1 – 0 Oxlade-Chamberlain (17)
2 – 0 Podolski (47)
2 – 1 Gerrard (59 pen)
Brendan Rodgers wondered how the Arsenal players would react to playing Liverpool so quickly after such a heavy defeat. The final whistle signalled a catharsis for all, fists pumping and back slapping; it was the only answer he needed. Arsène took a risk in rotating his line-up, particularly in starting with Yaya Sanogo in a match that had extra edge and in stark contrast to last year, it paid off. Even his zip complied and moved freely, it was that kind of day for the manager and perhaps he deserved it after the week he had. Certainly it has lifted the pall which threatened to descend with defeat, the wrath of the gods would have fallen on his head with the perceived weakened line-up taking to the field. On another day, the perception might be a reality but yesterday it was not. When those decisions bring about the right result, caps ought to be doffed in recognition.
And if not for the recognition of the win, they certainly should be raised for refusing to be drawn into a slanging match with Jose Mourinho, for highlighting the boorish personality of the Chelsea manager and observing the shame of his employers. But the nouveau riche lack that self-awareness.
Not that the result was clear cut. Arsenal were once more slow to start and that is a weakness for which the manager has to find a quick solution. Good sides will seek to exploit that failing, better forwards than Sturridge will finish one of the two chances fashioned before the sleep had been dusted from the home midfield and defence. One who escapes censure was Lukasz Fabianski; he proved that the form last season was no fluke with but one rash moment which left its mark on Daniel Agger as the final whistle beckoned. Inbetween times, he stood tall and firm against Liverpool’s forward line. He saved with hands, feet and kept his head, particularly with a fine save at the feet of Sturridge, one which would have brought the approval of watching goalkeeping legends, Bob Wilson and Jens Lehmann.
Once Arsenal took notice that the game had started, they began to assert home advantage and it was little surprise when Oxlade-Chamberlain finished, tucking home the rebound from Sanogo’s blocked effort. The young Frenchman was a nuisance to Liverpool all afternoon, a robust physical presence who did not worry about the buffeting he took from the visitors. He gave as good as he got which will stand him in good stead. Arsène all but called time on Nicklas Bendtner’s Arsenal career with his starting line-up; the Dane watching on from the stands cannot usurp a plainly knackered Olivier Giroud from the bench on such an occasion and finds himself one place further down the pecking order albeit not a very long one.
Adding a second within minutes of the start of the second half gave Arsenal the vital lead, the pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain troubled Liverpool all afternoon. Gerrard was booked for his intervention on his opponent’s progress, lauded for “taking one for the team“. He was a fortunate beneficiary of Howard Webb’s largesse when a second yellow was merited in the second half for an equally professional foul. The referee had clearly not read the refereeing conspiracy memo when he refused to be drawn in by Luis Suarez’s double salchow and triple pike; it was a decision born of the Uruguayan’s lack of control over the ball and theatrics. A straightforward stumble and fall would probably have brought about a second penalty. Normality on the anti-Arsenal officiating was restored when he failed to punish Skrtel for having a more dangerously raised foot than Santi Cazorla. Sometimes it is better to accept that referees are just not very good and getting worse than to vex yourself with conspiracy theories.
The first had been conceded needlessly by Lukas Podolski; it was soft, minimal contact but in the modern game, any contact in the area will bring about a tumble. The foul was unnecessary and Arsenal reeled for ten minutes afterwards, the mental scars of Anfield have not quite healed and the nervousness suggests a fragility that needs a run of victories for it to be banished. That the German was the culprit undermined his tireless performance, one that suggests he has been stung by some of the criticism of his work rate. If that is the case, the manager might learn to trust Mr Happy-Go-Lucky on the left more often. Podolski’s finish was unerring from Oxlade- Chamberlain’s cut back, one which underlined his reputation as the best finisher at the club.
He might be needed more frequently if Olivier Giroud’s personal life becomes an issue that affects his performance; the morality of it is none of our business and those cast judgement probably need to get something stronger than Persil to wipe the stains from their own lives. If the Frenchman performs on the pitch, how he does so off it is not our problem so long as it is within the bounds of the law. I’m not carrying on with these gags. Arsène sidestepped the issue as awkwardly as a teenager in love, admitting he knew of the player’s statement but not the content.
The major concern for Wenger will have been the requirement to make changes for ‘medical’ reasons, as he put it post-match. Wilshere is reportedly already a doubt for Bayern and a thin squad is being spread even thinner. There is little the manager can do but nurse the side through the coming weeks but it is going to be a testing time for the players, even before they get to the pitch. It’s a distraction though. Arsenal now meet Everton in the FA Cup Quarter-Final, the commencement of a run of five season-defining fixtures. Sounds somewhat familiar…