Arsenal walked away from Anfield with 3 points after a real smash and grab performance courtesy of 2 goals from Robin Van Persie, gaining control of the race for 4thplace and going 10 points ahead of Liverpool who will be cursing their wastefulness in front of goal. The home side hit the post twice and missed a penalty in the first half, taking advantage of Arsenal’s appalling defending. They went ahead through a Laurent Koscielny own goal before Van Persie had his say, heading in a Bacary Sagna cross and volleying an inch-perfect lob from Alex Song past Pepe Reina.
Liverpool started brightly, hassling and harrying the Arsenal midfield who lacked cohesion and left massive gaps between each other. Henderson and Adam exploited these gaps to great effect, Henderson finishing the game with an 82% passing accuracy. Adam, however, became guilty of attempting the glory ball at every opportunity, especially towards the end of the game, putting 6 straight out of play. He also only created 3 chances and this is rather poor considering Liverpool had 12 corners.
The Arsenal midfield trio of Song, Arteta and Rosicky struggled to cope with the energy of the Liverpool midfield, Jay Spearing was particularly successful in disrupting Arsenals’ passing game with 4/5 tackles and 6 successful ground duels. Rosicky could have taken advantage of the times that Spearing pushed up, but failed to have much of an impact on the game. Mikel Arteta had a passing accuracy of only 78% (!), more than likely a season low for the Spaniard as his average is 90%.
Alex Song had an interesting game and one that quite typifies his season so far. In the first half he was clearly jaded, having only arrived home from international duty, and as a result was all over the place positionally, possibly a contributing factor to Arteta’s poor game as the two work in tandem. The Cameroonian made only 1 tackle. won 4/11 ground duels and was dribbled past twice. Going forward, however, he made a significant contribution with a 79% passing accuracy and creating 3 chances including the fantastic assist for Van Persie’s second.
This attacking improvement coincided with the introduction of Abou Diaby, who had an excellent… game (all 23 minutes of it). His ability to push forward and beat a man turned the tide in Arsenals’ favour and he finished up with 100% passing accuracy, 3/3 successful long balls, 2 dribbles, 1 interception and 1 shot on target after showing some quick feet and a deft touch.
The Arsenal defence looked at its porous worst in the first half, Koscielny and Vermaelen in particular having a nightmare against the movement of Suarez who dribble past the Belgian twice. Koscielny, however, was dribble past once and scored an own goal, he had an extremely poor game by his excellent standards so far this season, yet still won 5 tackles 6 interceptions and 7 ground duels. Gibbs continued his return to the side with a solid display, even after the introduction of Gervinho opened up his flank to more attacks from Kuyt, Henderson and Kelly, winning 3/3 tackles, 7/12 ground duels and made one interception.
Bacary Sagna was one of the stars for Arsenal though. The right-back restricted Downing to only 8 crosses with a 13% accuracy, making 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 spectacular last man tackle to deny Kuyt. Sagna also got forward to attempt 4 crosses, one of which was the inch-perfect delivery for Van Persie’s equalizer. One of Liverpool’s star performers was also a full-back, Jose Enrique, who had a fantastic game up against Theo Walcott, squeezing him back and relying on his pace to prevent Walcott from breaking behind him. The Spaniard completed 4/4 tackles, 5/9 ground duels, 4 clearances and got forward to put in 3 crosses.
The most interesting comparison comes from the two teams’ star players, Robin Van Persie and Luis Suarez.
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I mentioned Suarez gave the Arsenal defence a nightmare, but fortunately for them he was largely wasteful in front of goal. His dribbling and build-up play is top quality, but his finishing and decision-making in front of goal is still suspect. He could learn from Van Persie, who had 2 chances all game and scored from both. Due to Liverpool’s pressing and Arsenal struggling in midfield, Van Persie dropped deeper to assist in the link up play. In fact, the Dutch maestro only received the ball twice in the box and scored on both occasions, a remarkable achievement.
If Liverpool want to challenge for the Champions League places, they will need to rectify their scoring problems. Yesterday they had 12 shots and only hit the target with 4, 2 of which were Dirk Kuyt’s penalty and rebound. Liverpool have only scored 30 goals all season whereas Van Persie himself has scored 25 for Arsenal. The Gunners now have a comfortable cushion between themselves and the other contenders for 4th place and will turn their sights to capturing 3rd place from Tottenham Hotspurs.
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