Sunday, September 2, 2012

Liverpool 0 - Arsenal 2

Arsenal finally got off the schneid for the season in the middle of the first half at Anfield, when a loose pass by Liverpool's Steven Gerard in the middle of the field led to a quick counterattack orchestrated by Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla. Podolski got the ball to  Carzorla, who drove at the center of the Liverpool defense, while Podolski busted a gut to get into the box. Carzorla found him with a nice return pass. Podolski took one touch before putting a strong left footed shot back across the goal and into the back corner of the net. It wasn't exactly a goal against the run of play, though arguably Liverpool looked the slightly more dangerous side during much of the first half.

The same two players combined for Arsenal's second goal of the season. This time, Cazorla fed Podolski at the edge of the Liverpool box, and made a darting run toward the near post. Podolski held the ball momentarily, then played an inch-perfect pass into the diminutive Spaniard, who dispatched a strong shot from close range that Pepe Reina could not stop. Clearly, Podolski and Cazorla are cohering into a potent offensive force. Now, they just have to figure out how to get the woeful and somewhat lost-looking Olivier Giroud into the mix. Cazorla tried, making a couple of brilliant long passes out of Arsenal's defense to create counter-attack opportunities, one of which fell to Giroud. But he couldn't take advantage of any service he received.

Arsenal's defense looked solid and well-organized throughout the match (credit to assistant coach Steve Bould), holding its shape well and taking care of business in the box. Back-up keeper Vito Mannone had very few saves to make, which is exactly what you want when your first-choice keeper (Wojciech Szczesny) is out injured. He did, however, make two fine saves in the last five minutes of the match to preserve the clean sheet.

There were a couple of worrying signs in defense. Kieran Gibbs occasionally seemed over-eager to join on the attack, leaving Arsenal vulnerable to attacks down the left wing. Per Mertesacker gave the ball away needlessly on a couple of occasions in the first half, and let Luis Suarez get in front of him on a couple of occasions in the second half. Still, it's hard to complain about another clean sheet.

Aside from scoring Arsenal's first goal of the season, Podolski's work rate was especially impressive; he always seemed to be wherever he was needed, whether defending in his own third, linking play in the middle of the pitch, or looking for goal-scoring opportunities on offense. His pace and positioning on the field are very promising signs for the Gunners. Abu Diaby had a much, much better game than he had in the first two matches of the season; he made some really good runs and his passing was much more accurate. And nothing more needs to be said about Cazorla, who has impressed since he first stepped on the field at the start of the season.

During the first half, I was wondering whether Diaby and Arteta should switch positions. Arteta did not look up to the defensive challenges of the holding midfield role, which also compromises his creative skills linking to the attack. But in the second half, he made some terrific defensive plays to stop Liverpool attacks. Perhaps Wenger views Arteta as an equal solid but somewhat more creative version of Scotty Parker, who is among the best holding midfielders in the Premiership. Anyway, who am I to question Arsene Wenger's strategy, especially when the team hasn't given up a single goal in three Premier League matches?

The bottom line is that this was a good away win for the Gunners, against a Liverpool side with which they are pretty evenly matched (at least at this point) - neither team seems likely to challenge Man U, Man City, or Chelsea for the title but both will have legitimate hope of attaining a Champion's League place.

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