his incredible stamina, it's difficult to see anyone catching him.

This victory was built on the solid foundation provided by Arsenal’s defence. Since March, Arsenal have dramatically improved their defensive work. Consistency in selection has produced consistency in performance. Arsenal, once mocked for their fragility, now look surprisingly solid.

The first line of defence against Liverpool was Mikel Arteta. Heading into the game, much was made of the loss of Mathieu Flamini to a groin strain. However, Arteta covered for the Frenchman’s absence superbly, winning the ball efficiently and marshaling the midfield area with authority. As a former Evertonian, Arteta will have enjoyed this victory as much as anyone.

The back four were outstanding -- both individually and as a unit. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are arguably the Premier League’s most dangerous strike duo, but the “SAS” partnership could barely get away a clear shot against Arsenal. With a couple of hair-raising exceptions, the Gunners were as well-drilled as they were determined.

At the end of the match, Per Mertesacker lifted Laurent Koscielny aloft. Soon after, Wojciech Szczesny joined the embrace. The defence is seeing its hard work pay dividends. It may have been only its third Premier League clean sheet of the season, but since the opening day debacle against Aston Villa, Arsene Wenger’s team has conceded just six goals in nine league games.

Going forward Arsenal remain a treat to watch. This was the first match in which the much-anticipated partnership between Ozil and Santi Cazorla truly began to blossom. At times, their interplay was mesmerising.

Cazorla showed signs of recapturing the form that made him Arsenal’s Player of the Year last season. His opening goal demonstrated a typical combination of endeavour and skill. Few players would have shown the determination and anticipation to follow up the initial header that bounced off the post. Even fewer would have had the technique to execute the volleyed rebound.

Arsenal now sit five points clear at the top of the Premier League table. Before the game, Arsenal unveiled some immaculate club suits. After this result, there can be no doubt that the Gunners mean business.


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