Arsenal:1 Chelsea:2 Match Report

Goals: Torres (19), Gervinho (42), Mata (53)

Arsenal tasted their first defeat of the season against a well organized Chelsea side after conceding two soft goals from two Juan Mata set pieces.

Arsenal Line-Up

Arsenal lined up with a 4-4-1-1 formation. Wenger made only one change from the starting line-up against Manchester City last weekend, with Vermaalen replacing Mertesacker. Vito Mannone again started at the goal. Vermaalen was paired with Laurent Koscielny at the center of the defence. Carl Jenkinson started at right back, and Kieran Gibbs was at left back. In central midfield, Mikel Arteta was paired with Abou Diaby. Aaron Ramsey was stationed on the right side of midfield, and Podolski was on the left. Cazorla had a free role right behind Gervinho who again played as the central striker.

Line-ups after Diaby was injured and replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The Game

Chelsea started the game by pressing the ball high up the pitch. Torres, Mata, Oscar and Hazard concentrated their efforts on the triangle between Koscielny, Vermaalen and Arteta. This press disrupted Arsenal’s ability to build play from the back. For almost the whole first half, Arsenal were not able to move the ball quickly to their two fullbacks. Nor they could link up effectively with Cazorla, who was isolated and subdued by the attention of Ramires and Obi Mikel. Chelsea’s narrow shape was one reason why they were so effective in the center of the pitch. With Arsenal lacking any real width against this narrow shape,  Abou Diaby’s injury at the 15th minute mark ironically gave Arsenal some width. Diaby was replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain. The English youngster moved to the wide right position, with Ramsey moving to the center to pair with Arteta.

Although this change provided some width to Arsenal’s right, Chelsea’s pressing in the center continued to bite, and Arsenal found themselves trailing from a set piece just like last weekend against City. Hazard attempted a one-two with Torres, but before collecting the return ball, he was hacked down by Vermaalen. From the resulting free-kick taken by Mata, David Luiz could not connect with the ball for a free header, but Torres instinctively hooked a volley into the net under the somewhat absurd attention of Koscielny (who inexplicably turned his back away from the ball). Minutes later, Chelsea almost doubled their lead when Torres got the better of Koscielny chasing a long ball, but when facing only Mannone, he kicked the air under Koscielny’s challenge.

Arsenal were frustrated by Chelsea’s quick closing down in midfield as, unlike previous games, their center of distribution (Arteta) and creative hub (Cazorla) could not impose themselves on the game. Having created almost nothing significant the whole first half, Arsenal equalized 5 minutes from half time, thanks to the width that Oxlade-Chamberlain provided on their right. For once, Koscielny had some freedom on the ball and found Jenkinson at the wide right. Before Hazard was able to track back, Jenkinson pushed forward, cut inside and left the ball to Arteta, who quickly fed Oxlade-Chamberlain’s overlapping run at the far right. It was as fluid as Arsenal have been all first half. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s one time low cross was controlled by Gervinho inside the box. Despite facing away from the goal, the Ivorian turned and smashed the ball into the Chelsea net. Arsenal had their tails up, but their sudden rush of adrenaline did not result in another goal with the half time whistle arriving shortly after.

Chelsea started the second half with the same game plan of pressuring Arsenal’s ball movement in the center.  When Ramsey was pushed back by Ramires and Oscar and played the ball to Arteta, the Spaniard found himself under instant pressure from Torres and Oscar and lost possession. In the ensuing Chelsea attack, Torres was fouled needlessly again by Vermaalen. Mata’s cross from the set piece sailed in the net at the far post as Koscielny failed to connect with the ball to clear it. It was another frustratingly soft goal to concede for a team that is recently being praised for its new-found defensive solidity.

Arsenal tried to pull themselves back in the game, but they never achieved much fluidity against Chelsea’s tight and no-nonsense organization. Whenever Chelsea gained possession, Juan Mata used the ball expertly, slowed the tempo and prevented Arsenal from imposing themselves in the game. Yet, despite their below par performance, Arsenal were able to create enough many chances to get something from the game. Gibbs’ cross was headed to the top corner by Lukas Podolski, but Czech made an excellent save.  Wenger then took off the disappointing Ramsey, moved Oxlade-Chamberlain to the center and sent in Walcott to the right wing.  Giroud replaced Podolski, with Gervinho moving to the left.

