Saturday, March 03, 2012

Suarez vs. Van Persie: Thoughts on Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1

Now that my heart rate has sufficiently stabilized, it's time to go through some of the major talking points of our big, big win against Liverpool.

* To judge the game dispassionately, Liverpool took control of the midfield at a fairly early stage of the game and never looked back. They had 54% of possession, and had more shots on goals. They also blew us away in another category which is often indicative of attacking dominance - they had 12 corners, while we had zero. But, and this is a fact we've had rammed down our throats on more than one occasion, possession and shots on goal don't matter if you don't score goals. And, as I said in my prediction before the match, Liverpool have been terrible at scoring goals this season.

The numbers are there to see from this game alone. They had 12 shots on goal to our 10, but 7 of our shots were on target compared to Liverpool's 4. Yes, they hit the post twice, but they still means they missed the target, and when a team consistently fails to score in the way that Liverpool does, it goes beyond luck. Exactly the same can be said about their penalties - they've now missed 4 out of their last 10. It's because their attacking players aren't particularly good that Liverpool didn't win today. Ours are better, so we did.

So, my first thought is this - Liverpool may have dominated the game, but they actually didn't do enough with that dominance to justify a win, no matter what the media and LFC fans will say after the game. Until their shooting accuracy improves, they will deserve to lose games in this fashion.

* Another reason Liverpool didn't deserve to win is because they have a player who cannot stop himself from cheating. Luis Suarez dived for the penalty - it's that simple. Watch the replays and there was no contact made, whatsoever. Szczesny dived in, but Suarez vaulted over his leg to win the penalty, ergo he cheated.

As one Liverpool fan put it on Twitter, when Suarez cheats in this manner, you can't help but feel that he's a dishonest person, which obviously affects how you feel about the whole Suarez-Evra court case. I'm going to say more about this elsewhere, but I think he has been an absolutely disastrous signing for Liverpool.

* Thankfully, Szczesny proceeded to pull out an absolutely huge penalty save, followed by another equally superb stop to prevent the rebound going in. I have been critical of Szcz at times, but he was enormous today. Arsene was right to say that he was our joint MOTM with RvP. To put it in another, faintly terrifying  way: if Almunia or Fabianski had been in goals today, we would not have won.

* The Liverpool goal was exactly the type of self-destructive moment that I hoped we had eradicated from our game. The cross was coming in at pace, but Koscielny was not under pressure, and he has to accept that it was a very poor mistake. However, overall, LK actually had a very good game. He led the team in tackles (including one last man tackle), interceptions, effective clearances, and offsides won. He also had the best pass completion rate in the defence. Aside from aerial duels won, where Vermaelen bested him with 2 to 1, Koscielny led the defence in every statistic today. He has quietly turned into an monster defender for us.

* Our equalizer came a little out of the blue, as it were. I said in my preview that RvP vs. Carragher should be promising for us, and so it was. Sagna's cross was a thing of absolute beauty, beating three Liverpool players before Robin headed home. Interestingly, it was our only successful cross of the game, compared to Liverpool's 8.

* At the time, the challenge by Henderson that led to Arteta's injury seemed an accident. But having watched the replay several times now, it does seem that Henderson deliberately lent in towards Arteta as he ran towards Song. Just because Henderson felt sorry afterwards does not mean it was not intentional. Thankfully, Arteta seems fine, and the Oxygen mask and stretcher were largely a precaution.

* Arteta's injury led to Diaby's second league appearance of the season . His 28 minutes on the field may well sum up his Arsenal career. In that time he completed 2 successful dribbles (the most of any Arsenal player), had a shot on target, and completed all 15 of his passes. Moreover, 3 of these passes were long balls, so not all were little lay-offs. He also made 1 interception. For me, this shows Diaby's potential strengths as a player. He is tricky, and can go past players with the ball while dribbling. He does have an eye for goal, and he can pick passes. He also possesses defensive strengths. Personally, I felt he seemed to contribute more during his cameo than Benayoun did during his entire performances. However, ability is meaningless if you can't stay fit.  His withdrawal was only a precaution, and was not due to a serious injury, but it is still worrying he can't complete a game when he comes on after an hour. Personally, I think he has two months to save his Arsenal career. He has to show he can stay fit for the rest of the season after this game, or I think Arsene will try to sell him in the summer.

