Arsenal 4 – 1 Liverpool
1 – 0 Bellerin (37)
2 – 0 Özil (40)
3 – 0 Sanchez (44)
3 – 1 Henderson (76 pen)
4 – 1 Giroud (90)
Sent off: Emre Can (84)
If this is the effect of international football, can we have another break after the trip to Turf Moor? As Arsenal moved into the upper floors of the Premier League – not quite the penthouse – Liverpool were left on the pavement, pulverised by their hosts vibrancy.
Arsène stopped short of calling it of the perfection but understandably, the pride in the performance shone through in the manager’s words. From the kick-off, Arsenal were energetic, harried, hassled and forced mistakes from their opponents, winning the game in the same way they had been so ruthlessly exposed at Anfield twelve months previously. The basis of the win came from the midfield, Coquelin’s defensive discipline allows Ramsey to support his attacking colleagues and the Welshman was pivotal in the opening twenty minutes where the afternoon’s stall was set.
The only thing missing from the spell was a goal; it wasn’t through lack of trying with Cazorla bringing a smart save from Mingolet whilst Ramsey should have done far better as he sought to capitalise on one of the many loose passes Kolo Toure made all afternoon.
Crucially, Arsenal didn’t offer Liverpool any respite in any area of the pitch. Whether in the attacking third, midfield or protecting their own area, defending began at the front and the whole team kept working hard for each other, frustrating the Pretenders to the extent that their chances were few and far between. And when the defence was breached, Markovic and Sterling contrived to produce a Keystone Cops attacking masterclass.
At any point in the ninety minutes, the midfield funnelled back to help protect the bridgeheads built. More importantly, those duties were performed consistently, there was no letting up or easing off even with a three-goal advantage. Eye-catchingly, Mesut Özil was effective in this role, more than just a body in the way, ready with a languid surge up the pitch or the quick pass to relieve pressure.
Fittingly as the afternoon unfurled, it was Hector Bellerin who broke the deadlock, encouraged to advance into the area by wretched defending from Moreno, he obliged and curled in a delightful left-footed shot past the grasping dive of Mingolet. For a century or more, defenders managed to tackle and jockey opponents, conceding the odd penalty of dubious nature but never enough to warrant the current preoccupation. Moreno’s decision to embrace the pathetic and obsequious style with hands behind his back is so pathetic that it received the punishment it deserved.
Minutes later, Özil produced a free kick of marvellous accuracy. Forget the criticism of the goalkeeper’s position and savour the delicious mastery of the football. The replay caught the moment beautifully. The wall, mid-air, heads and necks twisting to locate the ball’s trajectory, faces contorted as they recalled Bill’s immortal words from The Italian Job; the ball did indeed, go thattaway. It was a familiar feeling for the Liverpool defence.
And as Liverpool reeled on the ropes, Alexis delivered the powerful counter-punch that floored them, the ball sat up so invitingly and he could not resist producing a shot of startling ferocity that left Mingolet’s hand flailing helplessly in the ball’s slipstream.
The half-time whistle produced small mercy for the visitors. The second forty-five minutes offered them little encouragement, save for a brief ten minute spell in which Henderson squeezed his penalty home but the as the embers burned down, Emre Can threw a bucket of water to ensure it was completely extinguished as his frustrations surfaced in the scything motion of his legs through the back of Welbeck. If he hadn’t already been booked, that tackle merited a red card on its own.
Liverpool pointed to the largesse Anthony Taylor showed to Hector Bellerin as he upended Sterling. I would suggest that the youngster was saved by the fact that an intent to foul Sterling was absent; he was beaten by pace and equally footwork. Had Sterling played that way from the start, it might have been a more testing afternoon for the Spaniard. As it happened, one of the most encouraging signs for Bellerin’s career is his refusal to dive in rashly, already intelligent enough to know the consequences. The key is to remember that more often than not.
Surprisingly he wasn’t voted Man of the Match but given Monotone Michael was choosing, it was unsurprising that he opted for the safe choice of Alexis. Nobody will argue that Sanchez didn’t play well, just that at his price tag – like Özil – it was the sort of performance you expect more often than not. Bellerin meanwhile continues to learn and exceed any expectations, even those that being selected for the Arsenal XI inevitably bring.
In a way singling out individuals following a match such as yesterday is that it overlooks the ‘unsung’ players, the likes of Monreal, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gabriel. The latter slotted in so comfortably that it was easy forget the Brazilian was on the pitch although he made sure that Henderson didn’t forget him. Sensible lad, making sure there was a body in the way, cushioning his fall to earth.
Despite continuing his goalscoring run, Giroud would fall into the same category. It was a cracking finish, sharp movement followed by a powerful and accurate finish but overall his performance was more for the team than himself. The selfishness that a centre forward so often displays was subdued by Giroud’s work ethic, pulling the Liverpool back three over the pitch in the first half, closing off escape routes for ninety minutes. His goal was due reward.
For what might be the shortest of times, Arsenal sit in second place. Manchester City ought to take the points at Selhurst Park but the way this season has panned out, there is no guarantee of that. Until Monday’s final whistle, the dreamers can dream.
One more thing. Gentlemen, can you play like that every week?