Arsenal impress in ‘first real test’ of the season

November 6, 2013 in Premier League by Lizzi Hollis

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Please note that the title of this piece is tongue in cheek and myself, like most Arsenal fans are sick to the back teeth of hearing this said before the start of every game. I fully expect to hear it before this weekends match against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Why? Because Arsenal doubters want to show us up, they want to prove right that we’re not up to the task of winning the Premier League title and so if we can’t win the big games how can we win the small ones? But we have won some big games this season; we beat Tottenham in the North London Derby 3 games in, we won in the Champions League to an in-form Napoli and on Saturday we defeated our biggest current league rivals Liverpool with a convincing 2-0 win. It’ll keep being said until we lose what is considered a ‘big game’ so the doubters can say we’ve failed the test.

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But we haven’t. On Saturday we passed another test with solid determination and a well deserved result.  It wasn’t the perfect performance from the Gunners – before Santi Cazorla opened the scoring we looked nervy and if Liverpool had scored first the result probably would have been much different. But we showed the strength to overcome those nerves and opened the scoring with Santi Cazorla’s volley from his own header that hit the post. Undoubtedly Liverpool started the game in better form and there were some controversial moments in the first half, especially when Martin Atkinson pulled back a Liverpool goal from a quick free kick to book Sagna who had fouled Suarez. Undoubtedly this was lucky for Arsenal, but there was far more to Arsenal’s win than just luck.

After Cazorla’s 19th minute goal Mingolet was troubled a number of times by various Arsenal players including Giroud, Ozil and Ramsey, with chances being created by Cazorla and from some excellent crosses from Sagna. Liverpool had chances to score, most notably Suarez in the closing minutes of the first half. However their chances were either sent wide or cleverly kept out by Szczesny.

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The second half though was Arsenal’s. Again Suarez had some chances at the start of the second period but was unable to convert into any goals and Arsenal’s dominion rose. The game was put to bed in the 59th minute as Ozil’s seemingly harmless cross to from 20 yards out was magnificently converted by Arsenal man of the moment Aaron Ramsey. The commentator on Match of the Day suggested that Ramsey didn’t need to think as he controlled the ball with his chest and bought it down for a volley that beat any possible deflections from the Liverpool defence and was completely out of reach for Mignolet. But actually I totally disagree this; if you watch the goal carefully you can see the tiniest bit of hesitation as Ramsey goes in for the volley as Kolo Toure backs away. This is when Ramsey strikes and hits the back of the net with perfect clarity.

And this was the golden difference between Arsenal and Liverpool in this game and has been evident in almost all of the Gunners Premier League performances this season. I used to accuse Arsenal of over-thinking at vital moments and this was certainly the case against Chelsea in the League Cup last week – but it wasn’t the case against Liverpool. Arsenal’s play for the most part has been thoughtful but not over thought and mixed with bravado and foresight. As just outlined with Ramsey’s goal, parallels can be drawn to this from the first goal too. Arsenal of last season would not have been 1-0 up after 19 minutes with a header than had hit the post and I can almost guarantee Cazorla would not have found himself in the perfect position to rebound his own miss with a volley that hit the target. But something has changed amongst this Arsenal team are we are creating imaginative and concentrated chances.

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I’m not saying this was a perfect 10 performance from Arsenal and there were some hairy moments. Liverpool were unlucky to score at times, sending chances wide or over the bar, especially as their frustrations grew towards the end of the 90. Ozil had probably his worst game as an Arsenal player and looks to be missing the injured Mathieu Flamini, while Giroud just couldn’t score sending one particularly good chance wide when Simon Mingolet was almost certainly beaten. When we come to face other big opponents these are issues that will have to be overcome. However, we have shown that we have the ability to leave our title contenders shaken and with our dominating midfield and goal scoring prowess, they should be afraid. For me, Aaron Ramsey and Bacary Sagna were stand out performers for Arsenal in this game and possibly the season so far.

We have a test against Manchester United on Sunday – it might be big, but it isn’t the first.

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