Composed and aggressive wins the day at Emirates Stadium
Arsene Wenger is cautious even as he sees the side make firm statement
Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla scores a goal against Liverpool during their English Premier League soccer match
Maybe Arsenal can win the Premier League. The notion would have met with derision after the opening-day home defeat by Aston Villa and the vehement backlash that rocked the club. But on Saturday, they were composed, aggressive and incisive, deservedly beating an in-form Liverpool to establish a five-point lead at the top of the table.
“After the Aston Villa game, if I had told you we would have been five points clear in November, I would have had to run away because you would have killed me,” Wenger said. The pundits still say no. Arsenal have yet to face either Manchester club or Chelsea in the league, they say.
The last time they sat five points clear at the top was in February 2008. Then came the infamous 2-2 draw at Birmingham City, which was scarred by Eduardo’s leg break and William Gallas’s meltdown, and the club lost their bearings. It was not an isolated wobble.
Recent history says Arsenal will falter. And yet momentum is growing, along with dressing-room belief. The league is tantalisingly open. “We have more belief [this season] and we are starting to create a bit of fear in the opposition, and that gives us a better chance to win the games,” Mikel Arteta said.
“In the last few seasons,” Bacary Sagna said, “we were responding technically but when we had to go to tough, physical games, sometimes we were not responding. Now we are more confident with the arrival of [Mesut] Ozil and [Mathieu] Flamini.” Flamini did not play against Liverpool because of a groin injury but it did not matter. Arteta was superb in front of the back four while Aaron Ramsey drove forward, prompted and killed the game with his long-range pot-shot.
Brendan Rodgers started with three central defenders and two wing-backs and he saw Arsenal take charge upon Santi Cazorla’s goal. The visitors struggled to suppress Arsenal’s runners from midfield. Rodgers switched to 4-2-3-1 in the second half, with the substitute Philippe Coutinho looking sharp on his return from injury. Luis Suarez bristled with menace throughout. But the frustration for Liverpool went deeper than the referee Martin Atkinson’s decision to pull back Suarez’s quick free-kick on 26 minutes, which eventually led to Jordan Henderson scoring. They did not do enough offensively until after Ramsey’s goal while Steven Gerrard could not exert his influence.
Liverpool intend to respond at home to Fulham on Saturday. Arsenal has away games against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday and Manchester United on Sunday. Dortmund hammered Stuttgart 6-1 on Friday. “I wanted something more testing for them,” Wenger said. “Unfortunately they had a good friendly.” Arsenal’s defining period has begun well.