Feed on
Posts
Comments

With the weather being exactly what you would expect from the North West at this time of year, the Arsenal team rolled into Burnley with the intention of continuing the brilliant form of late. Liverpool has unsurprisingly rolled over a pretty supine Brentford in the lunchtime kick off and nothing but a victory would do. 

The team was as expected with the only surprise, and disappointment, being that none of our injured or returnees from international duty had even made the squad. As a result, the bench included James Sweet and Mauro Bandeira who hadn’t a minute of first team football between them. 

Burnley started off in a manner of which Dyche would be proud, with a Stoke-style long throw and a couple of fouls in the first few minutes. The spirit of Dyche was clearly living on and physically embodied by Craig Bellamy on the touchline, with the sublime footballer that was Vincent Kompany banished to the stands as a result of indiscretions last week. 

It took only 4 minutes to crack the case however, as Martinelli sprinted down the left wing, cut back and picked out Ødegaard on the edge of the area. The Norwegian took a first touch to control the ball and then absolutely arrowed his half-volley shot into the very corner of the goal. A superb finish and indicative of the form which he is in at the moment. 

The spirit of Dyche continued to be channelled by the Burnley players a couple of minutes later with 2 fouls visited first upon Martinelli and then on Saka in quick succession as we broke up a Burnley corner and looked to counter-attack. The referee, who I thought did a good job on the day, was having no nonsense from Burnley and booked a Burnley player – Aaron Ramsey, no less- for the Martinelli foul. 

The high press with which Burnley had bravely started, was beginning to fade and after 20 minutes it became noticeable that Burnley were starting to fall back deeper behind the ball when out of possession. Which was quite a lot! On 22, at an Arsenal corner, we saw the increasingly common sight of wrestling at a corner with the Burnley defender literally grappling with Ben White in order to prevent him from making his now customary run to position himself in front of the keeper. The referee did not cover himself in glory here, as gave a free kick to Burnley for White being put into the kind of hold that many will remember seeing last in the 1970’s ITV Saturday sports show “World of Sport”, being inflicted on some hapless dupe by Mick McManus.

On 23 the one ray of sunshine on the Burnley team, the young winger Odobert beat first Saka and then White and fired in a shot from a tight angle which was well saved by Raya as it took the kind of deflection which could have seen the ball ping into the net. Good reactions from the keeper.

Arsenal were well in control but without the second goal which would probably seal the victory and on 33 we missed a great opportunity as Saka crossed in from the right and both Havertz and Trossard exhibited poor control and the opportunity was gone. 

Ødegaard was now the human embodiment of the oil in the machine. He reduces the friction as they ball progresses up the pitch and facilitates the smooth running of the entire machine. On this form he is a joy to watch. Shortly before half time he combined with Havertz to send Trossard through on goal and a poorly timed tackle saw him upended. A certain penalty despite the frankly ridiculous protestations of the Burnley defender. Saka eventually took the penalty and his not entirely convincing effort just beat Trafford and nestled in the corner,. 2-0 as we went into half time.

We came out for the second half with the intention of putting the game beyond doubt and it took only a minute to add to the lead. Havertz controlled well a difficult ball into him in the final third and shifted the ball on to Ødegaard, who in turn hit a delightful pass inside the right back for Saka to run onto, cut outside the defender and leather his right footed shot high into the roof of the net at the near post. This was now exhibition stuff.

Arsenal attacks came in waves and were it not for some curious finishes from Trossard we could have scored a few more before the Belgian finally put the onion into the bag, being rewarded for his patience and perseverance after joining the orderly queue at the back post which had formed rather in the manner we used to see at a London bus stop.

Arteta now decided to make some substitutions and we saw Cédric, Nketiah and Nelson come on for White, Trossard and Saka, respectively. With the CL away tie with Porto coming up next week, this was an excellent and uncharacteristically early decision from Arteta and all the more welcome for it..   

On 77, Havertz scored a truly excellent goal, capitalising on some either sleepy or downright daft defending from Burnley who seemed to squeeze up at an Arsenal throw on half way, allowing Havertz to run in behind the defence, take the ball on, nutmeg his defender and slide past the keeper. 

