It is no more than a handy coincidence but there was an unavoidable resonance about Liverpool’s first post-Balotelli performance at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night.
Just as the ultimate "haircut player" heads back on loan to Milan, who will pay half of his £80,000 a week wages, it seemed poignant that Liverpool should produce not only a third clean sheet in a row but an urgent, industrious performance that underlined the suggestion of a team once again in meaningful transition.
The two events are of course unconnected but what was clear during the 0-0 draw at the Emirates is that Brendan Rodgers has maintained his own remarkable thirst for on-the-hoof rebuilding. He has now achieved the remarkable feat of conjuring up four significantly different teams in four seasons, in each case out of an unavoidable shemozzle of revolving personnel and evolving tactics.
First up was the Swansea-flavoured Liverpool of his first year at Anfield. After that came the Luis Suárez-driven attacking machine, before they succumbed to defensive introspection and a stodgy sixth place.
This time around, Rodgers has had a tournament-free summer to concoct not only his fourth Liverpool team but perhaps his most intriguing. Make no mistake: whatever Liverpool produce from here it will at least be pure, uncut essence of Brendan. In Rodgers' first year Jamie Carragher and Joe Cole were still knocking about. Suárez was a thrilling presence one year, a potent absence the next. Managing Steven Gerrard wasn't so much a footballing challenge but a matter of overseeing, with as little collateral damage as possible, an epic sentimental goodbye.
No more, though. This is undeniably a Rodgers team now. Of Liverpool's 18-man squad only Martin Skrtel and Lucas Leiva were signed as first-teamers by somebody else. It will take time but after three league matches it is hard to avoid the impression that this is the gnarliest, most obviously team-like Rodgers team to date.
Without the need to accommodate Gerrard, who was never a very disciplined – or by the end very mobile – central midfielder, Liverpool were able to field a genuinely high-pressure central midfield three. The desire to stay compact was clear from the start, with Emre Can, Lucas and James Milner providing a gristly central fulcrum.
Liverpool’s physical power was notable. This is a team of athletes, with strength and mobility, and with a pair of Brazilian inside-forwards prepared to scuttle between the lines. Liverpool made almost half as many passes as Arsenal but made more tackles, won more aerial duels and often outmuscled their opponents in the clinches.
Two new players stood out, Christian Benteke and Joe Gomez. Benteke was a mobile, menacing presence, making runs right across the forward line and showing a fine touch. Without really seeming to play an airborne game, Benteke won an astonishing 16 aerial duels and was the most adhesive, mobile centre-forward on show.
Arsène Wenger has often complained there simply aren’t enough high-class centre-forwards out there. Well, he saw one on Monday night.
What of Gomez? He isn’t yet 19 years old, isn’t really a full-back and definitely isn’t left-footed, but he confirmed the impression of a footballer of rare poise and grace.
In the last three years there have often been periods of progress followed by a sudden plateauing out. As Arsenal pushed Liverpool back in the second half, however, there was resilience in the visitors.
And which, while it may not yet be Rodgers’ most free-scoring creation, shows every sign of being his most balanced and perhaps his most interesting. Guardian Service