These changes created some sort of an attacking momentum. Giroud’s deflected shot almost went in for an equalizer, yet it was again well-saved by Czech. Santi Cazorla wasted a good shooting chance after being set up by Gervinho. Just like in their opening game against Sunderland, Arsenal’s big chance fell to Giroud.  Cazorla linked with Oxlade-Chamberlain in the center with a neat pass. The youngster’s delicious disguised ball slipped in Giroud who was making an angled run behind defense.  With only Czech to beat, the Frenchman carried to the ball to the left, but his shot found the side netting. In the final minutes, Chelsea wrapped up their victory and dealt a tired looking Arsenal side their first defeat of the season.

Conclusion

Arsenal continued their old habit of conceding soft goals from set pieces and put a big question mark on their recently praised defensive solidity. The Koscielny-Vermaalen partnership lacked the calmness and positional excellence of Mertesacker. Vermaalen was especially disappointing as he conceded the free kicks in both Chelsea goals. The Belgian is a fan favorite because of his aggressive style, yet sometimes he needs to remember that he also has a brain that he can use. One positive for Arsenal, though, was Carl Jenkinson’s good performance at right back.

In midfield, Arteta could not execute his deep-lying playmaker role in the face of effective Chelsea pressing (especially from Oscar) and he was not helped by Ramsey’s indecisiveness on the ball. Cazorla also had a subdued day, and due to the double attention of Ramires and Mikel, he could not find the space that made him so effective in the previous games.

Chelsea, on the other hand, looked quite solid off the ball. Their so-called non-existent midfield pressed the ball excellently with a concerted effort from their flair players Mata, Hazard and Oscar.  They did not create too many chances themselves, but accepted Arsenal’s gifts from the set pieces.

Manchester City:1 Arsenal:1 Match Report

Goals: Lescott (42), Koscielny (83)

Arsenal earned a much deserved point at the Etihad stadium thanks to Laurent Koscielny’s 83rd minute equalizer in a game that they should have never trailed.

Arsenal Line-Up

Arsenal lined up with a 4-4-1-1 formation. Vito Mannone again started at the goal due to Szczesny’s ankle injury. Vermaalen missed the game with a flu. Laurent Koscielny replaced him and was paired with Per Mertesacker at the center of the defence. Carl Jenkinson started at right back, and Kieran Gibbs was at left back.

In central midfield, Mikel Arteta was paired with Abou Diaby. Aaron Ramsey was stationed on the right side of midfield, and Podolski was on the left. Cazorla had a free role right behind Gervinho who played as the central striker. Giroud was left on the bench.

The Game

Arsenal started the game brightly and settled into a serene passing rhythm.  The key to their possession game was Aaron Ramsey coming narrow from wide right and helping Arteta and Diaby to retain possession in the center. With Cazorla also dropping deep into space, the Diaby-Arteta-Ramsey-Cazorla quartet had Arsenal having 62% of possession in the first 20 minutes of the game. As in last week against Southampton, Gervinho played the central striker position like a winger, drifting towards the right flank.

Despite looking easy on the eye, Arsenal’s possession was somewhat sterile.  Their first chance came when Gibbs found a lot of room in the box after Arteta’s delicate chipped ball, but instead of taking a touch and bringing the ball under control, he wasted the chance with a one time cross that was cleared. Arsenal created their biggest chance of the first half at the 15th minute mark: Abou Diaby won the ball from Zabaleta in Arsenal’s half and found Cazorla in the center circle.  Before Yaya Toure could close him down, Cazorla (who makes you think that he was a puppet master in another life) took one touch and released Ramsey into acres of space in the center. The Welshman played a delicious through ball between the retreating Clichy and Lescott and set Gervinho with a completely free run at goal. Gervinho’s first touch, however, was like a bad joke and the grateful Joe Hart collected the ball with ease.

