Liverpool 0 – 2 Arsenal
A determined counter-attacking Arsenal side produced occasional flashes of brilliance to steal three points at Anfield and extend their run of not having conceded a goal this season to three games.
The home side dominated early on against an Arsenal side under pressure to score their first goal of the campaign. While the defence looked comfortable enough, Arsenal were giving the ball away far too often with sloppy passes and also thanks to Liverpool’s quick closing down.
Liverpool, however, for all of their possession, were doing the same as Arsenal, losing the ball cheaply in the final third and failing to trouble stand-in goalkeeper Mannone. Luis Suarez was creating some problems, and drew a yellow card from Per Mertesacker early on. However, Arsenal gradually started to find their feet, and it was an errant pass at the 31-minute mark from Steven Gerrard to Suarez, on the edge of the Arsenal area, that led to Arsenal’s first goal of the season. Lukas Podolski not only took the ball but also made it the length of the field to gather a pass from Santi Cazorla, with Olivier Giroud making a clever run to pull away defenders. Podolski slotted home under the flailing leg of Glen Johnson and past the outstretched foot of Pepe Reina to give the Gunners an unlikely lead.
Before the end of the half, Giroud was sent through by a lovely Cazorla pass, but snatched at the shot and missed the target from close in. Liverpool were also denied a penalty when referee Howard Webb correctly judged Mertesacker had just managed to get a toe to the ball.
The second half pattern was similar to the first, with both teams losing possession too easily. Abou Diaby made some swift runs with the ball, and also made some deft moves to leave Liverpool players in his wake, causing all kinds of problems whenever he was on the ball on the break. And, encouragingly, the Arsenal defence was not pushing too far forward and getting caught out for speed.
Liverpool’s inept looking attack failed to create many chances, although they will be ruing the referee’s decision when he failed to give a penalty after a clumsy challenge by Mertesacker on Suarez. While he may not have reached the ball, Webb was looking at the play develop in the corner, and may also have judged that Suarez, having gone down very easily on several occasions, may have been looking for the call.
Arsenal’s lead was doubled after 68 minutes when Cazorla played a neat one-two, gathering the ball at speed and firing a low, hard shot that hit the back of the net after deflecting off Reina. Mannone was called upon a couple of times late on, and made two good saves, and Vermaelen also made a couple of key clearances before being substituted after appearing to injure himself sliding off the pitch after a Gerrard challenge.
After the second goal, Liverpool pressed but failed to make many chances, and Arsenal, as well as looking reasonably solid at the back also managed a few passing moves to leave the Arsenal fans happy.
The win pushes Arsenal up to eighth in the table and leaves Liverpool in 18th with a single point.
Mannone – 7. Wasn’t called on to do much, but made a couple of key saves late on. Didn’t look overly comfortable on high balls pumped in to the box.
Jenkinson – 8. Made a couple of good attacking runs down the right and hardly put a foot wrong defensively, stopping several runs and playing well positionally.
Mertesacker – 7. Early yellow could have made him tentative, but made some key tackles throughout the game. Looked solid when players were coming at him, but looked a little slow when having to track back.
Vermaelen – 8. Excellent defensive performance from the captain, who also made some important challenges and looked good in every area, from his positioning to anticipation to challenges.
Gibbs – 7. Solid enough performance, without looking spectacular. Handled Liverpool runs well, and showed good pace coming forward.
Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7. Decent game, and worked hard on his defensive duties, dropping back often to break up plays. Didn’t make too many dazzling runs, and saw a few passes and crosses miscued.
Arteta – 8. Overshadowed by Diaby, but made some crucial defensive tackles and distributed the ball well. Tracked back when necessary and won the midfield battles.
Diaby – 8. Stole the show offensively with some darting runs through the Liverpool midfield. Creative around the box and always looked dangerous in possession.
Cazorla – 8. Showed some great vision and ability to control the ball running at speed. Took his goal well. Still needs some work with Giroud in terms of being on the same page.
Giroud – 6. Not given a great deal of service, and worked tirelessly up front with little to show. Had a couple of decent chances that went begging, one on his left foot and the other from a header. Looked off the pace at times.
Podolski – 7. Some good runs and took his goal well. In and out of the game but always a threat around the box.
Ramsey (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 74) – 7. Willing to take on players and fitted into the pace well enough, but didn’t see a great deal of action in his brief cameo.
Santos (Podolski, 81) – not enough time to make an impact.
Koscielny (Vermaelen, 90) – late replacement for hobbling captain, didn’t need to do much in the last couple of minutes.