What a day. From the away fans owning Anfield to big Per shoving Suarez every chance he could get, that’s the kind of match that makes a great advertisement for our team. Yes, we hadn’t had the best two games prior, now we weren’t the favorites coming into this, and yes we had failed to score a goal in over 200 minutes. But none of that mattered. We took Anfield and made it our own. We had 12 men the entire match, not that we needed it. This is the first time where I struggle to find a serious, worrying negative from one of our matches. Everybody gave it their all, and you could see it on every player’s face. This was a team performance, and although we were under pressure from the first blow of the whistle to the last, everyone put in an encouraging shift. Let’s take a look at what made our trip to Anfield a success.
The game started off with Liverpool off to the races, with Luis Suarez leading the charge alongside Raheem Sterling. The two proved to be pests the entire match, particularly for the first 20 minutes. it was clear from their first attack that Liverpool had identified our right side as our main weakness, and Brendan Rodgers was spot on. Luis Suarez has to be one of the best dribblers in the league. Mertesacker doesn’t have the legs to deal with his explosive change in pace, and right away it was obvious that Suarez was intent on getting fouled by the big German. It’s not very often Per is caught flat-footed, but once the opposition have half a yard on him that’s it. It’s a weakness you can’t fix, that’s what happens when you’re 6’6. As time went on, Howard Webb became privy to Suarez’s tricks, and let Mertesacker dominate the Olympic diver from a physical standpoint. Overall a solid game from the German overall, but I think Koscielny would have been the better option to begin with, he’s better equipped to handle quick forwards.
Another brilliant game from our captain, Thomas Vermaelen. That’s the kind of performance that deserves a round of applause from everyone, He made his presence known to everyone, getting stuck in, winning headers and starting plays. It’s also nice to see that he made a few lung bursting runs forward as well. He’s too good an attacker to sit back the entire 90 minutes, so the occasional run into the box is welcome provided he’s covered at the back. It’s all down to making the right decision at the right time, and Tommy V. was almost faultless today. A much better performance than Per Mertesacker, but they’re playing different roles in defence. Mertesacker is the sweeper. He keeps Jenkinson in check, and is meant to tackles cleanly, and get the ball up the pitch and of danger as quickly as possible. Vermaelen is the terrier, making challenges, winning headers, and ushering his team forward, joining the attack at the appropriate time. It usually works out to Vermaelen being the better performer on paper, but their juxtaposition is what makes our back line so solid. One’s weakness is the other’s strength, which is why their partnership is tighter than a dovetail at the moment. They both know what they’re doing, because they have specific jobs to do, and know how to go about them without running into each other.
We all know about the fantastic symbiosis held by our central defenders, but now I’d like to focus on our full backs. I’m absolutely astonished at the sharp increase of quality showed by Kieran Gibbs. Seriously, what happened to the kid who couldn’t make a tackle? What happened to the kid who found himself in the opposition’s box for 40 minutes of the match? He has made a huge leap in terms of performances, this looks to be his breakthrough season. We saw patches of brilliance in him last year, like our nail-biting 3-3 against Norwich, but never the calm assurance we see in him now. Whether it’s down to rest, training, high morale or all three, I’m glad we finally have a left-back to depend on again.
He has a new-found discipline and level head in decision-making that previously eluded him. Often times he’d be too rash, or worse, complacent in making a tackle. Now, he’s efficient in dealing with players running down the wing. Maybe he’s learned a thing or two from Theo Walcott, in that he runs to the byline like a headless chicken before firing in a hopeful, but utterly useless cross. Not to bash on Theo, but he’s the best example within our ranks of how simple it is for a fullback to close down a wide player. Lead him to the corner, and unless he’s a technical wizard like the Messis and Ronaldos in this world, you’ve stifled a dangerous move before it’s even begun. Hats off to Kieran, hopefully his meteoric rise continues under the instruction of Steve Bould.
