It was reminiscent of our last win at Anfield. We played poorly and we still come out on top. It’s the kind of performance that pundits drool over when Manchester United wins this type of matches. The ability to beat the odds and find that winner despite not being on top of their game. No papers will write that about Arsenal in their match report and I’ve got no problem with that.
To say that we were below par would be an understatement. We were far from being at the races. Somewhat miraculously, against a midfield of Jordan Henderson / Charlie Adams / Jay Spearing, we were outplayed in midfield. Liverpool looked to be more up for this game than we were. Perhaps it’s the tired legs or perhaps it’s the jet lag (for some), who knows. But we buckle down and worked hard. 2 moments of magic was sufficient to bring 3 points home.
Arsene Wenger rewarded the side that gave the tiny Sp*rs a beating last week and retained every single player in the starting line-up. The way the game turned out was not expected. While we were the better team in the reverse fixture earlier in the season and still got beat, this was very much the other way around. Our midfield was all over the place in the first half and we gave them far too much room to maneuver.
For the second consecutive week, the referee chose to award a penalty to the opposition team for diving. Luis Suarez managed to wriggle his way into the penalty box and Wojciech Szczesny came rushing out to close the angle. To be fair, the Pole rushed out but retracted his legs at the last moment. No real surprise that Suarez went down like he was shot. Absolutely no contact was made but Mark Halsey had made up his mind. The Uruguayan’s reputation doesn’t seem to matter to Halsey and that despite his positioning being one where he could not see clearly of the incident.
Szczesny will feel hard done by. Second week running where he didn’t touch the runner and yet penalties were given against him. This time though, he pulled off a wonderful save to deny Dirk Kuyt from the spot kick. The ball bounced back into the path of Kuyt but Szczesny was quick to shuffle his feet across and palmed away the rebound. Pivotal moment, not least because it helped to install some confidence back into him.
No one would argue that in recent months, our no. 1 custodian has had a rough patch. However, this match showed just what he was capable of. Reading the game well and coming out to sweep the play when necessary. His decision making was superb. No dallying around, just straight to touch. Szczesny also pulled off a couple of other good saves to make it an overall good performance.
However, he could do nothing about the opening goal. Liverpool countered and our positioning was all over the place. Henderson was left with acres of space on the right and he delivered a low cross into the box. I won’t criticise Laurent Koscielny for the own goal. I’ve always wanted the defender to clear according to position and not according to his strongest foot. We always ask that the defenders whack into row Z and we can’t be critical when we’re just unlucky with the slice clearance and ask for them to control the ball inside the box.
To his credit, Koscielny didn’t let that own goal bother him. You also have to acknowledge that Szczesny went immediately to his crestfallen centre back and try to gee him up. That was the kick up our backsides that we needed to play better. All it needed was one moment of real quality. Tomas Rosicky moved the ball to the right to Bacary Sagna. The cross was on a plate for Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman got ahead of Jamie Carragher with ease and planted the header in before Pepe Reina could even move. All this after Rosicky was lucky to still have his leg in one piece despite Spearing’s crude and dangerous high tackle on his shin. Of which Halsey gave neither a foul nor a card.
There’s no doubt that we’ve escaped being punished for playing poorly as we went into half time all square. It was a much improved performance in the second half but not without some form of scare. We were covering much better in this half though we still found it hard going forward. The only one I could remember was the Kieran Gibbs pull back for Theo Walcott which was deflected and Reina blocked. This was the first of two wonderful through balls from Alex Song.
There was 8 minutes of injury time at the end. Luckily for us this time, there was no Emmanuel Eboue to muck it up. The long added minutes were because of the concussion suffered by Mikel Arteta. Henderson the culprit as he looked to have smashed Arteta across the face. Accidental or not is up to your own judgement. I can only hope that the FA looks at the video carefully and dish out some form of punishment to Henderson.
But the action packed match didn’t end there. There was time for one last moment of magic. In the 93rd minute, Song delivered his second wonderful pass of the wonderful. This time it was for RvP who has pulled away from his markers. If against Everton, he went across goal, this time he went for the near post. Reina caught completely off guard. Incisive and clinical, it was a world class finish.
From then on it was about hanging on the remaining 5 minutes. That we did with discipline and desire. We were determined to hang on to the lead. Thomas Vermaelen who looked to have injured his back earlier, soldiered on and we held out until the end. Everyone played their part. Even Abou Diaby who was forced to go on when Arteta was injured and had to come off early with suspected hamstring concern.
The momentum maintains. This was another spirited display from Arsenal. It might not mean that we can recover against AC Milan on Tuesday but the way we’re going, there’s every bit of chance we can do it. This may not be the best of performances from any Arsenal side but it was the fight that we should be proud of.
Onward and forward.