By Jon Gold (@HomeoftheKnave)
A 2-0 victory away to Liverpool saw goals from two of Arsenal’s three heralded attacking signings in the summer and an encouraging man-of-the-match performance from injury-plagued Abou Diaby, as the Gunners finally opened their account in the league while maintaining a spotless defensive record.
The prevailing mood among Arsenal supporters, as the team headed north to Anfield for yesterday’s game, was one of frustration – many had expected the squad to be strengthened on transfer deadline day, and there was palpable (to this Arsenal supporter, at any rate) disappointment that a player like Yann M’Vila wasn’t brought in to replace Alex Song’s industry and attacking thrust in central midfield.
This created a sense of uncertainty over the team’s prospects for the Liverpool game – could the summer’s early attacking signings finally gel? Would the defense that looked so miserly under Steve Bould’s tutelage for the first two games of the season be unhinged by its first encounter with a team looking to do more than sit back and absorb pressure?
Liverpool, coming into the fixture, offered little to go on, thanks to wildly inconsistent results in the first two matches – having suffered an ignominious 3-0 hiding at the hands of lowly West Bromwich Albion, their next league match was a sparkling performance at home to league champions Manchester City, where Liverpool were unfortunate not to come away with a 2-1 victory after Martin Skrtel’s slip allowed Carlos Tevez to equalize late.
A key absence, however, was Brazilian midfielder Lucas – who had to be replaced due to injury less than five minutes into the Manchester City game. While Liverpool played well without him in that fixture, his absence for what could be months is unlikely to help the team in the long-term.
Certainly, Liverpool’s ability to cope with a suddenly resurgent Diaby was hurt by Lucas’ absence, and the Frenchman proved to be the dominant force in midfield on Sunday, continually demonstrating the impressive strength in possession and energetic running that have marked his game on the few occasions when he’s been both sharp and uninjured.
While it’s important to remember that Diaby’s not a defensive midfielder per se – a role that many fans persist in assigning to him, probably because his blend of long-legged elegance and strength on the ball is undeniably reminiscent of the legendary Patrick Vieira – his skill, confidence and self-possession in midfield could go a long way toward easing concerns in that area after the departure of Alex Song to Barcelona. If Diaby can finally get through a full season without serious injury, he’ll be a huge asset.
Arsenal’s first goal of the league season came half an hour into the third game, courtesy of two-thirds of its new attacking triumvirate – after a Liverpool move foundered, Cazorla was able to put a well-weighted little diagonal ball onto the foot of an onrushing Podolski, who finished capably from a tight angle.
The two teams had been relatively even before that, and the game remained tense throughout, as the excellent Raheem Sterling was denied by the post soon after Podolski’s goal. Sterling gave right-back Carl Jenkinson plenty to do all afternoon, though with the exception of a couple first-half wobbles, Jenkinson coped well. Along with Sterling, Joe Allen and Luis Suarez stood out for the home team, though the latter’s performance was marred by his usual histrionics.
The second goal should’ve come before half time, as Diaby brushed Glen Johnson aside to glide forward and play in Olivier Giroud, who skewed a shot wide. While it wasn’t the easiest of finishes by any means, Giroud will likely be frustrated that he hasn’t yet tallied for his new club.
However, Arsenal did make it two as Santi Cazorla’s hard, low shot deflected in off of Pepe Reina’s elbow in the 68th minute. The Liverpool keeper will want that one back, but it was still just reward for Cazorla’s sparkling play in the first few games of his Arsenal career, and the Spanish midfielder had just before pulled a shot not far wide.