Just like Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson is a changed man. With newfound composure and tackling prowess, the pair of young fullbacks are what complete the 5-foot thick brick wall that is our back line. A lot of people would say that Vermaelen was our best defender yesterday, but I disagree. That accolade goes to Carl. He handled Raheem Sterling almost perfectly, all without picking up a single foul. That’s no mean feat considering Jenkinson is six-foot, strong and thick, going up against the slight-framed Sterling; a bag of tricks and pace. Not to mention he was left alone for most of the match, in contrast to Gibbs, who had Lukas Podolski come to his aid continuously throughout the match. I’d brand Carl as our own Phil Neville: not the most technically impressive player we’ve ever brought through, but what makes lacks in skill, he makes up for in determination and hard work. I like what he offers to the team, and that he’s not a carbon copy of Bacary Sagna, whose absence has been a light blow so far. I think when Bac returns, he’ll retake the starting position, but not without a fight.
Let’s take a quick look at our back line’s stats to sum up their individual performances.. We’ll exclude André Santos and Laurent Koscielny for now, as they were subbed too late to be compared fairly.
|Player||Per Mertesacker||Thomas Vermaelen|
|Long Balls (Accurate)||3(2)||6(1)|
We can say with confidence that Vermaelen was the better of the central pairing. Give credit to PerMer, because he went up against an opposition that plays to his weaknesses.
|Player||Carl Jenkinson||Kieran Gibbs|
|Long Balls (Accurate)||5(2)||0|
This data isn’t representative by any measure, in my opinion. Gibbs had far more help in defence, with Lukas Podolski performing similarly to Drogba in the Champion’s League Final; immense defensive contribution down the left, and starting attacks to score the chance later presented. Carl made 6 tackles yesterday, more than any other defender on either side of the pitch. Overall, a brilliant game by both youngsters.
The last defender to evaluate is Vito Mannone, who had a fairly quiet game. Don Vito has very good reflexes, but is a poor handler at times. He made 4 stops yesterday, but parried them back into dangerous areas, or out of play entirely. One area where he improved upon was his confidence in the air. Against Stoke, he seemed slightly out of his depth, perhaps intimidated by the sheer size of the orc army. Today however, he won all of his aerial challenges, and managed to keep his goal safe for the 90 minutes. I think it’s great that we’re seeing more of Mannone, but I hope he doesn’t slink back to the shadows upon Szczesny’s return. Maintaining confidence in our goalkeepers is key, as injuries may strike at any time. After all, it was an injury to Fabianski which saw Szczesny get the start at Old Trafford, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Overall, a solid performance at the back and another invaluable clean sheet. If Arsène is serious about us being title contenders, then goal difference could play a huge role. It’s tight at the top, so every bit counts.
Nuri who? I can see why Arsène Wenger was so willing to let Alex Song gallop off to Catalonia to ride the pine, because we’ve got a much more complete player in Abou Diaby. Strong in the tackle, towering in the air, and a graceful dribbler on the ground, Abou is a central midfielder through and through. I think of him as our own Yaya Touré, all we need from Abou is a few more goals to complete the comparison. It’s clear that Diaby is getting sharper with each match he plays, as he spent the entire match making a mockery of Liverpool’s midfield, often dribbling right through them before passing it off to continue each move at brisk pace. Diaby has eyes in the back of his head, and he has to considering his love of taking on a man. He had 81 touches and was dispossessed twice, only once more than Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla. Physically unmatched by Steven Gerrard, Nuri Sahin and Joe Allen, Diaby had a field day, making gut busting runs into uncontested open space. Liverpool were far too slow to close down our midfield, and it ended up being their undoing. Diaby had a brilliant game, and I hope he continues to build on this form. He’ll be our key man for many matches where possession is key.
Mikel Arteta is a poster child for consistency, putting in another brilliant shift as our deepest lying midfielder. I personally will never understand the love affair between Sky pundits and Joe Allen’s passing stats, who were inferior to Mikel’s. Yes, Allen is a long ball master, but it doesn’t matter when his long balls don’t offer any penetration, or cause confusion among defenders. What’s so impressive about a lob from the centre circle to the edge of the box? Nothing, nothing at all. Anyway, back to Arteta. For a player who spent so long being at Everton being the main creative outlet, Mikel has no problem sitting deep and doing the nitty-gritty defensive work. The only worrying aspect of his defensive game is identical Mertesacker: his lack of pace on the turn. Arteta made 3 tackles, but committed 2 fouls and could have been sent off if not for a bit of luck. He’s not often caught out though, so it’s not a huge issue. He reads the game quite well for the most part, making 2 interceptions as well as 1 effective clearance. It’s nice to have someone in midfield who can be relied on to be consistently excellent. I dare you to name a bad performance by Arteta in an Arsenal shirt.
