Arsenal made the trip to Liverpool yesterday knowing that they needed a win to kick-start their Premier League campaign. They had drawn their first two games 0-0 against teams that set out to frustrate them and succeeded. This game promised to be different, though, as Liverpool were hardly going to sit back and defend at home.
Liverpool had been impressive at home to Manchester City last week, when they should have won but defensive errors meant they had to settle for a point. It promised to be a tough game for Arsenal, and their newfound defensive strength was sure to get its sternest test so far.
The only change in the Arsenal team was the inclusion of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left-hand side of the attacking trio instead of Gervinho. With Wojciech Szczesny still injured, Vito Mannone got the chance to play in goal again. It also meant Per Mertesacker kept his place in the centre of the Arsenal defence despite Laurent Koscielny being fit again.
With a little more space to play in, Arsenal were on their game and dominated for most of the 90 minutes. The Arsenal midfield trio of Mikael Arteta, Abu Diaby and Santi Cazorla were in control with Diaby in particular having a great game. His career up to now has been blighted by injury, but he could become a huge player for the club if he can stay fit.
The defence was again well marshaled with Thomas Vermaelen seemingly relishing his role of captain. Arsenal had not kept three clean sheets at the start of the season in 88 years before yesterday. Despite Liverpool being the home team, they rarely looked likely to really score.
When the Arsenal goals came, they were scored by two of the new boys. Both Lukas Podolski and Cazorla got their names on the scoresheet with well-taken goals, but unfortunately Olivier Giroud couldn't do the same thing when he got the chance. It takes players time to settle into a new team, and I'm sure Giroud will get his first goal very soon.
The first goal came on the half-hour mark when a poor Steven Gerrard pass was intercepted and Arsenal broke quickly. Podolski played the ball to Cazorla who has dropped off the Liverpool defence to accept the pass. He turned and ran at them with the ball, as Podolski sprinted to join in the attack.
As Podolski ran outside Cazorla, he was found with a perfectly weighted pass which allowed him to slot the ball past Pepe Reina into the far corner. It was a very well-worked goal, and it showed how clinical this Arsenal team can be on the break. It was up to Liverpool to try to make the play and get themselves back into the game.
Liverpool rarely threatened, though, and they were unable to get in behind the Arsenal defence. The best chances fell to Arsenal with both Kieran Gibbs and Cazorla going close, as well as Giroud missing a great chance similar to the one he missed against Sunderland.
The second Arsenal goal came midway through the second half, with both Podolski and Cazorla involved again. This time it was Podolski who played Cazorla into a very similar position on the left, and he made no mistake from close range. Reina got a hand to the shot, but he could only help the ball into the net rather than keep it out.
Liverpool huffed and puffed a little towards the end, but they never really threatened the Arsenal goal. It's been a long time since Arsenal looked so comfortable defensively against one of the so-called bigger teams. If this is the influence of Steve Bould, long may it continue.
There were so many positives from the game for Arsenal, but the performance of Diaby was probably the biggest of all. Since his horrific injury over six years ago, he has been plagued by repetitive injuries, and he has never recovered fully. He missed almost all of last season, and there were genuine fears his football career was over.
It's only three games into the new campaign and it's far too early to say he has finally recovered, but the signs are promising. Far too often, players returning from injury are described as "being like a new signing," but surely a fully fit Diaby would actually be such a player. He has also been inconsistent at best in the past, but there is no doubting his ability.
If he can come through the international break intact, I am hoping he can continue with his impressive start to the season. His form will give Arsene Wenger some real headaches when Jack Wilshere returns, but I'm sure the Arsenal fans won't mind him being spoiled for choice.
It's a little frustrating that such a good performance by Arsenal will now be followed by an international break. The players managed to click yesterday in attack as well as defence, but Wenger won't be able to work with them again for almost two weeks. Thankfully, the first game back is at home, and hopefully the players can take up where they left off against Liverpool.
Here are the highlights from yesterday's game. That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.
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