If Arsenal’s win over Sp*rs was the result of a fantastic reaction and performance, it’d be fair to say that yesterday’s win over Liverpool wasn’t quite the same thing. Not exactly chalk and cheese but even Robin van Persie admitted they played better. Which, in fairness, is an easy and pleasant admission to make when you’ve just scored a sensational injury time winner to nick all three points.
The team that started against Sp*rs started this one but the hosts, boosted by their Carling Cup win and aided by a lacklustre Arsenal display, certainly got on top quite quickly. They looked to stretch us defensively and only for the head of Wojciech Szczesny and the hilariously expensive ineptitude of Stewart Downing we might have been behind after 10 minutes.
There were echoes of Milan as our midfield were way too passive again. On one occasion Song simply watched as Suarez controlled a ball which had been up in the air for ages (probably from a Carragher hump). No Arsenal player made a challenge. Perhaps they were afraid to go near the Uruguayan, who suffers from one of the most unique medical conditions I have ever seen. Regardless of how or where he is tackled, he seems to always feel the impact on his shins. Amazing.
Such is the sensitivity of these shins that even when there’s no contact at all the poor little chap suffers terrible, searing pain. So it was when Wojciech Szczesny didn’t touch him but his anguished leap into the air, like an electrocuted bunny, was enough to convince Mark Halsey (who couldn’t possibly have seen if there was contact or not) that it was a penalty.
Up stepped Sloth from The Goonies but he hadn’t counted on Szczesny making a great save from the penalty and then getting up and pushing the rebound around the post. That was a great big helping of justice for Suarez and you have to ask why, if he’s such a brilliant player, such a big character, he didn’t have the bottle to get up and take the spot kick himself. Maybe his poor little shins were still too tender.
A few moments later though, the Mugsmashers were ahead. When an Arsenal move broke down high up-field Kieran Gibbs was left out of position, nobody thought to cover, and when Henderson fired in a cross Koscielny sliced the clearance into his own net. He sank to his knees but Szczesny wasn’t having that. He was not going to let Koscielny feel sorry for himself, he picked him up, told him to forget it and get on with it.
Not that it did much good straight away, they could have been 2-0 up when Szczesny saved from Henderson after we’d been cut open way too easily and Suarez hit the post from the follow up. We were giving the ball away like we didn’t want it, and it was hard to see where a goal would come from. That said, if you had to guess you’d have said ‘van Persie’, and when Sagna whipped in a brilliant cross the skipper had got the wrong side of Carragher and headed home to make it 1-1.
Halsey, who could not have seen the penalty, then saw Jay Spearing tackle Rosicky, planting his studs about halfway up his leg on the follow through. As Rosicky lay in a heap Halsey played on. That it wasn’t at least a yellow card was frustrating but to not even give a free kick was something else entirely. The ‘smashers then hit the post again just as the half was drawing to a close, Sloth getting to a cross from our right hand side, Gibbs got it away.
The second half began and Arsenal lost Mikel Arteta to a piece of foul play which has gone largely unreported. As Arsenal came away with the ball Jordan Henderson, quite deliberately and off the ball, shouldered the unfortunate Arteta who just happened to turn his head into it at that exact moment. Watch it here (5mb GIF).
Now, I don’t think Henderson had any intention of hurting him as badly as that, I think he just meant to give him a little bump to disrupt his momentum as we came away with the ball, but the fact is his actions led to Arteta being badly concussed and stretchered off with an oxygen mask on.
Even if you don’t mean to do something you’re still responsible for your actions in the first place – and it was disappointing, but not surprising, that Henderson was deemed a decent sport for the rather pointless act of patting Arteta’s arm as he was taken off on the stretcher. Totally ignoring the fact he’d put him there in the first place. Maybe I’m being overprotective, and there are more positive things to focus on, but it was a nasty injury and ought not to be overlooked.
Anyway, back to the football. Liverpool looked most likely to score, and should have when Sloth crossed for Martin Kelly but he completely miskicked with the goal at his mercy. As Liverpool got more desperate they commited more fouls, found themselves offside a lot, and hilariously got on the back of the referee who had been with them all game long.
The eight minutes of injury time due to the Arteta stoppage loomed large but then Song played a pass over the top of the Liverpool defence to van Persie whose finish was just sublime. To have that much control over a ball which drops over your shoulder is remarkable. He made one of the most difficult things to do in football like ridiculously easy. If there’s a suggestion Reina could have done better it’s off the mark, there isn’t a keeper alive who would have saved it.
The captain kissed Song’s boot, the pass was fine indeed, but for me it was all about the finish. Shades of the Everton goal all right, and just another chapter in van Persie’s outstanding season. The goals he has scored have been crucial but when somebody inevitably puts together one of those epic YouTube compilations, with the dramatic music and all, the sheer range of his finishing will be even more apparent. He is just brilliant.
There was no time for Liverpool to recover, throwing on a £35m striker with just 3 minutes of injury time left is hardly the move of a tactical genius, and it’s clear why we’re now 10 points ahead of them. As well as they played, and they did, they just can’t score goals. Just 30 in the league all season, by comparison van Persie has 25.
Afterwards, Arsene said:
Overall it was not one of our best games, but we refused to give in and we played as well as we could. Our goalkeeper and centre forward made the difference. It was vital for us to win the game.
And while much of the praise will go to van Persie for his two goals, the manager (and the captain as well in fairness), was quick to laud Wojciech Szczesny for an outstanding goalkeeping performance:
It is good that he had a performance like that, because he had a little bit of a difficult period in January. He has shown his potential and I like that he was brave as well. He had a lot of kicking to do and a lot of coming out to do, and he didn’t make a mistake. At 21 years old he is a great talent, he is learning his job but because he is a great talent, he learns quickly.
Overall we rode our luck a little bit but given the way some games have gone this season it’s about time we got some. We know all too well how it feels to play better than the opposition only to be sucker-punched and to lose the game. If Liverpool feel aggrieved then tough, perhaps not spending close to £20m on shite like Downing might help.
All in all a good day to be a Gooner, the icing on the cake coming at the Hawthorns as West Brom beat Chelsea, giving us a 3 point gap over them in fourth. Quite what we do in midweek against Milan remains to be seen, but for now let’s enjoy a very tasty three points indeed.