Inventive and bright or stale and uninspired; If the opening day of the Barclays Premier League season has suggested anything to onlookers, it is that which is the decision that Luis Suarez has spent much of the last month agonising over.
The buildup to the new campaign has seemingly been spent with three transfer sagas overriding all else: Bale to Real Madrid, Rooney to Chelsea and Suarez to Arsenal.
But whilst those two initial sagas would appear to be ongoing, Suarez's exchange of Anfield for the Emirates Stadium has surely reached its conclusion; if not for the strong words of those who rule the roost at the 18-time English champions this week, but because of the relative performances from his current and prospective employers today.
Liverpool may have only earned a victory against Stoke City with a 1-0 win in the early kickoff—Daniel Sturridge's goal and a late penalty save from new 'keeper Simon Mignolet proving the difference—but their display, full of attacking intent, creation and territorial dominance, was one that will only have pleased any onlooking striker. Twenty shots on goal (11 of which hit the target) was a more than promising sign, clear-cut chances at anything but a premium against a Stoke side known for their defensive resilience.
Brendan Rodgers' side, with a front trio of Sturridge, Brazilian schemer Philippe Coutinho and new signing Iago Aspas, showed plenty of invention over the course of a hard-fought 90 minutes, and more than demonstrated the kind of creative nous that any striker would love to play alongside.
Indeed, some of Coutinho's cutting through passes in the first period were genuinely world-class—a touch more composure from those on the receiving end, dare I say had Suarez not been suspended and been on the field of play, and Liverpool would have had a far more comfortable opening day.
Overall, Rodgers' side looked like one comfortable in what they were doing.
Contrast that with events in north London.
Olivier Giroud's delicate flick had given Arsenal an early lead against Aston Villa. Certainly in the opening 20 minutes or so the Gunners looked as though they had enough about them to be comfortable winners: Jack Wilshere was prompting, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was mastering escapology on the left flank and Tomas Rosicky was continually finding space between the Villa midfield and defence.
However, after their opening salvo, Arsene Wenger's men proceeded to self-destruct—Rosicky aside, the home players appeared more concerned with arguing with officials or opponents than looking to actually win the game—and in the end were deservedly beaten 3-1 by their visitors from the Midlands: Christian Benteke's double and a breakaway goal from Spanish new boy Antonio Luna proving just reward for a display full of dogged determination, and counter-attacking pace.
Certainly Arsenal supporters will take grievance with referee Anthony Taylor for the second penalty and Laurent Koscielny's harsh red card—although in fairness, in real-time it did indeed look a penalty, only in super-slow motion did it not—but it was the attitude and vocal disgust of the home support towards the end of the game which cannot be left unaddressed.
"Spend some f****ng money" cried a vociferous home support towards a beleaguered Wenger, whose post-game whines will surely offer little comfort. The Arsenal manager has spoken about not spending money if it isn't on improvements for those who he already has, but today's insipid showing showed just how wrong he has been on that front.
Wojciech Szczesny's kamikaze approach to goalkeeping in the first period cost Arsenal a goal and could easily have cost them another; would Julio Cesar, the Brazilian international who Arsenal were, according to The Express, heavily linked, with during the summer or even Stoke's highly-rated Asmir Begovic, not have been an upgrade?
In midfield, the gaping holes which considerably opened themselves to the likes of Fabian Delph and Gabriel Agbonlahor, could have been plugged—and then some—with the signing of Luiz Gustavo, who has since completed a move to VFL Wolfsburg.
Perhaps Giroud's all-round display—his goal was wonderfully taken, whilst he led the line extremely well—showed why Arsene Wenger didn't break the bank for Gonzalo Higuain, but his subsequent hunt for Suarez shows that the Frenchman still has clear reservations about the former Montpellier man.
All summer long Wenger has had to improve his squad; continual procrastination, dithering, unwillingness—whatever you want to call it—has come home to roost within 90 minutes of the season's beginning. Whilst all around them have strengthened, the single signing of France under-20 international Yaya Sanogo is little comfort.
So back to Luis.
Still ineligible for league action until the end of September, his want for immediate Champions League action has gone unheard by his club and he's seemingly there for the immediate future.
However, on the basis of the opening day, he may well have a greater chance of playing in the 2014-15 edition of Europe's premier club competition with his current club, than he would if he moved some 200 miles south. Maybe after today's events, he may just realise that Anfield and the five-time European champions is the right home for him after all.
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