At this point Arteta decided to replace Rice with Jorginho, another excellent substitution, with the game now well and truly decided. 

Conclusions

We have heard a lot from the media naysayers along the lines that Arsenal need a proper striker to compete with Liverpool and Abu Dhabi. And yet nearly 2/3 of the way through the season, we have only been outscored by Liverpool. Could it be that the usual suspects don’t actually know what they’re talking about and have simply been guilty of projecting what they want to see? Surely not, for they are experts who couldn’t possibly be guilty of reducing a nuanced tactical development in the game to an easy to communicate binary view. Oh for more Brian Glanville’s and fewer Gary Neville’s.

There are more difficult away days to come this season – City and the Walthamstow Marshes among them. However, we appear to be hitting form at just the right point of the season. In the first half of the season, we amassed points but were way off the standards set last year. Looking at it with the benefit of a certain amount of hindsight, this may perhaps have been by design, with Arteta looking to conserve energy for the final third of the season. Recent performances have been all the more impressive given that we have 6 first team players out: Timber, Tomi & Zinchenko in defence; Partey & Vieira in midfield; Jesús up front. If we start to get these players back, we could be in for a very exciting run in.

Hadrian’s Wall

Unless one was exceptionally enthusiastic about learning the long and colorful history of English football, for a non-English Arsenal fan – drawn towards the great London club by the magnetism of their football in the final years of the previous century – the name of Burnley was very unlikely to bring any sign of recognition for the first decade or so of following Arsenal. I first learned of Burnley Football Club when the premier league schedule for the 2009-10 season was published, the Lancashire side returning back to the top flight after thirty three years of absence.

Soon enough the awareness turned into a nearly visceral distaste for the club, their players, their supporters and most likely their manager. While Owen Coyle – a self-proclaimed Wenger devotee, who soon moved to Bolton, and eventually was charged with young jack Wilshere’s development on loan – earned Burnley the promotion into EPL, the club solidified their tenacious presence in the top division at the hands of Sean Dyche, who demonstrated a remarkable fondness for antediluvian footballing ethos that prided itself on blurring the boundaries between the beautiful game and fatal combat that would not have been misplaced in the battlefields of Roman Britain where the Brigantes of Northern England fought valiantly against Gnaeus Julius Agricola.

Especially at their home in Turf Moor – continuously in service since the foundation of Burnley football club in 1883 – Dyche’s horde, egged on by the bloodthirsty crowd that carried in their voices an atavistic hatred for anything and anyone south of the Hardian’s Wall, would merrily go about scything down anyone showing the temerity to express their creative instincts. Unfortunately for us, the Arsenal team of those years no longer had the “fight fire with fire” stalwarts of Arsène’s Highbury days, but a young side brimming with technical excellence whereas lacking the streetwise brio needed to overcome the threat on their lives and limbs.

At least that is retained in my memory as the primary impression of the recent encounters against the toughies from Turf Moor. However, memory can be deceptive. Our PL results away at Burnley have been, in the chronological order: 1-1, 0-1, 0-1, 0-1, 1-3, 0-0, 1-1, 0-1. There have been 21 matches – including PL, FA Cup and League Cup – between these two clubs in this century, and the head-to-head record stands at: Arsenal won 15, drew 4, and lost 2 matches. One 2-0 loss away at League cup in 2008; one 0-1 home loss in PL in 2020. In the process Arsenal outscored Burnley 37-12. So, despite the lasting impressions of those northern encounters, Dyche and co. were nowhere near the bogey team the painful memories of those matches may influence us into believing.

Moreover, one must admit that the intrinsic unpleasantness of Burnley’s football has been more than replaced by the progressive, attacking football philosophy of Vincent Kompany. A skillful ball-playing defender – irrespective of his unfortunate club affiliation, I have always admired the players, just as I did with YaYa Toure or Sergio Aguero – he has completely transformed Burnley’s football style, and brought them back into the PL on the strength of free-flowing football. It naturally took Kompany – a first time manager at this level – some time to get his team to become truly competitive at PL where the margins of error are nonexistent and the gap between the result and the performances are often determined by turning moments where concentration, discipline and experience matter as much as quality.

