The Arsenal Monday verdict: Quite a performance, but Wenger won’t lose perspective
The Frenchman isn’t getting carried away by scintillating Anfield win, but everyone else is
Arsene Wenger knew better than to be too triumphalist after the game at Anfield, and while humility in victory is a rare but edifying quality in the modern game, there was no denying this felt like a hugely significant result.
The Frenchman was probably only too aware of the slender margins between victory and defeat, and that on another day his team’s nervous start and tired-looking finish could easily have been punished.
For the 70 minutes in between, however, there were so many positives for Arsenal that Wenger would have been quite entitled to wear a smug smile. As it was he left that to the gloating supporters on the away end who fully enjoyed what is becoming a regularly profitable trip to what used to be the most unforgiving of venues.
Those supporters saluted Santi Cazorla at the end and rightly so. Ultimately it was the Spaniard’s nimble touch and speed of vision that unlocked the Liverpool defence in each half. The chemistry he showed with Lukas Podolski for both goals was hugely encouraging - as was the German’s clinical finish for the first.
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Podolski is up and running now which will do him a power of good, but Cazorla is arguably eclipsing him as the marquee signing of the summer, for Arsenal and perhaps the Premier League as a whole.
Wenger won’t mind that one bit. Both look to be astute signings of 27-year-olds at the peak of their powers. However, Cazorla’s playmaking would not have been possible without the diligent work behind him of Mikel Arteta, and, more noticeably, Abou Diaby.
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If there is one piece of transfer business that really rankles with Arsenal fans this summer, even more possibly than the departure of Robin van Persie, it was the decision to allow Alex Song to join Barcelona.
Song and Arteta had formed a compact, pivotal pair in front of the defence in the 4-2-3-1 formation last season, and allowing the Cameroonian to leave seemed a mysterious move from Wenger.
Two weeks on, and it is a problem already receding into the background. Diaby has had enormous faith invested in him by his manager, and one decent performance does not yet justify that, but this was a hugely encouraging display.
“You can see it is massive for us because he is a tremendous football player,” admitted Wenger. “He has absolutely everything you want in midfield.
“He hasn’t played for a year but he had a good pre-season and now he looks in good shape. There is more to come from him but what he has shown today is very good.
“I always stood behind him because not only is he a fantastic football player but a fantastic guy as well. Let’s hope he survives the [international] break because the national team [France] travel a lot, play two games in four days and let’s hope he comes back in good shape.”
Suddenly Wenger appears to have numerous options in central midfield. Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin were on the bench on Sunday. Jack Wilshere is a month away from a return, Emmanuel Frimpong is another option once he recovers from a cruciate knee ligament injury. All four of those players are young and will only improve.
At the back Arsenal were again reassuringly solid, with Thomas Vermaelen leading by example and ably protecting the No3 goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who pulled off a couple of late saves to preserve Arsenal’s clean sheet for the season.
The reason for the new defensive steeliness (remember Arsenal conceded five times in the final two games of last season to Norwich and West Brom) has been put down to the arrival of Steve Bould as No2 to Wenger.
It would certainly be remarkable work from the former Gunners centre-back, and there is a sense of better organisation at the back, but he and Wenger will know that luck has played its part. Arsenal could easily have conceded on Sunday, and Stoke and especially Sunderland also missed good chances in the first two games.
“It is too early,” said Wenger, when encouraged to get carried away with Sunday’s result. “I am confident we have good potential and it is down to us to improve, there are a lot of things to work on. There is a good potential there.”
It has been a trying few weeks for the Gunners boss, with the departures of Van Persie and Song and the seemingly endless criticism he has to endure from pundits, supporters and the like from across the footballing spectrum.
On Sunday, those detractors were silenced once again. After 16 years you would think Wenger has possibly earned a little trust, but football is now an environment where you have to prove yourself time and again.
It will take a lot more than one win over a troubled Liverpool side to fully restore confidence, and Chelsea, Manchester City and a Van Persie-inspired Manchester United already look formidable opponents.
But amid the chaos of the transfer window and another difficult summer, the sight of his new players shining in the early-season sunshine was a sight to warm the heart of Wenger, and Arsenal fans everywhere. There’s just something about unexpected 2-0 wins at Anfield…