While Manchester City were having difficulty in putting together a move, they also created two half chances of their own. First, Aguero received the ball at the wide left position, cut inside Jenkinson and fired a low and hard drive from the edge of the box, which was parried away by Mannone. Minutes later, Sinclair lifted the ball towards Silva in the box, but Koscielny made a timely interception to deny the Spaniard.

As the first half progressed, Arsenal looked more likely to score, especially because of the ease and pace they broke forward whenever their 4-4-1-1 defensive shape swallowed a City attack. Midway through the half, after another City move melted down, the Ramsey-Cazorla-Podolski-Arteta quartet had a quick-fire passing exchange, and Arteta’s incisive ball fed Jenkinson’s hungry burst forward. The young Arsenal right-back (who is slowly but surely growing on Arsenal fans) muscled Lescott off the ball, but his cutback was blasted high by Podolski. A few minutes later, Gibbs intercepted a ball, raced forward, and found Cazorla in the hole. The Asturian puppet master held off challenges by Javi Garcia and Lescott and attempted to slip Gervinho through with a disguised ball, but Clichy’s last ditch tackle that took the ball away from Gervinho was brilliant.

Given Arsenal were well on top, the way they conceded 5 minutes from half-time was quite frustrating for Arsenal fans. Clichy’s aimless cross was sailing away from goal, but without any communication with his teammates, Kieran Gibbs headed the ball out for a corner. Arsenal’s zonal defending in this corner and Mannone’s control of his 6-yard box left so much to be desired, as Lescott headed the ball to the top left corner. The goal galvanized City further. Aguero caught Mertesacker off position on the wide left channel and cut inside the big German. Mertesacker’s tackle deflected the ball to Dzeko, whose curler was tipped over the bar by Mannone.

Roberto Mancini started the second half by taking off the ineffective Sinclair and sending in Jack Rodwell to beef up his central midfield. With the score advantage, Manchester City now sat much deeper.  Rodwell helped Javi Garcia (who was completely overrun in the first half) to squeeze the space in front of the Manchester City defense. In this half, Arsenal were less successful in breaking into space due to City’s more defensive approach.  Furthermore, while pushing forward for an equalizer, the Gunners looked vulnerable to counterattacks, especially after Dzeko was replaced by Carlos Tevez.

With City closing down more quickly, and Arsenal lacking a target man in the box, Arsenal’s moves were forced into switching the play from one flank to the other without any penetration.  It was curious that Wenger delayed sending in Giroud as the target man, and Walcott to the right wing for more direct wing play until the 71st minute. Even after these substitutions, Arsenal seemed to be failing to break Manchester City’s dogged defensive cover. They were, however, brought back to life with a set piece. Cazorla’s right footed missile from outside the box was well saved by Hart. From the resulting corner, Lescott’s clearance fell to Koscielny who unleashed an unstoppable shot to the top corner from 10 yards.

Both sides could have won the game in the dying minutes. When Arsenal failed to clear a corner, Kompany chested the ball high and had a bicycle kick which was saved by Mannone. Koscielny inexplicably put the rebound in front of Aguero who missed by a small margin at the far post. Then Gervinho had a chance for Arsenal after he received Gibbs’ pass in front of the box, but the erratic Ivorian blasted the ball high and wide from a very good shooting position.

Conclusion

Arsenal deserved the point in their biggest test so far this season. While the way they conceded the goal after dominating the first half was quite frustrating and brought back memories of fragility,  they were still able to become the second team since February 2011 to get a point at the Etihad. Aaron Ramsey  (whose drive and energy was this time matched with a sense of discipline and responsibility) and Per Mertesacker (whose great positioning and timely interceptions in the second half prevented numerous City counterattacks from extending City’s lead) had particularly impressive performances. Carl Jenkinson also continued to grow into his role at right back and had an excellent overall game.

Montpellier:1 Arsenal:2 Match Report

Arsenal managed to hold on to a first half lead in the opening game of their Champions League campaign in Southern France despite coming under immense pressure in the second half.