They are currently fighting to avoid relegation, sitting at the 19th position at the league table. However the form since the turn of the year has been steady, and the results in PL have started to improve: 1-1 and 2-2 home draws against Luton and Fulham, and 3-1 losses away at Manchester City and Liverpool, where the team had given an impressive account of themselves.

The winter break had evidently helped to refresh the legs and minds of the Arsenal squad as well. In the first 4 PL appearances of this new year we have beaten Crystal Palace 5-0 at home, Nottingham Forest 1-2 away, Liverpool 3-1 at home, and West Ham 0-6 away. 14 goals scored, 2 conceded. If we beat Burnley in Saturday afternoon’s encounter then it would be the very first team in PL history Arsenal will win the first five games of a calendar year.

More importantly, a victory this weekend will also maintain our momentum in retaining relevance at this season’s fascinating three-way fight for the league title. Based on Mikel’s interview comments – if he were ever to get bored with the mad mad world of football management, a politician’s career waits for him – I think we can safely guess that at least some of the previously injured players are likely to return to the squad this weekend. But I think he won’t risk starting any of them, given the midweek away tie at Porto in the Champions League, but also given that the last starting eleven surely deserve their chance to play together again after last weekend’s scintillating performance.

Raya

White – Saliba – Gabriel – Kiwior

Ødegaard – Rice – Havertz

Saka – Trossard – Martinelli

Enjoy the game everyone!

Come on Arsenal!

Engineering works on the London Underground had skewed what would’ve been a relatively straightforward journey to East London, we made it to Stratford in good time via the Piccadilly, Metropolitan, Circle and DLR lines. After a couple of pints with some West Ham acquaintances we made it to the ground. Following some very vigorous security checks we made it to our seats up in the heavens in time for kick off. 

We were sat about half a dozen rows in front of where we were placed on our last visit earlier in the season, a disappointing 3-1 defeat in the Carabao Cup. Would this be a happier visit second time around? 

The away end was packed out with around 3,000 excited Gooners, perhaps slightly nervous on account of recent visits, but reinvigorated after that sensational victory over Liverpool last weekend which propelled us back into the title race when it seemed to be slipping from our grasp. This was another must win game. Anything less than three precious points would render last week’s heroics academic. We had to continue the momentum. 

Arsenal made a positive start, pushing and probing the Hammers. Our play in the final third was as intricate as ever and we went close a few times before we broke the deadlock, most notably on 24 minutes when Martinelli floated over a superb cross from the right which was met with conviction by Trossard on the volley forcing Areola to tip the ball over the bar. 

We were winning a lot of corners in the early stages. A deliberate ploy to catch West Ham out you would think, given that prior to kick off we had scored 14 goals from set pieces, more than any other side in the division. 

And strangely enough, it was from a corner that we breached the Hammer’s resilience. Rice floated the ball over to the back post just past the half hour mark, and William Saliba was on hand to head home. 1-0. If the Frenchman wasn’t there to nod the ball in, Havertz was right behind him and probably would’ve done the same. We are a big side, height-wise, these days and we are certainly using that to our advantage. 

Arseball were right on it now and almost added a second soon after as Saka dinked the ball narrowly wide following more intricate play on the right. And moments later, our number seven won us a pen’ as he was brought down by the onrushing Areola after a defence splitting ball from Trossard. Should the West Ham ‘keeper have seen red? I can only assume he was spared by the double jeopardy rule which I’ve always found to be ridiculous. There was a West Ham defender who could’ve theoretically stopped the ball going in, but Saka would’ve had an open net and that for me is the denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity. 

But Saka picked himself up, dusted himself down and sent Areola the wrong way to make it 2-0 on the same ground where he missed from 12 yards last April. No such problems today. 

And in the blink of an eye, it was three! And it was yet another set piece. Trossard was tripped, Rice swung the ball into a dangerous area and Gabriel headed in at the near post. Game over. It was Gabriel’s 14th Premier League goal since he was signed in 2020, more than any other defender in that time. He is now our second highest scoring defender in the Premier League era, and one would imagine he is right up there with our all-time defensive goal scorers as well. 

