Monday 3 September 2012

Grown-up Arsenal suggest good times ahead

Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2

Let me add this caveat before I get carried away with: at the minute, Liverpool couldn’t score with one of Wayne Rooney’s grannies.

But that shouldn’t take away with the latest, and most impressive, stage in the early evolution of this Arsenal team.

They showed the same level of defensive control as against Stoke but this time added the clinical finishing that was missing then and against Sunderland.

In all, it was a grown-up performance. Yes, there were moments of pressure but they never lost their heads. And they never wasted their good work, when in the past ten or fifteen minutes of pressure would be let down by a sloppy error that changed the game’s momentum. This Arsenal side was too composed to get ruffled, even at Anfield. It was the sort of performance a Mourinho team would deliver; tactically sound, high-quality football in defence, midfield and attack where no measure is given or expected.

It’s nice to be unsure where to start with the praise. Let’s go back to front. Mannone looked confident and more sure-footed than ever before; Mertesacker and Vermaelen won their aerial battles and mopped up well, and the BFG did especially well after being booked so early; Jenkinson and Gibbs again made a valuable contribution to the defensive unity and Gibbs looked much more effective offensively; Arteta did exactly what Song would have done but with more panache; Diaby lived up to the reputation that Wenger and Laurent Blanc have bestowed upon him – the way he left one Liverpool midfielder (Allen? Sahin?) in his wake to set up Giroud showed his talent at its best; Cazorla performed with the class of his first two games and this time kept it up for the whole 90 minutes, including the vital second goal; Podolski’s sprint and finish for the opening goal was a demonstration to certain other wingers in our squad what you need to justify earning £80k a week. Oxlade-Chamberlain was the quieter of the attacking players but still put a good shift in; Giroud got into good positions and worked hard – his need for a goal is obvious, though.

Diaby and Arteta were the top performers for me and set the tone for a determined display that carried enough style and arrogance to satisfy Arsene.

Is the improvement simply down to having older heads on the pitch? Maybe, but it isn’t just how much more experienced this team is but more that its attitude is exactly right. They are working hard during games and seemingly on the training ground judging by the cohesion and control the team is showing. And remember – we have yet to field our first choice defence and have two French internationals to return, plus arguably our best midfielder (that’s Wilshere, not Rosicky).

Of course, I shouldn’t get too carried away and I don’t want to suggest we’re now going to conquer all. But it does at least feel like we can hope good times are ahead. In some ways, had we won our opening three games 3-0 I would be less encouraged than I am now. Straightforward wins like that would have suggested the familiar ‘when we’re good, we’re good…’ trait. Instead, this side appears to have much more substance to it than that.