Back in business
As part of our new Premier League Snap-shots feature, Chris Burton looks back at a 2-0 victory for Arsenal over Liverpool which saw the Gunners open their goal account at the third time of asking.
Last Updated: 02/09/12 5:43pm
Santi Cazorla: The Spaniard impressed again at Anfield and opened his Arsenal goal account
Back-to-back goalless draws to open the season had Arsenal supporters fearing the worst, with a summer in which their top marksman was allowed to head through the exits and untested Premier League performers were drafted in causing some to question the once untouchable Arsene Wenger.
The Frenchman has been in the business long enough to know that opinions can turn over the course of 90 minutes and, having seen two of his new recruits open their goal accounts at Liverpool, it is now his weekend rival Brendan Rodgers who finds himself facing an uncomfortable probing.
Liverpool lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Luis Suarez asked to provide the cutting edge at the top of a three-pronged frontline which included the hard-working Fabio Borini and the emerging talents of Raheem Sterling. Nuri Sahin was handed his Premier League bow alongside Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen, with the Turkey international intended to bring added creativity to a midfield already loaded with graft and boundless energy. At the back, Brendan Rodgers turned to his tried and tested, with Jose Enrique's return at left-back allowing Glen Johnson to be switched to a more natural posting on the opposite flank. The problem for Liverpool was always going to be their bench, with there a noticeable lack of attacking talent following the decision to loan Andy Carroll to West Ham.
Arsenal, who have had the measure of Liverpool in recent league encounters at Anfield, opted for a fluid system which allowed their potential match-winners to influence proceedings wherever they saw fit. Olivier Giroud was deployed up top, and Lukas Podolski is naturally drawn to the left, but Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby were given the freedom to roam. Unsurprisingly, a defensive unit which is yet to be breached this season was left untouched by Wenger - with Vito Mannone continuing to deputise for the injured Wojciech Szczesny between the sticks.
Liverpool were looking to pack the midfield, allowing them to dictate proceedings and free up space for the likes of Sterling and Borini - who are not out-and-out wingers - to get in and around Suarez. Unfortunately, they gave the ball away far too easily and were unable to counter the strength of Diaby and the clever footballing brain of Arteta. The Reds posed more of a threat when Stewart Downing was introduced off the bench, but they no longer have an out ball now that Carroll has gone and Suarez endured an afternoon in which nothing stuck and his shooting boots were seemingly left in the dressing room.
Arsenal played as Arsenal do. Wenger is not about to change his approach after turning the Gunners into one of the most watchable sides in European football. They now appear to have pieced together a side in which everyone knows what their role is and there is a real team ethic which flows throughout the XI on the field. The pass and move approach was favoured again at Anfield and Liverpool were left chasing shadows at times. The speed at which Cazorla has settled bodes well, as he is capable of controlling games at the highest level, and the return to full fitness of Diaby should allow him to prove that is worthy of comparisons to Gunners legend Patrick Vieira.
Rodgers turned to his bench just twice but, as previously mentioned, that is probably due to the fact that he had no obvious Plan B. Borini was the first to make way, with the hard-working Italian huffing and puffing to no avail. Downing, the man brought on in his place, looked lively and provided Liverpool with much-needed width. Sahin was the next to be hauled off, with a man drafted in on a season-long loan from Real Madrid finding that the pace of English football meant he was little more than an on-field spectator for 67 minutes. Again, the men sent on, in this case Jonjo Shelvey, offered considerably more to proceedings than the man he replaced.
Wenger left it until the 72nd minute to make his first change, with those entrusted with a starting berth doing more than enough to wrap up a first win of the season. Oxlade-Chamberlain really had to come off, as he appeared to be struggling with cramp, and Aaron Ramsey could do with the game time. Podolski was replaced after bringing Arsenal's goal drought to an end, with Andre Santos thrown on with eight minutes remaining to ensure the back door remained firmly bolted. Thomas Vermaelen put his body on the line for 90 minutes and he was withdrawn in stoppage-time, and replaced by Laurent Koscielny, as more of a precaution than a necessity.
Howard Webb is often entrusted with big games, and that is because he is not afraid to make big decisions. On three occasions on Sunday he turned a blind eye to penalty protests from the home side. Suarez believed he was deserving of two spot-kicks, but the Uruguayan's reputation may have gone before him as his appeals were quickly waved away. Sterling also saw his pleas fall on deaf ears after tumbling under a Mertesacker challenge inside the box. To be fair to Webb, he probably made the right call on each occasion.
It is a case of back to the drawing board for Liverpool and Rodgers. The Northern Irishman will need no reminding of what happened to Roy Hodgson when he discovered that the Anfield hot-seat has a nasty habit of burning those who do not fill it sufficiently. It is far too early to suggest that Rodgers will soon be heading the same way as the now England manager, but he needs to start generating results if he is to silence such murmurings. One point from three games is not good enough for a side that were top-four staples not all that long ago.
Now that Arsenal are up and running in terms of goals scored, Wenger will be hoping to see the floodgates open. He will be delighted to see Podolski and Cazorla get off the mark, with both tipped to have a major say on how the Gunners' season plays out. Giroud looks like he is a little short on confidence and he could do with a goal to settle him down. Arsenal will, however, feel a lot better about themselves on their journey home from the North West.