Arsenal Line-Up

Vito Mannone started at the goal due to Szczesny’s injury. The defense was the same as the one against Southampton: Carl Jenkinson at right back, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaalen as the two centerbacks and Kieran Gibbs at left back. In central midfield, Mikel Arteta was paired with Abou Diaby and Santi Cazorla occupied the most advanced midfield position. The front three had Gervinho on the right, Podolski on the left and Giroud as the central striker against his former team.

Steve Bould was in charge of the team as Arsene Wenger served the first game of his 3-game touchline ban by the UEFA.

The Game

Montpellier had a nervous start to their first ever Champions League game, but they were ahead after only 10 minutes. Belhanda chased a hopeful through ball inside the right channel under Vermaalen’s close attention. Montpellier’s playmaker was running away from the goal, yet Arsenal’s captain made a needless challenge to get the ball and clipped Belhanda, who made the most of it. The Spanish referee gave the penalty after some hesitation, and Belhanda coolly chipped Mannone from the spot.

Despite falling behind for the first time this season, Arsenal settled down into a passing rhythm quickly and soon equalized with a sumptuous move through the center. Abou Diaby started the move and linked with Cazorla in between the Montpellier lines. As usual, Cazorla took one delicious touch, raised his eyebrow and found Giroud making an angled run towards the box. Giroud’s one time touch released Podolski, who slotted it home from 10 yards for his third goal in the last three starts. Two minutes later, Arsenal gained the lead this time with a move from their right. Gervinho had a run with the ball through a cluster of Montpellier players on the wide right position, cut inside and found Giroud who released the overlapping Jenkinson. The young right-back’s one time cross was clinical and Gervinho, who had continued his run into the box after starting the move, finished from point blank range.

During the rest of the second half, the two teams failed to create many clear-cut chances.  Arsenal looked comfortable in the center of the pitch and did not come under any sustained pressure. Montpellier threatened usually from their right with the lively and skilful Cabella causing Gibbs problems by cutting inside with his left foot.  In one such move, Mannone had to be alert to parry away Cabella’s shot from outside the box for a corner.  It was Arsenal that finished the half on stronger foot.  Gervinho drove inside from the left and set himself up for a shot on goal, but his attempt was blocked. Few minutes later, Cazorla released Gibbs on the left whose early cross was volleyed wide by Giroud.  Just before the half time whistle, Diaby’s over the top ball was kept alive by Giroud who found Podolski in the box, but he was crowded out before pulling the trigger.

We may never know what the Montpellier coach Rene Girard told his players during the half time talk, but the last year’s Ligue 1 champions started the second half with the determination of a father who is trying to save his kidnapped daughter from sex traffickers.  The French onslaught quickly turned into a siege. Arsenal were denied any long possession of the ball with a relentless press. Montpellier attacked in waves with their passing crisp, slick and to the feet and with Mounier’s and Cabella’s trickery especially eye-catching on the two flanks. When Arsenal tried to break with Cazorla, Podolski and Gervinho, they were quickly mowed down by the buzzing men from Languedoc-Roussillon in navy-blue and orange jerseys.  Every lost ball was quickly turned into a Montpellier attack with Diaby and Arteta having immense difficulty in guarding the Arsenal back four. Early in the second half, Diaby lost the ball to Cabella in the Arsenal box after inexplicably holding onto the ball too long, but the young Corsican midfielder’s wild shot missed the target. In another dangerous Montpellier attack, Cabella’s delicate chip from outside the box bounced off the crossbar.

As the half wore on, Arsenal’s hold on their lead looked increasingly unconvincing, especially Cazorla, Gervinho and Podolski looking knackered.  Diaby also looked off-the-pace defensively and lazy in the tackle, perhaps due to his early yellow card. In the last 15 minutes, Steve Bould sent in Ramsey taking off Giroud in an attempt to ease the home side’s suffocating pressure in midfield. A likely French equalizer looked almost certain 10 minutes from time when Belhanda controlled a ball in the box, turned away from Mertesacker’s desperate dive and looked up to shoot from 8 yards. With many Arsenal fans closing their eyes at that moment, the Moroccan international blasted the ball straight at Mannone.

In the dying minutes of the match,  Montpellier continued to look on top, yet their threat somewhat softened up and Arsenal hung on to their lead.