Incredibly Arsenal had time to add a fourth before the break. West Ham couldn’t get near us as Odegaard fed Trossard who took a touch inside Zouma and rifled into the top corner. The away fans were in raptures now. “Limbs” as the kids call it. This was the cue for West Ham fans to filter out of the London Stadium in their Tens of Thousands. “Is there a fire drill?” was the customary mocking cry from the away fans. Earlier in the game the home fans had been belting out their quite frankly shameless chant of, “Champions of Europe, we know what we are” but after their side’s hapless first half display there were barely enough of them left to boo their team off. 

Arsenal fans spent the interval scratching their heads in disbelief at the mauling we were witnessing whilst most of the West Ham fans were already drinking their sorrows away in the pub. I do hope they didn’t miss the Second Half which continued in the same vein. Arsenal looked keen to really stick the knife in and twist it and ideally get the goal difference up. As it stood, we were on plus 29, only two goals behind Liverpool and three behind City.

Saka forced a decent save from Areola but he wasn’t to be denied again as Ødegaard, who was running the show, threaded the ball through to Saka who cut inside as he so often does and put away a clinical, Mbappe-like reverse finish at the near post. 5-0!

There were still more than 25 minutes to go, and there were more goals in this for Arsenal if they wanted them. And moments later we made it a half dozen and the goal came from a certain Declan Rice, formerly of the West Ham parish. Martinelli found White on the right who cut it back to Trossard who left it for Odegaard who left it for Trossard. The away fans groaned but the groans turned to cheers as the ball trickled to the former West Ham skipper who curled home a beautiful first-time screamer from 25 yards. There were muted celebrations from Rice out of respect for his former employers but the away fans’ celebrations were the opposite as Arsenal fans went into pandemonium again. Never have I seen the sixth goal in a 6-0 win celebrated so wildly such was the popularity of the goal scorer. 

There was a nice moment when Arteta brought on 16 year old Ethan Nwaneri for the last ten minutes who showed some mature touches in the final stages as Arsenal cruised through to full time. 

Away days don’t get much better than this….

And so the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon to take on West Ham United in the 151st encounter between these two teams founded by Victorian men who worked iron on opposite sides of the Thames. 

Embed from Getty Images

The glow of last Sunday’s glorious triumph over Liverpool still warms. Yet therein lies a danger. West Ham were our next opponents after we had soared high in the 1-1 draw at Anfield in December. We came down to earth with a thud, losing 2-0 in a game we should have won 3-1. 

And that was not the only time. In April, we followed a hard-fought draw at Anfield by dropping two points against the Hammers in another game we should have won comfortably, having been 2-0 up after ten minutes, even with our Starboy missing a penalty.

Previously, our form against West Ham had been solid: 24 wins and only two defeats in a run of 31 games going back to 2007, when we lost at home to a Bobby Zamora goal. All together, now:

🎵When the ball hits your head and you’re sat in Row Z, that’s Zamora.

Or, if you prefer the later version, ‘If the ball hits your car as you pass QPR, that’s Zamora.’

Overall, we have lost only 37 of the 150 games. That included the first league match, in August 1923, against a West Ham team newly promoted from the old Division Two. The Daily Herald’s correspondent was distinctly unimpressed.

It can hardly be recorded that the football displayed in the West Ham United—Arsenal match at Upton Park last evening was the standard looked for when First Division teams meet. The amount of scientific play seen was small, and too often, players failed to place the ball with judgment or keep it down.

West Ham won 1-0. Fletcher, ‘a local, not really worth his place’ (there just was no pleasing the Herald’s man), scored the only goal, a tap-in after our keeper, the five feet eight and a half inches tall Jock Robson, let the ball roll under his body. The Daily Herald was far more interested in the county cricket at Lord’s that day, with Surrey losing eight for 44 after a thunderstorm that struck when their score was 187-2 to give Middlesex an unlikely two-run first-innings lead.

