Yesterday was huge. Huge for many reasons. This seasons momentum. Next seasons Champions League. Skipping the qualifying stage. Setting the stake in the ground as Premiership contenders next year.
The team line ups slipped in our favour. Liverpool started with Kolo and Sakho at the back. They went with the lone striking option of the disgraced Sterling. Arsenal had the dream team out. The only player who did confuse a touch was Per Mertesacker, odd when you had the pace of Gabriel in his absence.
You felt the intent of Arsenal from the off. We looked calm and reassured. There was an intensity about our possession I’ve not seen for large chunks of this season, even when we’ve been winning. There looked to be a vision, there looked to be a plan and the boys were up for it.
Early doors it was quite end to end. Sanchez dragged a speculative shot wide, minutes later Santi Cazorla struck a shot across goal that Mignolet did well to hold onto, we nearly landed our breakthrough when Ramsey capitalised on a Kolo error but failed to convert when through on goal. At that point, fans started to get jittery around the missed chances, especially as Liverpool started to find their stride.
Raheem Sterling was clearly affected by all of the press in the week. He was trying play like Roy of the Rovers. He was causing problems, going out of his way to hang off the shoulder of Per Mertesacker, he didn’t get much luck though. The most scary moment came when Can played Markovic in through the middle, all he had to do was strike the ball wide, but instead he opted to slip in the offside Sterling… and the wee man couldn’t stretch his Happy Meal legs far enough to slip into the empty net.
Ozil was having a very good game at this point, he started the move for the opening goal carving out a beautiful cross field ball to Ramsey who was out wide on the right, the Welshman picked out Bellerin, he jinked, dropped a couple of stepovers that pushed him into the box then he unleashed an expertly curled left footed shot into the bottom corner. Sublime. I love that boy in ways I shouldn’t.
In the midfield, we really were bossing things. Coquelin looked like a world class monster. He was faster to the ball than anyone, he was reading the game like a defensive version of Ozil and he was making the difference, he was an absolute joy to behold. Our second goal came after Ozil controlled the ball in the middle of the park, he was chopped down. The resultant freekick, that the German took found the back of the net with relative ease. The strike was good, but somehow, Mignolet had blocked himself so he couldn’t see the ball, and as a result he let a rather tame effort slip past him.
Our final goal of the half came after Ramsey played a cute ball into Sanchez, the Chilean adjusted his feet, dodged the freight train of Kolo whizzing past him and unleashed a beastly shot from the edge of the box into that rasped over Mignolet. Again, a spectacular strike, but you do have to ask questions of a keeper who lets in shots that are straight at him. Liverpool have real issues in goal.
The second half was interesting because the temptation was to go for more goals and to destroy a Liverpool side in disarray. Thankfully, we dialled it down and conserved some energy. There were a couple of slightly irritating moments. The first being that Koscielny walked off the pitch with an injury that was reported in the ground as a broken bone in his foot. Hopefully that’s not true. Secondly was the soft penalty we gave away to take away a much deserved clean sheet. Bellerin, who was having an excellent game kicked over Sterling. Henderson drilled the penalty home, a penalty so bad you could fairly critique Ospina for making such a poor effort.
That goal didn’t shake us, primarily because it didn’t arrive with any momentum.
Liverpool didn’t make it any easier for themselves, Emre Can, arguably their best player on the day picked up a booking for two pretty clumsy challenges, the last being a scissor tackle on WELBZ. He saw red and it was game over. Well, not quite. Olivier Giroud, a man who worked tirelessly all afternoon latched onto a through ball, took his time, picked out his spot and he rifled his shot into the top corner like a total boss!
One slightly disappointing point was seeing how many people left the ground early to go home, before kick off. It’s an early kick off, the boys have just put in an amazing performance and you’re not staying back to give them high fives from your seat? Sad. But whatever. It was a great day. The best performance of the year by a mile and a sign of things to come.
They should call him the difference, because he was for me. He’s a powerhouse, my pal just told me he hates him (Villa fan) because he’s a thug. Think about that, we have a thug in our team. I think he’s way more than that. He’s lightning over 10m, he reads the game well, he loves the physical side of things and he loves the fact he has a place in the team. They say you don’t appreciate things in life until you face a trauma. His career trauma was nearly being sold to Tours and being shunted out the play at Charlton. He’s come back, he’s spotted the weakness in our side and he’s owning that space. You’ll never take it from him. He plays like his life depends on it… and what an impression he’s made. He was my MoTM yesterday, absolutely brilliant.
You can’t argue with him when he plays like that. The issue with my seat is it’s quite low down, so when he’s pulling the strings, you don’t get much of a view of how great his vision he is. Some of the passes he made yesterday were outrageous. He was key to everything. His movement off the ball, his freekick strike, his assist of the assister (hi Alex Hleb). He had it all. He makes us unplayable going forward.
Bit of an unsung hero yesterday, but he looked tired. He never stopped though. He kept going until the end. I love the way he bullies forwards now. Even if he’s not in the game, he’ll be in it physically. I was glad he was rewarded in the end. He’s one of the most selfless players in the team. I thought he was great yesterday.
I think one of the things I really enjoyed about yesterday was the set up. We didn’t go gung-ho. We played with discipline and we defended as a unit. I still find it amusing watching Ozil pottering back but not really putting in a challenge, but he was back, and that was positive. The rest of the team fought for everything. We concentrated. We seemed to have a very good idea of how they’d play and we largely nullified them. It looked like a seriously focused team that were prepared properly. That’s a massive positive. There was to be no repeat of the Monaco fiasco. I guess the other offshoot of the game was we’ve got the upper hand should Liverpool qualify for the FA Cup final (and us). It’d be nice to avenge the lost one of a few years back.
We had everyone fit for the first time since 2005. I mean, staggering really. But what a great story to finish the year. I still don’t know how sharp it is behind the scenes, but there’s progress there. Players are coming back stronger, Giroud and Ozil are notably fitter than they were and we’re not picking up the same soft tissue injuries. Happy days.
The transition we now need to make is from a calendar year team, to a full season team. We can all pat the club on its back about the resurgence, but this is all too predictable. The fact is, we’re in a situation we’ve been in many times over the last 5 years. Finishing strong, with the hope of better next year. At some point, we’re going to need to understand why we can’t do this for a whole season. The signs are positive, but can we action the progress to kick of next year and maintain it…