Conclusion

Arsenal relied on their experience and luck in the second half and came out unscathed from Montpellier’s impressive onslaught. It was curious that Steve Bould delayed his substitutions, despite seeing Arsenal midfield being overrun in whole of the second half.  But in the end, it was a useful victory away from home and that’s the most important thing. Arsenal’s defensive qualities will face another and perhaps more demanding test on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium.

Arsenal:6 Southampton:1 Match Report

Arsenal emphatically brushed aside Southampton in a one-sided encounter.

Arsenal Line-Up

Szczesny returned back from his rib injury at the goal. Carl Jenkinson continued at right back. Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaalen were the two centerbacks and Kieran Gibbs kept his starting place at left back.

In central midfield, Mikel Arteta was paired with Francis Coquelin, as Abou Diaby was nursing a minor hip injury.  Santi Cazorla again occupied the most advanced midfield position.

The front three had Oxlade Chamberlain on the right, Podolski on the left and Gervinho starting as the central striker with Giroud left on the bench. In practice, however, Arsenal had a classic strikerless formation due to the movement of Gervinho up-front as explained below.

The Game

Gervinho does not have many of the qualities of a target man. He is not good in the air, cannot shield the ball well and he is physically too lightweight to play with his back to the goal. His strengths are his lightning quickness and unpredictable movement on and off the ball (unpredictable to the extent that sometimes Arsenal fans wonder if he himself knows where he is going). These strengths were put to great use against Southampton: Gervinho did not wait for a cross in the box, nor he lurked on the shoulder of the Southampton centerbacks for a ball through the center. Instead, he dropped deeper into wide areas, got the ball in his feet facing the goal and made runs at the Southampton defense with or without the ball. He basically played the centre forward position just like the winger that he is.

Gervinho’s refusal to occupy the position reserved for a classic centre forward meant that the two Southampton center-backs Jos Hooiveld and Jose Fonte had nobody to mark. Instead, time and time again, they faced Podolski, Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain running at them with the ball from wide or central positions.  Furthermore, the Southampton back four inexplicably tried to defend deeper, which meant that whenever the visiting team’s midfielders pushed up to press Arsenal’s passing movement, huge gaps appeared between their lines, gaps that Santi Cazorla, in particular, cherished.

Arsenal started the game with the attacking intent of a wolve pack with Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain finding early joy down the right flank. Their high tempo game and complete dominance paid off as early as the 11th minute when Podolski muscled his way with the ball through the center and slipped in the excellent Gibbs on the left. The young English left back had his shot parried away by Kelvin Davis, but the ball bounced back from Hooiveld to find the net for an own goal.

Despite the early goal, Arsenal did not slow the tempo at all and went for the jugular with the focus of a brain surgeon. A great passing move between Gervinho and Podolski on the left freed Gervinho whose shot was blocked.  Another fantastic build-up play between Podolski and Cazorla released Gibbs on the left, who saw his cross headed wide by Gervinho arriving late in the box.  With Arsenal pouring forward wave after wave in an ecstatic manner, the second goal came shortly after the half-hour mark: Coquelin was fouled in a central position while switching the play to the right, and from the resulting free-kick, Podolski fired a peach of a left-footed curler over the wall.

With Southampton neither being able to press high up the pitch nor able to defend deeper,  Arsenal found two more goals in quick succession.  Gervinho moved to a wide right position, made an angled run to receive Arteta’s delightful through ball and blasted it at the near post.  Another mesmerizing quick passing move on the left saw Gervinho releasing Gibbs for the upteenth time, and Gibbs’ early cross was deflected in by Nathaniel Clyne for the second own goal of the game.

It was 4-0 after 37 minutes and Southampton wanted the half time whistle more than anything else in the world. They had only one attempt at Arsenal goal by that time, a mere long range effort. They were, however, gifted a goal at the last minute of half time: Szczesny spilled a routine deep cross into the path of Danny Fox who finished with a vengeance from 6 yards. For Arsenal, it was a miserable way to concede their first goal of the season as Szczesny’s lack of concentration marked a sharp contrast to the ultra-serious defensive attitude of the 10 men in front of him since the start of the season.