I’m glad Santi Cazorla has gotten on the score sheet, it only enhances his reputation as a Fabregas replacement. Easily our best midfielder on the day, Cazorla was all over the park. His work rate is what saw him in a position to receive the ball from Lukas Podolski in the first place, after he had challenged Pepe Reina for the ball. It’s also good to see that his fitness is improving, and he’s not fading out of the match like against Sunderland and Stoke. I blame the international break for his fatigue, and we’ve got another one coming up. Hopefully he can come back in one piece, along with all the other players participating in meaningless friendlies. He’s my man of the match ahead of Diaby, simply because he refused to quit running. Lots of times you’d see Abou drop off a player’s run to cover a deeper position in midfield, but not Santi. He contests the dribbler until he wins or loses the ball, no exceptions. One thing I hope to see when Jack Wilshere returns, is for Arsène to experiment with Santi on the wing. Statistically, he’s the best crosser in the team from last season (1.6 accurate crosses p/g) Food for thought, and it may just happen considering our packed midfield. Another impressive performance for the little Spaniard, hopefully he can keep it up. Just to give you an idea of how well he played, let’s compare him to the opposite player in his position: Steven Gerrard.
|Player||Steven Gerrard||Santi Cazorla|
Considering Santi Cazorla is shorter than Andrei Arshavin, I think we can excuse him for not having strong aerial presence. Every other area listed, Santi is superior. They both turned over possession twice, but I think it’s excusable for Santi, considering he made 26 more passes than Gerrard.
Yes, Giroud missed *that* chance, but you have to fall to get back up. Another barren game for him, but I hope no one’s all that worried. The important thing to look at is what he added to the team despite not getting on the score sheet. As usual, his movement is impeccable. He draws similarities to Gonzalo Higuain, in that he’s got great awareness, and times his runs very well. In Podolski’s goal, Giroud gave Daniel Agger a real problem; either stop marking Giroud and tackles Cazorla, or stick with the run, but risk opening up more space for a long shot or through ball. Agger seemed caught between the two, at first tracking Giroud, but going in late to challenge Cazorla. He made a mess of it, and Lukas capitalized on Liverpool’s poor defending with a well taken shot, low and hard into the bottom right corner. Textbook finish.Podolski had a brilliant game at both ends of the pitch, tracking back to help Gibbs mark Jose Enrique and Fabio Borini out the of the game. Podolski is at his best when he can create from the back, and charge onto a ball to score. He’s got exceptional vision for a striker. Maybe it’s because he was Koln’s only hope at succeeding at times, but it seems as though Podolski always wants to do it all. He starts the move, he finishes the move, just like his second goal against his former team. He likes to be involved in each stage of the build up. He’s dynamism is encouraging, and it leads me to think he could spark a change in formation. With our current crop of players, I think we could manage to experiment with 4-2-2-2 and 4-4-1-1 with ease, due to Podolski’s versatilty, and the fact that we haven’t played traditional wingers on both sides of the pitch yet. It’s interesting to see where we’ll go with this, but for now Podolski is doing fine on the wing. At first I wasn’t thrilled with him being off to the side of Giroud, but it’s worked out well.
The reason Podolski had so much space to exploit was because of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who clearly favors playing centrally this season. Ever since he got a taste of central midfield in pre season, you can see he favors being a playmaker. The Ox certainly lives up to his name, showing strength and aggression the entire match. I still feel he’s too inexperienced to be relied on often, but he’s certainly a strong option in lieu of Theo Walcott.
A strong showing, despite some luck at the back. Perhaps Howard Webb felt we finally deserved a break from his tyranny, although it worries me that he’s saving his hatred towards us for the clash vs. Fergie’s army. However, that’s discussion for another day. Hopefully we can take our momentum through the international break straight through to the Southampton match at home. They have a knack for giving big sides a run for their money, and against us it will be no different.
Thanks for reading.
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