The historical footnote to the (football) game is that Samson Haden made his debut. Perhaps not a name familiar to many ‘holics, the Barnsley-born former coal miner was one of the first teamers to survive the transition from the Knighton to Chapman eras. A broken leg ended the left winger’s time at Highbury after four seasons and 88 appearances. He provided the cross for Charlie Buchan’s first goal, costing Chapman £100, as Buchan’s £2,000 transfer from Sunderland contained an add-on of £100 for every goal he scored in his first season. He got 17.

The opposition

Regular readers of the GHF Predictathon updates will know that our opponents are annoyingly exceeding the low expectations held for them at the start of the season.

After their 14th-place finish last term, the flight of their captain to a proper club and the uncertainty over the continuing employment of their manager (once, incredibly, seriously spoken of as a successor to Arsene Wenger), the consensus among Predictathon players was for 15th this season, with three predicting relegation.

Thus, it is somewhat of a surprise to see them sitting in seventh, partly on the back of the 11 goals of their leading goal scorer, Jarrod Bowen, and partly on the contributions of two of the players acquired with the money we gave them for Declan Rice, the Ghanian international attacking midfielder Mohammed Kudus (six goals) and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse (five goals and six assists), who has become their No 10.

To those, add five assists by Lucas Paqueta, formerly of Olympique Lyon and now a rumoured target of Manchester Cheaty, and the newly borrowed Kalvin Philips, who travelled in the opposite direction in this winter’s window.

The attack has managed a middling 36 goals in their 23 league games to date, but West Ham ranks 14th in the league for shots taken and 15th for shots on target. The defence has conceded the same number, not a formula for winning games consistently. With three points from their past four league games, scoring three and conceding six, they have stalled, although theirs has been a season of fits and starts.

Yet they are difficult to beat at the London Stadium. They have lost only two of their 16 home games in all competitions this season.

Moyes will set up with his preferred 4-2-3-1, ready his team to sit deep, be physical and look to score on the counter and from Ward-Prowse set pieces. This season, the Irons rank second in the league in goals scored from counterattacks (seven). ‘We’ve scored goals against [Arsenal], and that would be the key again to give ourselves a chance,’ Moyes said in his pre-match press conference, demonstrating the tactical acuity for which he is famous.

Cutting Bowen’s supply lines will be part of his opposite number’s tactical plan. If Bowen doesn’t score, West Ham tends not to win. He has scored just once in his team’s run of six games without a win, although playing him at centre forward out of necessity because of Michail Antonio’s knee injury does him few favours. Nor does the loss of the still-injured Paqueta’s creativity. Both men miss Sunday’s game.

In last weekend’s game at the Old Toilet, Bowen had a couple of chances but fluffed them. West Ham had other chances to score but did not take them either (no goals from 22 shots). The Red Mancs were clinical (three goals from 12 shots), but the scoreline flattered them.

Of the two ex-Gunners now sporting claret and blue, we are more likely to see Mapravanos than Fabianski.

The Arsenal

This is the first of six games before we visit City at the end of March, from which we could get 18 points and probably will need to if we are to win the title. However, each of the matches is a potential banana skin in their different ways.

Reading the runes of Arteta’s pre-match press conference, Zinchenko is unavailable. Jesus is 50-50 and Saka is fit after his latest round of kicking. Partey has had another setback. Tomiyasu has returned from the Asia Cup and faces a late fitness test. I am guessing he will start on the bench. I think Jorghino will stand down to let Havertz revert to his left-sided eight role, and Eddie will lead the line if Jesus doesn’t make it. 

Thus:

Raya

White Saliba Gabriel Kiwior

Rice Ødegaard Havertz

Saka Nketiah Martinelli

The atmosphere at the London Stadium will be much quieter than the Ems a week ago, but the team must not let that dull their enthusiasm. We need to avoid repeating December’s slow and aimless 90-minute meander around the outside of Moyes’s well-organised defence. An early goal will make all the difference. 

So, no slip-ups, please. Anything less than three points will be a disappointment, not season-defining, but slicing our already slender margin of error even finer.

If we win, it will be our fourth-straight league win at the start of a calendar year for the first time since 1935 — a season in which, I scarcely need to remind you, we ended as champions. 

