Much of the pre-match talk was whether Arsenal could respond to the Chelsea defeat and if they had the ability to beat the Premier League’s better sides. By the full time whistle, the answer was an emphatic ‘Yes’.
The way we started didn’t fill me with confidence though. Liverpool looked brighter and when Henderson robbed Cazorla on the halfway line he was, incredibly, allowed to stroll into our penalty area unchallenged before scuffing a shot straight at Szczesny. It reminded me of the corresponding fixture in January when we defended so badly we were 2-0 down after an hour and I once more lamented the loss of Flamini, predicting we would be opened up constantly without him.
Thankfully I was wrong because despite this dodgy start our opening goal changed everything. A good cross by Sagna was headed against the post by Cazorla and he followed up to sweetly volley in the rebound for 1-0.
Suddenly we were playing vibrant football and closing Liverpool down. The visitors just couldn’t live with our quick passing and we were dominating the midfield, ending the half well on top.
Henderson volleyed over straight after the break, but that apart it was Arsenal creating most of the chances. Giroud robbed Skrtel and his cheeky dink landed agonisingly wide before Ramsey underlined our dominance on the hour mark. He was allowed plenty of time to line up a dipping volley from 20 yards which flew over Mignolet and into the net.
Wenger then shut up shop with 20 minutes left, bringing on Monreal as the Gunners visibly retreated. It was a risky strategy because Liverpool suddenly had chances which they weren’t creating before. Szczesny made a couple of smart blocks and Suarez shaved the post and fired wide when he should’ve done better, but ultimately it paid off as we kept our second successive clean sheet in the league.
What impressed me most about the performance was how well we contained the famed SAS. I didn’t think we’d be able to keep Sturridge and Suarez so quiet without Flamini’s energy and aggression, but Arteta did well in the most defensive midfield role and Koscielny and Mertesacker were generally solid.
This was the most important fixture of the week, not the Capital One tie against Chelsea. Too much was made of that defeat in my opinion. Chelsea are so rich that they can spend £25m on Willian just to stop Spurs having him, so when it came to a match up between our respective reserve teams then of course we were going to come up short. Our squad depth is understandably nowhere near Chelsea’s, although we should definitely have a better back up striker than Bendtner and a more capable number two than Fabianski.
I may not have been too bothered about the Chelsea performance, but I was bothered by the Crystal Palace display, despite the result, and thankfully today has put some of those concerns to bed.
So a great day at the office for Wenger and his troops. Beating a good side at home is very welcome, but we need to step it up again for the ultimate tests now — trips to Dortmund and a resurgent Man Utd. I said last week that we’d know much more about this Arsenal team after those matches so I’ll reserve definitive judgement until the final whistle blows at Old Trafford. But needless to say, it’s an encouraging start to a tricky trio of fixtures which could really make our season.
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