Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2
LIVERPOOL // There was something suitable about the setting. Anfield was the scene of a Robin van Persie masterclass last season, a decisive display of technical supremacy and brilliant finishing. Six months later, Anfield witnessed the start of a new era at Arsenal.
Van Persie is gone, but Arsenal are evolving. Now they have Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, left-footers leaving Liverpool with a goal and an assist apiece after dovetailing neatly as each opened his Arsenal account.
Two of the summer signings are excelling and, for the first time since the Dutchman’s departure, the Gunners are firing.
In condemning Liverpool to defeat, and their worst league start for 50 years, Arsenal passed stylishly and progressed serenely.
Rewind a year and they had a solitary point after three games and were considered in crisis after the sales of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas. Now it is very different. Van Persie and Alex Song’s departures have caused rather less disruption.
The scorers are not direct replacements for either, but they have provided an injection of quality. Podolski has brought pace on the left wing, Cazorla class in the playmaking role. Along with an inspired performance from Abou Diaby – a man who many a fan would rather had been sold, but a powerhouse in a midfield of passers – they were far too good for Liverpool.
After a frustrating Friday, when they failed to sign Clint Dempsey and left themselves short of attacking options, came a sorry Sunday.
It was never going to be easy for Brendan Rodgers to restore Liverpool to the heights they once scaled, but the size of the task is increasingly apparent.
“We will get better as our season progresses,” the manager said, but his irritation at their inactivity in the transfer market was apparent in some one-word answers.
Would he have let Andy Carroll join West Ham United on loan had he known no replacement would arrive? “No.” How confident was he of signing someone on Friday? “Very.”
Instead, Liverpool are left short-staffed while Arsene Wenger is reaping the rewards of doing his transfer business early.Newcomers have adopted the Arsenal ethos. There is also a style of play, based around passing and pace.
Both were factors in the opening goal, Arsenal’s first of the season. Steven Gerrard over-hit a pass intended for Luis Suarez.
Thomas Vermaelen intercepted and Arsenal broke at speed and with style.
The unmarked Cazorla slid a pass into the path of the advancing Podolski. The German took one touch to set himself up. His second was a shot drilled past Pepe Reina.
“Podolski is deadly when you give him a chance,” Wenger said. “And everybody understood very quickly that Cazorla would not take six months to settle.”
While there had been masterful touches from Cazorla, the goal had not been coming. Nevertheless, their counter-attacking menace should soon have produced a second.
Diaby surged forward and played a lovely, deft reverse pass to Olivier Giroud. The goal gaped in front of the Frenchman, but he missed, sending his shot into the Kop.
Instead, when victory was sealed, Cazorla was the scorer. He played a one-two with Podolski before driving a shot at Reina that left one Spaniard celebrating and another cursing. The goalkeeper should have saved; instead, his third error in as many games meant the ball ended up in the net.
“We could have done better with the second goal,” Rodgers said.
They could, too, in many other aspects of the game. Until a late flurry of shots from Jonjo Shelvey, and apart from some penalty appeals, invariably involving Suarez, which veered from the optimistic to the more realistic, Liverpool had only threatened.
Raheem Sterling struck the outside of the post when fed by Gerrard. The real reason for the opening, however, was the failure of three Arsenal players to clear Fabio Borini’s up-and-under.
It was indicative of the uncertainty on the right of the Arsenal defence, where Carl Jenkinson and Per Mertesacker were both nervous. Nevertheless, the German’s most important challenge was also his best. Liverpool appealed for a penalty when Sterling went down but, with an outstretched left leg, Mertesacker had applied a crucial touch to the ball. And, despite self-inflicted problems, they have begun the season with a hat-trick of clean sheets.
“The longer the record lasts, the more everyone does a bit more defensively,” Wenger said. But, as Liverpool lament their lack of forwards, the unanswered question is whether Arsenal would have secured another shutout had Rodgers been able to buy on Friday.
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