Late Late Reflections On Anfield Win
After an unexpected break brought about by matters more important than football (yes such things exist), this blog marks a return today with a promise to regularise postings once more. Thanks to those of you who enquired about my well-being during the interval. It’s all good now – pretty much like Arsenal at the moment.
The sweet after-taste of victory over Liverpool lingers during the international break. After opening the season with two goalless draws, it’s just the fillip the players needed prior to this unwanted domestic lull. Their fortunes may differ on the international stage but the squad will carry a positive vibe from the Anfield triumph when they return to the Emirates in a week’s time.
It’s too late for a match review at this stage so I won’t go into too many aspects of our tactical play, most of which have been well covered by others already. I will say though that the most satisfying facet of the performance at Anfield was Arsenal’s willingness to work hard without the ball. We haven’t done this consistently in recent seasons against the bigger teams away from home. In fact, there’s been a sense of inevitability in defeats to top six teams in the past 3-4 years, even when Arsenal have dominated possession and taken control of the game.
For all of Liverpool’s huffing and puffing on Sunday, the home team were restricted to very few chances by an organised and disciplined Arsenal team. As Michael Cox pointed out in his match analysis on the club website, the Gunners completed almost the same number of passes as Liverpool until Podolski’s opener on 31 minutes. After taking the lead, Arsenal dropped off a little and got eight men behind the ball and forced Liverpool to come up with the answers. It wasn’t a parked bus affair by any means though, just the kind of intelligent tactical play Arsenal have been accused of lacking in this trophy-less drought.
The presence of the hardworking duo of Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain in wide positions certainly helped. The German showed a willingness and energy to track back that was refreshing. And although it wasn’t AOC’s best game by far, the youngster did a far better job of helping out the defense than Theo Walcott has ever done. I was sceptical of what the Ox might learn from Roy Hodgson’s negative tactics at the Euros but it certainly seems to have improved his work ethic and defensive awareness.
Almost every Arsenal player had a good game. It was encouraging to see Cazorla and Podolski developing some mutual understanding. Olivier Giroud looks like he needs a bit of time to adjust to the pace of the Premier League but his movement and work rate were again commendable. Abou Diaby, the original Yaya Toure, put in a performance that justified Arsene’s faith in him while Mikel Arteta kept things ticking further back in midfield.
With adequate protection in front of them, Vermaelen and Mertesacker read the game well and cleared danger effectively. Mertesacker did invite trouble with a couple of silly challenges on Suarez in the first half but the German looked more assured in the second period. The full-backs covered well once again, Kieran Gibbs in particular active in both halves of the pitch. The defensive performance was so solid that even Vito Mannone’s rather nervous first half display was pushed to the back of the mind. Somewhere in Watford, one Manuel Almunia must be wishing he was between the Arsenal posts right now.
In the midst of stellar performances all over the pitch, the player that impressed me the most was Carl Jenkinson. The youngster didn’t have the best pre-season and there were suggestions he might lose his starting place to either Coquelin or Yennaris. On Sunday, Jenkinson produced an assured display and did well to shackle an impressive Raheem Sterling.
The thing I like about the ex-Charlton youngster is that he seems to have the knack of learning quickly. His meteoric rise from the reserve team of a League One side to starting games for a top four Premier League team is testament to his ability to adapt and adjust quickly. He also exercises good judgement going forward and possesses an excellent cross as well. If Carl can cut out some of the errors, the youngster could make it difficult for arguably the best right-back in the league last season, Bacary Sagna, to reclaim his starting position when he returns from injury.
Without getting carried away by one result, it’s certainly cause for optimism that the 2-0 at Anfield was achieved despite the likes of Walcott, Gervinho, Sagna, Rosicky, Wilshere and Szczesny not being involved. Let’s hope the majority of the squad return from the break without any troubles and Arsenal can continue to build on this good start when we host Southampton in nine days time.
More thoughts tomorrow.