Monday, 3 September 2012

No Robin' required: Podolski and Cazorla prove there's life beyond greedy badger

Morning Gooners.

It was my first trip to Anfield and what a day out it proved to be. A 2-0 victory against anyone is normally a fantastic result. When it's against a team who should be challenging for a place in the top half of the table and who have a history as big as our own, it's even better.

I've had a permanent smile on my face since the final whistle. After the two stalemates which preceded this result, we have every right to feel happy with the result. Arsene Wenger got a lot of stick in the media for us shooting blanks against Sunderland and Stoke. But yesterday his team proved it has what it takes to put in a spirited team display and take three points from a rival.

I don't think we should be getting ahead of ourselves just yet. Despite what some Liverpool fans think, their club is a fading force. But what yesterday did show is that we've got a team which is moving in the right direction and we can still score goals without the greedy badger.

Arsenal's team shape
Vito Mannone started in goal again after Wojeciech Szczesny failed to recover from his rib injury. In front of him he had an unchanged back four of Carl Jenkinson, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs. Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby held their positions as the deep-lying midfielders behind an attacking three of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski. Olivier Giroud played at the point of our attack.

I was slightly surprised to see The Ox handed a starting role on the right. But the manager clearly had faith in the teenager's defensive abilities and he didn't let anyone down in his performance.

In goal, Mannone had few saves to make, certainly was a bit flappy with crosses and high balls but the fact remains he's undefeated in the Premier League.

A goal? Fancy that!
Finally it came. Arsenal put the ball in the back of the net after 220 minutes of league football. One of the longest waits in the Arsene Wenger era. But when it came the Gooners in the Anfield Road End celebrated with gusto.

For me it was all about Cazorla's pass in behind which allowed Podolski to run on to the ball and hit it left footed through little space and beyond Reina.

Abou Diaby inspired
In the first two games of the season I thought the Frenchman had looked tired beyond the 60 minute mark and may have been benched for this game with The Ox taking his role in midfield. I'm glad I was wrong.

At long last the Frenchman put in a man of the match performance we know he is capable of and has rightly been on the receiving end of a lot of praise for his role in the team's win.

He was all action and created two very good chances. One - where he passed to Giroud - he should have taken on himself as the space opened up in front of him. But that would be my only criticism of him. I thought he had a very good game. Let's hope he can have many more like this one.

Cazorla: He came from Malaga to play with Arteta
While praising the input into the game of Diaby, there is no denying the role both Spaniard had in our win yesterday. What can I really say about Arteta's influence on this team which hasn't already been said? His passing was tidy, his positional sense outstanding and defending important. As we saw at the end of last season, he is vital to this team.

The same can already be said for Cazorla. He is the creative hub of this team. Like his compatriot, passing superb, dribbling fantastic and vision crystal clear even when surrounded by three players. And he's not shot shy either. Latching on to Podolski's pass to shoot low at Reina for his goal.

Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's defensive roles
Both wide players where tasked with important roles to keep Liverpool quiet. It became obvious early on that Arsenal were trying to narrow the pitch. Both Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain pushing in field to allow space on the outside of them.

Arsenal were prepared to give the home team space on the wings as with only the diver in the box, they gambled that Mertesacker and Vermaelen could cope with his aerial threat.

Podolski and The Ox didn't stop working for the team all afternoon and it was no surprise they were replaced after running themselves into the ground. Their effort was rewarded by ovations from the traveling fans.

Let's give Wenger some credit
I understand why Steve Bould is getting a lot of plaudits for Arsenal's defensive stability at the moment. But I think Arsene Wenger certainly deserves some credit for our win yesterday. It is he who has decided to let Alex Song leave the club. The manager was also the person responsible for bringing Podolski and Cazorla to the club - in fact all the players are his signings.

Wenger sets the team up, gives them instructions and has built the team's philosophy. It could be down to him that the team curbed it's natural attacking will to defend pretty solidly for 94 minutes yesterday afternoon.

It is however great to see that after three league games we've not conceded a goal. And if that is down to work done on the training ground by Steve Bould and Neil Banfield, then long may it continue.

Life beyond the greedy badger
Yes, we don't need to be a one man team any longer. The goals can be spread around from now on. Podolski and Cazorla opened their accounts yesterday and now the media can stop asking the manager if we'd have scored so and so chance with the greedy badger in the team.

It's clear that Giroud is taking slightly longer to adapt to the league but he'll get there, I have no doubt about that. He's just finding his range at the moment but I think he'll be lethal when it finally clicks for him.

What I've been impressed with is that he won't give up and works hard for the team even though it's just not clicking for him in front of goal. When he finally puts the ball in the back of the net it will be the first of many I'm sure. And it was good to see the away support giving him their 100% backing.

Travelling Gooners
I know it's often said, but I really do believe our away fans are the best in the league. We never seemed to stop signing yesterday. And the chant of  "Andre Santos: he drives how he wants" certainly made the Brazilian chuckle to himself on the sidelines. The defender couldn't hide that smile!

Famous atmosphere?
I have to say I was very disappointed by the home support. They didn't get behind their team at all. It was the traveling Gooners making all the noise yesterday. And they only seemed to sing at us one, asking where our captain's gone... They couldn't be bothered to sing their famous song at the end. Perhaps because they knew they were well beaten.

Real fans don't boo
However credit where it is due. A small section of our own fickle fan base decided to boo the team at the final whistle against Sunderland on the opening day of the season. Rodger's team sit third from bottom with one point from their first three games. Yet there wasn't one boo from the home fans after a 2-0 home defeat... something our own fan base could learn from.

In conclusion
A fantastic win. A wonderful day out. We go into the international break on a high and start back in two weeks time in seventh place. It's clear a lot of good work has gone on behind the scenes. We just need to build on it and take the momentum from this win into the game with Southampton.

That's it for today. More tomorrow.

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