Anfield has been the venue for many great Liverpool v Arsenal moments. From our point of view, Michael Thomas and Robert Pires immediately spring to mind. Usually our best results on Merseyside have been the unexpected ones. Despite the demolition on derby day last weekend, I wasn’t expecting too much from Liverpool game. After our performance early on in the match, the expectation was lowered further.
However whilst we know that in certain areas this Arsenal side are significantly down in quality, there are some big characters that can drag the others through games. Robin van Persie has grown into the captaincy this season, and has improved his own individual performances when wearing the armband. Wojciech Szczesny is 21 years old, but is never short on confidence. If you’re going to be that confident, you have to back it up with performances, and Szczesny’s showing on Saturday was sensational.
There was a distinct hangover from the midweek international break throughout the team, and following the epic victory over Spurs, it was clear the players were struggling to find the same level of intensity that was so prominent at the Emirates a week earlier. In the first half, we were out played. Liverpool were quicker to the ball and fed off the Anfield crowd. To repel the sort of onslaught we faced, you need a bit of luck and a world class goalkeeper. For the majority of the time, we had both.
We had good luck with Liverpool accurately finding the frame of the goal rather than the net, but some serious bad luck with a second dismal penalty decision in a week. Szczesny was once again penalised, and as with Gareth Bale, the opposing player made a great case to join Tom Daley at the Olympics. There may have been minimal contact between Szczesny and Suarez, but enough to send the Uruguayan almost flying over the advertising hoardings? Never. Suarez was at it all game as well. For a club with as much self-pride as Liverpool, Suarez is an embarrassment.
After another dodgy decision, it took real character for Szczesny to stand up, go face-to-face with Dirk Kuyt, and psych him out. I’m sure most Arsenal fans weren’t too concerned about the penalty when Charlie Adam initially wanted to take it, but even with Kuyt, we needn’t have worried. Szczesny, even when he hasn’t saved spot kicks this season, has usually dived the right way. He guessed right again against Liverpool and made a superb stop, and then bettered it by getting up quickly and clawing away the rebound.
The string of saves that followed was equally as impressive. In a match that Liverpool dominated, it was telling that it took an own goal for them to find a way past the Pole. That particular goal was unfortunate for Koscielny, but he recovered and had an excellent second half.
Szczesny has looked slightly fallible at times this season, but he’s a goalkeeper that can win the team more points than he’s responsible for losing. We haven’t had a keeper like that since Jens Lehmann. His name might be difficult to pronounce and spell, but whether you know him as Wojciech, Woj, Szczesny, the Pole in Goal or just Chesney, I hope he’s guarding our net for many years to come.
For most teams, Sir Chesney would have been a shoe-in for man of the match. However those teams don’t have Robin van Persie. I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted the book of superlatives on this blog about our captain this season. We witnessed the return of the King in January, however now he’s back in New York, we finally have another striker who can lay claim to the Arsenal throne.
In a match where we struggled to create chances, any that came our way had to be taken. Robin van Persie only received the ball in the Liverpool penalty area twice in the whole match. He scored both times.
The first goal came from a fantastic cross from Bacary Sagna; once again the value of having a quality full back made a difference. Van Persie’s movement was clever as he put himself in a position where if Carragher wanted to get to the ball, he’d probably have had to have fouled the Dutchman. The header was made to look easy.
Then that winning goal. Once again, the assist was superb. I’ve been critical of Song for getting too far forward and not focussing enough on being a holding midfielder, but his passing has improved immeasurably this season, and his chipped ball for van Persie was inch perfect. Had Xavi or Iniesta played that pass, the worlds’ media would be drooling over their keyboards.
The pass still needed finishing. When the ball was in the air, my mind immediately pictured the Everton volley at the Emirates into the far corner, thinking it would be impossible for him to do it again. If anything, van Persie bettered that goal. The power and accuracy from the side footed volley, with the ball dropping over his shoulder, defied belief.
Now isn’t the time to worry about if he’ll sign a contract or not. He’s said it won’t be sorted until the summer, so there’s not much point in fuelling speculation now. Unlike with Fabregas or Nasri, emotional attachment to another club and money won’t be the issue. Robin’s emotional attachment is to the Arsenal, and he wants the club to be successful as much as the fans do. If he thinks the club can be, he’ll stay. The fears remain over how many we’ll score if he gets injured, or what’ll happen if he doesn’t stay. However for the moment we just need to be grateful that we have the best striker in the league wearing an Arsenal shirt.
The performance overall wasn’t great, but with the other results over the weekend, frankly we don’t care. There is now some daylight between us in fourth and the chasing pack, plus it now isn’t inconceivable that we’ll catch Tottenham in third. At 2-0 down against Tottenham, we were set to be 13 points behind them, now that gap is four points. Whatever the performance was like on Saturday, our comeback is most definitely on.
The focus, probably briefly, switches to Europe and a likely exit from the Champions League on Tuesday. If Milan score an away goal at any point during the game, any of our wild dreams won’t come close to coming true. However with there being no pressure on the team, there is the slightest possibility of something remarkable happening. If van Persie picks up where he finished at Anfield, create five chances for him and we’ll go through! That might be blind optimism but there’s a good feeling returning to the club, so let’s ride it while it’s here.
The way Robin van Persie gave Wojciech Szczesny the man of the match champagne on Saturday wasn’t quite a king giving someone a knighthood, but within the realm of the Arsenal, for the way those two played on Saturday, it might as well have been.