The second half started with Nigel Adkins sending in his new signing Gaston Ramirez and clearly instructing his side to play a high line, instead of getting picked at will by sitting deep. This change in tactics brought a marked improvement to Southampton’s performance as they started spending much more time in Arsenal’s half with the ball. Yet, they lacked the penetration to produce many chances. In their most dangerous attack, a long-range Gaston Ramirez shot going wide was met by Rickie Lambert who could not hit the target from point blank range.

In most of the second half Arsenal kept their busy attitude, but perhaps due to being more relaxed, they wasted many counterattack opportunities, almost all of which were set up by the majestic Santi Cazorla. Time and time again, Gervinho, Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain found good openings after being released by Cazorla, but failed in their final ball.

With the game all but won, Wenger replaced Coquelin with Ramsey to stir things up a bit, and the Welshman made an immediate impact. When Cazorla found Ramsey with one of his countless delightful balls, the substitute showed good skill on the ball to burst into the box. His shot bounced back from the post, but Gervinho finished the rebound almost on the goal line.  The final Arsenal goal came two minutes from time when another move started by Cazorla was finished in the box by the substitute Walcott, who refused to celebrate against his old club.

Conclusion

This was at times a mouth-watering display by Arsenal especially in the first half. Gervinho excelled in the “mobile centre-forward who plays like a winger” role and Southampton had no answer for Arsenal’s lethal movement. The man of the match for me was Santi Cazorla who had yet another masterful performance as “Supreme Conductor.”  Gibbs pillaged and plundered on the left all game long like a pirate of the Caribbean: he showed great understanding with Podolski who looked very at home in the wide left position. The defensive attitude of the team was again top-notch, the only disappointing point being Szczesny’s moment of lack of concentration that cost the team a much deserved fourth consecutive clean sheet. The young Polish goalkeeper also reminded the Arsenal fans that he really needs to work after hours on his distribution with his feet.

Liverpool:0 Arsenal:2 Match Report

Arsenal got their first goals and first win of the season against Liverpool at Anfield after an assured and mature performance.

Arsenal Line-Up

On paper, Arsenal lined up with their usual 4-3-3 formation, but unlike the first two games of the season, Wenger pushed Cazorla further forward with a free role behind Giroud in a formation that looked like a 4-4-1-1 especially when Liverpool had the ball.

Vito Mannone again replaced the injured Szczesny at the goal. Carl Jenkinson continued to deputize for Bacary Sagna at right back. Per Mertesacker started ahead of Koscielny as centerback along with Thomas Vermaalen.  Kieran Gibbs kept his starting place at left back.

In central midfield, the line up was also the same as last week. Mikel Arteta was paired with Abou Diaby, and Santi Cazorla occupied the most advanced midfield position.

The only difference in the starting 11 was Oxlade Chamberlain replacing Gervinho on the wide right position. Podolski was on the left and Giroud had his second start as the central striker.

The Game

The game started with Liverpool pressing hard high up the pitch and trying to disrupt Arsenal’s ball circulation from the back. While the Liverpool front three Suarez, Borini and Sterling pressed the two Arsenal centerbacks Vermaalen and Mertesacker and denied them time on the ball, the two Liverpool fullbacks Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson pushed forward to squeeze the space in front of Arsenal’s two wide players Podolski and Chamberlain. This press seemed to work as Arsenal had difficulty in settling into a passing rhythm with Jenkinson and Mertesacker giving the ball away in dangerous positions.

Despite their domination, however, Liverpool failed to create clear-cut chances as Arsenal switched to a midfield four when Liverpool had the ball with Arteta, Diaby, Chamberlain and Podolski tightening up the space between them and the back four. Arteta continued to impress in the holding midfield role with his positional excellence, coolness and intelligence on the ball. The two Arsenal wide men Podolski and Chamberlain tracked the Liverpool full backs, never shirking their defensive responsibilities. Cazorla, as mentioned, stayed higher up the pitch to provide the link in a counterattack opportunity.