* After Diaby came on, I thought the game became a bit more of an even contest. Liverpool were still edging it, perhaps, but they were no closer to scoring. What the game needed was a moment of class, and it was no surprise who provided it.

Simply put, Robin van Persie takes his chances. He was given two chances today - both of his shots were on target and both were goals. And his second goal was a ridiculously good finish. As a rule, keepers shouldn't be beaten at their near post, but Robin took the chance so well that Reina could barely react. No team have scored more than twice at Anfield in the league this season, but then no other Premier League team has a striker as good as Robin. He is a phenomenon - the difference between us being in fourth and mid-table.

* We shouldn't overlook the other vital player in Arsenal's second goal - Alex Song. His pass was simply world class - Robin didn't kiss Alex's boot after the goal for nothing. It has been fascinating to watch Song's development as a player this season. In many respects, he's taken over a lot of the creative responsibility from Cesc after the former's departure. Song now has 7 assists in the prem (joint second for Arsenal behind RvP), and actually leads the entire premier league in average successful through balls per game. As he collects the ball so deep, he is often better positioned to pick vital passes than our other players.

* A final, quick word on Suarez. I said before the game that I think he is massively overrated, and I stand by that assertion now. For a player who has the third highest average for shots on goal per game in the Premier League, Suarez's finishing is woeful. Only one of the three shots he took today were on target. He made 0 key passes, and led the Liverpool side in turnovers. He is only consistently good at one thing - flashy dribbles. During the first-half he beat a series of Arsenal players before forcing a save from Szczesny. Yet flashy dribbles without end-product don't win you games. I strongly suspect that the racism row has covered up the fact that Suarez is not having a very good season. Ultimately, as I put it in a tweet earlier, we have van Persie and Liverpool have Suarez. That's why we are higher in the league than them, and why we are a better team than them.

* Just as we did against Sunderland three weeks ago, we came from behind, away from home, to snatch a vital victory. Arsene often bangs on about 'mental strength', but on days like this it's hard to argue with that assessment. Despite deflating defeats in Europe and the FA Cup, we've secured three big wins in the league in a row. And with Chelsea just having lost to West Brom, whether or not we finish in the top-four is now in our hands. After the terrible start to the season that we had, you have to give the team a lot of credit for keeping us in contention for a decent league finish.


Anonymous said...

Let me just say that he didn't dive for the penalty. If you were watching the game on espn2 you would have seen that after they did a really close zoom in. Suarez shin moves at the same time it collides with Szezesny's bottom knee.

Anonymous said...

suarez is like a german u-boat

Anonymous said...

suarez is like a german u-boat... ya know...

Anonymous said...

There was contact, but it was minimal and you can see Suarez lifting of and stretching his leg out even before the challenge came in. He already played the ball to far ahead and knew it was going out, just tried to save him from embarrassment by putting in yet another dive!

GAC said...

Of course Suarez dived, there was minuscule contact when he trailed his leg and he jumped up, I think that is how you normally start a dive. It is his job to do that same as Bale last week. It is a shame that referees are so easily fooled by forwards poking legs into strange places for contact. It is at least good that in both cases they did not compound their error with a red card.

Szczesny was my MoM, he saved move goals than RVP scored but I take nothing from RVP. The second goal must be one of the best finishes ever, really!

Anonymous said...

I agree in almost all you said .. There are several reasons why we are better than Liverpool. Their squad compensate lack of quality with fight and commitment .But our squad is vastly more talented in almost every position. More commitment and fight , plus the use of tactics would improve us (High pressing for instance).

Anonymous said...

I think Liverpool would have killed Arsenal like Milan did if they had two forwards like Ibra and Robinho to finish things off.

Were I a betting man I would say Liverpool, by signing a great striker and winger, will be closer to the title next season than Arsenal.