Enjoy the game, ‘holics, near and far.

Arsenal and Liverpool kicked off their late afternoon title tilt (or whatever you call a 6-pointer at the top of the table) in front of a capacity crowd at Ashburton Grove. The teams provided a hell of a game for the fans both at the stadium and those watching on screen, including your humble scribe. In the end Arsenal ran out 3-1 winners, having suffered somewhat but through the course of the game nearly dominated a strong Liverpool side.

In somewhat of a unsurprising surprise Jesús was a late scratch, being replaced on the pitch by Havertz in the middle, with Rice slotting into the 8 and Jorginho holding. Mo’neny returned from his unsuccessful sojourn at the AFCON to anchor our bench.

Raya

White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko

Ødegaard – Jorginho – Rice

Saka – Jesus – Martinelli

Pool remained without Mo’Salah, and started with Nuñez on the bench, Klopp preferring Gakpo with Diaz and Jota up front.

Liverpool took the kickoff, and within a minute modeled the route that they would favor towards our goal, with a long ball over the top and our center halves just not quite dealing with it. I was afraid I’d barely settle into my coffee before we’d be down a goal. Then we slowly grew into holding Liverpool into their own half, and our pressing forcing mistakes by their ball carriers, leading to us winning it back in threatening positions.

We were continually interactive down the right, and had a couple of promising moves blocked out for corners or throws. Martinelli was a constant threat down the left, playing as he was 1v1 against Alexander-Arnold or Gomez. In our first real forward action Raya caught a ball from a ‘Pool shot and bowled it out to Gabi on the left, racing with it past Gomez to cross short of the byline to an onrushing Saka, who put his header wide right with the goal functionally unattended. It would have been a stellar goal, alas.

We nearly suffered after a series of longer passes, over the top, got Gakpo free to fire off a shot that avoided both Gabriel and Raya wide left. Gakpo was otherwise marshalled well by our central defenders and Zinchenko, earning hardly a sniff at all in the first half aside from that. Diaz was shut down by White nearly all half; this, combined with our mastery in the midfield, is why Liverpool were going over the top. On only one or two occasions our box-and-one in the middle of the field showed its soft center, but Mac Allister couldn’t take advantage of it before we got reorganized on defense. Our midfield shut theirs down, with Mø always forcing the ball away from Mac Allister and forcing his teammates to look for other (unproductive) options.

And then we broke through. We played some passes in defense back left, which ended up with Zinny on the ball at midfield. He passed to Mø in the center circle, who first-timed a bobbling but perfect throughball into the path of Havertz, who was sprinting between their center backs. Havertz put a hard shot into Alisson’s torso, which rebounded to the onrushing Saka; one touch to settle, and Saka put it into the top corner with aplomb.

Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool (Saka 13′)

After the goal the game settled into the pattern it would take for most of its final hour and a quarter, wth Arsenal defending stoutly from the front and Liverpool probing, occasionally trying something over the top. Arsenal could afford to play this way due to how Jorginho was absolutely bossing the space ahead of our defense, continually directing traffic and showing as an outlet. It was his best game for us since he came over from those mid-table Blues, I think. By ceding posession we controlled the game, and by and large Liverpool never really threatened; they did not have a shot on target all half.

Just before the half-hour mark Gomez pulled back Havertz and got a yellow for his troubles. Havertz had the ball from defense and was on his way with little ahead of him. Van Dijk missed a header from a TAA cross, then White was given a yellow for time-wasting at a throw. He is really poor at throws, takes long deliberation (this was not his first yellow), and often gives the ball right back to the other team. I wish someone would sort him out, it’s a continual source of frustration.

We then had a series of attempts that were blocked or missed, as the half wound down. As we entered stoppage time Gabigol took a shot that was blocked, and it was cycled by Liverpool downfield. A 1-2 between Gakpo and Diaz led to Diaz losing the ball in the box, shielded for Raya by Saliba. However, Raya was both slow to react and not brave enough to dive for the ball, and Saliba let Diaz get a foot on to it. He dinked a pass across the mouth of goal, which Gabriel’s hand inadvertently knocked into our net. If Raya had dived rather than wait for the ball to roll to him, and if Saliba had been stronger shielding Diaz off the ball, there would have been no goal. It was our worst moment of play in the game, and it came at perhaps the worst moment of the first half.

Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool (Gabriel OG, 45+3′)

Halftime: Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool

During halftime Mikel decided he’d opt for defense rather than passing prowess, in hopes of containing the expected flush of Liverpool’s second-half start, and brought on Kiwior for Zinchenko. And indeed, Liverpool’s energy was higher and they moved the ball more quickly, forcing Arsenal to the back foot for the first quarter hour. They could have scored twice in the first five minutes, but just couldn’t make their efforts, or their overall advantage of possession, count.

There were, however, some Rayas of Arsenal sunshine in spite (or because) of Liverpool pressing us back. Raya gathered, then came out of goal and put a fine ball to Gabi. After Arsenal did some ball recycling Havertz (who had a really good game himself, making repeated trouble for Konate and Van Dijk winning headers and threatening to break through their lines) fed Mø at the center top of the box for a hard shot that Konate deflected out for a corner, which came to nothing. Mac Allister bought a cheap freekick in the middle of our half, and Pool pushed much higher up into our defense in search of a goal.

On 55′ Konate drew yellow from referee Taylor, throwing Havertz to the ground when challenging for a long ball from Saka. The resulting freekick was taken from 40 yards out by Mø, and Gabriel sent a free header wide right. Two minutes later Gabriel saw yellow for a hand in Gakpo’s face. Nonetheless, our defense started to exert more and more pressure on the ball, and Liverpool’s only option was, seemingly, to substitute players: Nuñez for Gakpo, Robertson for TAA, and Elliott for Gravenberch. While they were coming on we saw lovely cameos from Theo and Giroud in the stands to watch the game. Welcome back!

Rice also had a really strong game. He was consistently winning the ball in the middle third of the pitch, occasionally driving the ball forward into the offence, other times cycling it within the defense as we sought to understand where to attack Liverpool’s weakest point. Rice did just the former on 60′, intercepting the ball in midfield, then driving forward before passing to Saka out right. Saka brought it in and fired a shot from the top of the box, deflected past Alisson’s goal; Havertz nearly turned in corner from Rice, but sent his header over the goal.

Allison and Raya trading long balls and possession until Kiwior hit it into touch with a poor touch under light pressure. It was his only real mistake of the day, otherwise he supported Gabi nicely, and played fine defense down their right. If we can keep getting him big game time he can develop into an even better option for our left back position. His passing range is, however, monotonic compared to the Symphony of Zinchenko; one can only hope as his game develops he can become more effective on the ball.

Gabi put a sweet ball into Havertz over the top, and Mac Allister took Havertz down in the box. Penalty? Not given on the field, and not overturned by VAR…though to be fair it was certainly a debatable call. Until that point of the second half Arsenal had played neither with flair nor control. Balls were being played first time that should have been trapped and sent along, passes were miscued, and with Liverpool upping the intensity of their press it was a bit of the fox among the chickens through 65 minutes.

And then the fox jumped off a box and into the farmer’s trap! From a free kick in our defensive half Gabriel sent a long, speculative ball over the top for Gabi to run onto. He went shoulder-to-shoulder wth Van Dijk, who could easily have cleared the ball. Van Dijk chose to leave it for the onrushing Alisson, who kicked his defender rather than the ball. Gabi was watching all of this with big eyes, and when the ball fell to his feet he simply turned and stroked it into the open net.

Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (Martinelli, 67′)

Needless to say the crowd, who had been loud all game, stepped it up a notch from then on. That brought energy to our defensive effort again. Kiwior got a yellow for going through Jota (not-so-singularly anonymous all game), and in spite of continuing the nice interplay down the right with Saka Mø was consistently harrying Mac Allister, giving him no time on the ball or forcing his teammates to pass the ball back to defense and into a Liverpudlian horseshoe of death.