After the first 25 minutes, the Liverpool pressing began to lose its bite and Arsenal started looking more comfortable on the ball (although Mertesacker insisted on losing the ball in Arsenal’s half on two more occasions). An interesting feature of the game was that while Liverpool attacked with width (despite not having an effective centerforward), Arsenal’s midfield stayed narrow. With Nuri Sahin drifting left from his central midfield position (possibly to add fluidity and width to Liverpool’s movement per Brendan Rodgers’ instructions), and with Gerrard pushing forward in a free role, Liverpool’s center looked exposed to Arsenal counterattacks with only Joe Allen having a well-defined defensive role.

During the last 15 minute period before half-time, Arsenal had three counterattacks that developed faster than a wildfire in Northern California. The first one started when Gerrard, who completed less of his ambitious passes than Titanic completed her transatlantic voyages, lost possession in front of the Arsenal box.  The ball was quickly played to Cazorla.  The ambidextrous playmaker from Asturias drove forward unchallenged and used Giroud’s diversionary run to his right to slip Podolski through on the left. The German (or should I say Polish?), after a ferocious 50-yards off-the-ball run, took one touch and buried the ball past Reina at the Kop end. Two minutes later,  when Gerrard lost another ball deep in Arsenal’s half,  the resulting Arsenal counterattack had Podolski running 40-yards with the ball and taking a shot at goal, which was blocked by Skrtel. The third counterattack arrived five minutes from half-time when this time Suarez lost the ball: Abou Diaby accelerated past Glen Johnson and Nuri Sahin like a Ferrari and had his own 50-yards run with the ball in the wilderness of Liverpool’s midfield, exposing on the way the lack of match fitness of the Turkish international. Diaby found Giroud’s clever run into the box, only to see the former Montpellier striker miss the target when scoring looked easier.

While Arsenal exposed Liverpool’s lack of protection in the central midfield area, Liverpool created a few half chances of their own with Raheem Sterrling controlling a loose ball in the box, turning past Vermaalen and hitting the outside of the post. Another Liverpool attack saw Sterling bursting into a crowded Arsenal box only to be denied with a last ditch tackle by Mertesacker.

In the second half, the game continued in this fashion between a fluid, wide yet ineffective Liverpool attack and a tight, assured and little-troubled Arsenal defensive shape with Arsenal breaking forward or forming passing triangles whenever they gained possession in their half.

With Liverpool increasingly lacking ideas in attack and their cute passing moves getting lost in blind alleys, Rodgers took off the ineffective Borini and sent in Downing. Nuri Sahin, who was tidy on the ball but looked a bit lost tactically, was also replaced by Shelvey. In the 68th minute, it was those two Liverpool substitutes shirking their defensive duties that helped create Arsenal’s second goal. Santi Cazorla received the ball in a central position, carried the ball left dribbling past Shelvey and played it to Podolski. Neither Shelvey nor Downing (who thought he was minding Kieran Gibbs) tracked Cazorla who continued his run into the box from the wide left position. Podolski played Cazorla in with a simple pass, and the Spaniard finished low and hard from a tight angle when the fellow Spaniard Pepe Reina should have done better.

In the last 20 minutes, Liverpool continued to look for a goal to get back in the game, and created three chances with Shelvey (whose shot was saved by Mannone), Suarez (who should have finished hard and low instead of trying to dink it past Mannone) and Downing (whose curler was diverted for a corner by Vermaalenr’s block).  Arsenal continued to look comfortable and wrapped up their victory without too much trouble.

Conclusion

This was a very promising performance by Arsenal, although one should point out that Liverpool lacked attacking options on the bench and on the field, and were somewhat naive in their defensive organization in midfield. Arsenal, on the other hand, just like in their first two games, continued to look assured and well-organized defensively as a team with every player picking the defensive tab with a seriousness not quite associated with Arsenal in the last couple of seasons. The most impressive Arsenal performers of the game were the midfield trio Arteta (whose experience, coolness on the ball and positional intelligence was delightful), Diaby (who had a dream-like box-to-box performance pushing forward, closing down, tackling and linking defense to attack) and Cazorla (who looked masterful in his free advanced playmaker role).