Three clean sheets provide strong team platform
The match ending scenario would paint a significantly different view for each club, for Arsenal a poor result on the back of two goalless performances would have left Arsenal without a win in three and with supporters feeling that not enough was done in the transfer window. As it was the club achieved a complete as performance as you could hope for, secure a vital first win and grab a third successive clean sheet.
There were two selections for the manager to make, namely wide right and centre back positions. Perhaps on paper Laurent Koscielny was the more obvious candidate to play to deal with the pace and movement of Luis Suarez but despite the Liverpool striker turning Per drawing a foul, that bought about a yellow card, he coped admirably and indeed stopped Liverpool in their most dangerous moment when getting a vital toe to deny young Raheem Sterling. Wenger had chosen continuity and reaped the reward with a third straight clean sheet. Walcott was to miss out again but from the bench he would get a master class from Lukas Podolski.
Verdict: Good call on both accounts
Tactical 1: Full backs & cover
The starting position of the full backs has been a major flaw in the defence for some years. On how many occasions could we recall a goal arising from a quick turn around in possession exploiting a hole in behind our advanced full back? At Anfield Arsenal got it spot on, in general neither full back ventured too far that often. The starting positions on the break down were much more aligned to the centre backs and on occasion where one was caught forward the other dropped in line to give a back three that shuffled across. Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain were also huge factors to the team solidity both doubling up time and again to offer protection to their young full backs. It’s maybe no coincidence that both wingers were withdrawn late on.
Tactical 2: Shape
There were phases of play in the second half where Arsenal’s average position as a unit was extraordinarily high up. Arteta and Diaby were both advanced in these scenarios, but Arsenal on the whole were not vulnerable because the shape as a whole was in tact, just advanced. And it that advanced position the players went hunting to win ‘high’ ball. The same occurred in defence. The team was up together and back together.
Whilst possession was an even affair Arsenal were able to exert an element of complete control of the match, for sure Arsenal have had many matches in recent seasons where they have played keep ball but would always be culpable. At Anfield we saw efficiency at both ends born from team work and focus in a defensive sense and incisive passing and directness to provide incision going forward. I saw a lot of the untouchables about our play on Sunday; on first goal particularly Arsenal broke from back to front with menace and deadly that Vieira, Bergkamp and Henry would have been proud of. Cut throat football.
Player watch: Oliver Giroud
Another match and another big chance spurned but unlike against Sunderland it was not to cost the Gunners. Should have done better with a header late on too but the positive aspect of his play has been his excellent movement to put himself in positions to miss, if you get my drift. Early days but the signs are there.
Man of the match: Abou Diaby
There were many contenders for the accolade and I struggle really to recall a game where through the ranks there not one player off his game, lacking fitness, cohesion or limited in skill set. Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla both scored their first Arsenal goals and set each other up to boot. Mikel Arteta has shown Arsenal the way, simply bringing a new level of professionalism in what has become a more balanced rounded outfit. There was an added intent and intensity about him but it is midfield partner that has rightly drawn all the plaudits.
Abou simply bossed the midfield from start to finish, often picking up possession deep he jinked and evaded Liverpool time and again before finding a forward pass on every occasion. His run from deep to set up Giroud’s big chance was a shear mix of elegance and power, if and it’s a big if, Diaby can remain fit through a campaign and consistently put in those kind of performances then we have a potentially a player to make a huge impact on our fortunes.
He will need some luck on his side in terms of injuries, of course, but he must also show the same level of ‘taste’ as he displayed at Anfield week in week out. He often shows up well away from home against the bigger sides where his skills in tight spaces and big stride make him an excellent counter-attacking player. It will be interesting to see him replicate that kind of form at home in a different kind of game, up against two tightly knit banks of four. Southampton are up next so we won’t have to wait long to see that comparison and whether Abou can apply himself mentally in consistent fashion, and perhaps even show the intelligence to adapt if required.
The Final word
The return to fitness of Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby has clearly played a role in the manager’s thinking and perhaps that is a choice that has shown the first glimpse of paying huge dividends. It’s a gamble of course but with Jack Wilshere making progress one not pinned to just one player alone. At first glance losing Alex Song is seems a blow, considering a strong season in terms of assists, but putting that to one side his performances were at times tame with an ever diminishing defensive effect. Besides, I have never seen Alex Song dominate a match in the same manner as Abou Diaby did at Anfield. Focus and consistency have been though a problem for both players so all eyes on Abou to see whether he sustains that against a side in Southampton who surely come and play for a point.
Steve Bould has received much credit for the defensive organisation, and rightly so. The team has good shape, good hunger and good habits. It was for all to see in the difference in Carl Jenkinson, some wayward passing early on aside his display was much improved up against a lively Raheem Sterling he produced a number of decisive clean tackles and in the main was always from a positional sense ‘to hand’.
A note of credit though is also surely due to Arsene Wenger, often maligned for his team’s lacking balance he has brought the right components / personalities to the club in defence but also throughout the team with Arteta, Mertescaker and Podolski bringing about an effort and professionalism missing for some time. Experience counts and finally the team has the leadership and professionalism required to produce complete performances. Roll on Southampton at the Emirates.