In the 74th minute Trossard came on for Gabigol, who had a really beautiful game. His freedom on the left was constant, and his decision-making showed a refined quality that will only make him better and better as he implements that quality more and more. Mø took a while to get up from a foul in their final third, and while he was down Pool got a corner. Mac Allister hit the result just wide after a fine Arsenal header away. During that sequence Saka went down, and was subbed after walking gingerly to the sideline. It seems he wasn’t hurt badly, but Arteta took no chances and brought Nelson on to finish the game.

By the time there were ten minutes left of the 90 Arsenal had regained a full measure of their earlier control, and all Liverpool could muster were a Mac Allister potshot from outside the box and a poorly-taken snaphot by Nuñez from within the box. A long ball to Havertz came to nought, but to a man Arsenal continued to play stellar defense: Mø was everywhere, Jorginho reminding me of Gilberto Silva, and Kiwior was battling Gomez and other comers again and again. White kept Diaz in his back pocket. From a Liverpool corner Gabriel headed it to safety, and we broke slowly, moving the ball out right where Mø fed in a cross to Kiwior just above the penalty spot; his header was straight at Alisson, though it could have been the third goal had Kiwior headed it nearly anywhere else on frame.

In the 85th Thiago returned from hip surgery to replace Gomez, and we allowed Liverpool the run of the ball, pressing lower until they were past the center circle, then jumping on them. A fine defensive clearance to Havertz left Konate with few options; Havertz slipped the ball neatly by Konate to drive forward, and the Liverpool defender had to put his arm up onto Havertz to stop the break. Konate’s second yellow meant he was gone, and suddenly Arsenal were playing against 10 men.

After a foul was not called on Gabriel in the center circle (it was a foul, should have been called, and possibly resulted in a second yellow for Gabriel) Nuñez received a yellow for arguing. I think we were lucky there. The board was raised announcing 7 minutes of stoppage time, which got the heart going even faster. Saliba was given a yellow for time wasting over a free kick, which resulted in a useless long ball.

In the second minute of stoppage time we got the ball down the left to Trossard, who was martialled by Elliot and Diaz. Some neat footwork and a dink and run forward by Trossard and he was free of the Liverpool men, bearing down on Alisson’s goal. He snapped either a shot or a cross (I think a shot, but two Arsenal players were haring down to the far side of the box…) that hit the underside of Van Dijk‘s boot and nutmegged Alisson for a laughable, exciting, and relieving third goal. It was f&#!ing AWESOME. Van Dijk gave only a half-assed attempt to block it, and that it 5-holed Alisson was glorious. Arteta’s reaction (à la Usain Bolt) illustrated just how important was this goal!

Arsenal 3-1 Liverpool (Trossard, 90+2′)

And that was it. In the 94th we saw some yellow Rice for his scything down of Diaz, and in the 95th for Havertz, having knocked the foul flag out of the linesman’s hand. Pool scrambled in the remaining minutes, but Arsenal’s defense remained well-organized. Kiwior was again called upon to keep Diaz in check, and he did, with the last kick of the game going into their half.

Full time: Arsenal 3-1 Liverpool

Liverpool are a great team, deserving of their first place standing. And Arsenal are a great team, deserving of both their win and current second-place standing. This was a game of high intensity, the teams forcing mistakes on their opponent, a game with moments for Arsenal of both team and individual brilliance making up the nature of the final scoreline. Arsenal rose to the occasion with a grit and determination that we’ve seen at times this season, and with a fluidity of thought and play that we’ve seen at times this season. But this was really the first full game in which those were alloyed with an adverturous spirit and the racous support of our supporters into a steel that could lead us to the title come May.

Our defensive play, from front to back, effectively neutralized Gackpo, Mac Allister, Jota, Nuñez, and Diaz as scoring threats, it was a masterful job of team setup by Arteta and execution by every single Arsenal player to nullify Klopp’s strategies. As noted above Liverpool didn’t get a shot on target in the first half; they had only one all game! Arsenal’s team had no passengers today, no one hid: it was such a pleasure to watch *this* team at *this* time mix the overall game control with moments of fluid brilliance.

And at the end, who couldn’t love Mø taking pics of Stuart MacFarlane with the latter’s own camera, then grabbing it back when he wasn’t satisfied with his first effort. That’s our captain!

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »