View From The North Bank: Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2
The thing about drawing your first two matches is that the next result is often pivotal. Win your next game and it’s three unbeaten and a solid foundation on which to build. Lose that third game and it’s a winless start to the season. Yesterday’s win at Anfield has allowed us to reflect positively on the opening fixtures and go into the international break in confident mood.
There were certainly enough encouraging signs in those two draws to leave the more level headed analysts reassured but, until we actually found those three points, there was always going to be an edginess. Fortunately, that edginess didn’t seem to stretch to those within the club. As Wenger reiterated afterwards, the performance here wasn’t significantly better than those that had gone before, what was different was the improved quality in the final third and, most importantly, the result.
An encouraging trait of our early performances has been how structured and organised we’ve looked. The defence has been an obvious area of improvement. Without the ball they adopt a much better shape and seem to be seeing off opposition attacks with only the occasional need for a last ditch tackle. This improvement in shape extends further up the pitch too.
The argument over whether we need a Defensive Midfielder, or even what that role is, continues to rage but Mikel Arteta is doing exceptionally well in providing an answer. There is no doubt that we are short of an other option to replace him like for like but, as long as he is fit, we seem to have found an internal solution to some of last years problems.
Having Arteta sitting deep suits our passing style as he is a constant option for his team mates. He goes looking for the ball from the back four and then carries it to those further ahead, all the time shadowing them so that he can take it back if required. His value on the ball is hardly a surprise but his positional discipline has also been impressive. At times yesterday, when defenders got forward and possession was turned over, Arteta was aware and filled in to good effect. His tackling and hassling of opponents was first class.
Alongside Arteta was Diaby, a player who has often threatened to look this good but rarely achieved it. He worked hard off the ball and made some good tackles and interceptions but it was his work with the ball at his feet the really caught the eye. Diaby sometimes looks casual and seems to dwell on the ball but on Sunday he gave a good example of why that style is valuable. On several occasions he seemed to twist and turn, dragging the ball around and out of the way of his opponents, opening up space as he did so. His loping stride and dribbling ability allow defence to turn into attack at light speed; in this form he is an ideal link between Arteta and Cazorla.
Up top Cazorla continues to impress. Whenever he has the ball there is a feeling he will make something special happen. His set up for Podolski was fantastic. Not only did he carry the ball with purpose he also timed the pass perfectly, releasing the ball just at the right time. His goal was ably assisted by some dire Goalkeeping from Reina; a player who I like to think is suffering some kind of retribution for that Barcelona stunt he pulled with Fabregas. Despite that good fortune, Cazorla deserved his reward considering how he had orchestrated the move with his relentless passing and movement.
Podolski and, to a lesser extent Chamberlain, played important roles also. They joined in with attacks well but were also committed to making up a distinctly un-Arsenal like two banks of four when without the ball. Podolski in particular did some admirable defensive work in front of Gibbs. It seems odd to be talking so proudly about how well organised we were but, after years of swashbuckling forward play and, it has to be said, recurring disappointment, it’s nice to finally have a side who seem committed to their jobs and competent enough to perform the less glamorous tasks.
Just as we’re beginning to find our feet we are denied another game for a couple of weeks. Much of the squad will head off on international duty now so, as ever, we just have to hope that as few as possible will return with knocks and twinges picked up whilst away. Despite this untimely interruption we can still look back on the last few weeks and feel encouraged that there is a plan and for once, we look equipped to stick to it.
Keep The Faith.