It took Liverpool 5 months to work themselves up to the promising position they were in just two weeks ago, and it took them just two games against their closest rivals to put it all to waste. Arsenal were in emphatic form, as they have been for the most of 2015, and effectively decided the game in eight frantic minutes when they netted three times through Bellerin, Ozil and Sanchez.
It was an encounter between two of the most in-form teams in the Premier League over the past few months at the Emirates. Liverpool, who were just two points behind the crucial 4th place before their game against Manchester United two weeks ago, had all to play for following their damaging defeat against the Red Devils. It was a must win game for the Reds if they were to keep their quest for a top 4 finish going. Without the suspended icons Martin Skrtel and captain Steven Gerrard and with their star man Raheem Sterling under the microscope after an ill-timed BBC interview concerning his new contract with the Merseyside club, Liverpool had to give one of their best performances to stand a chance to defeat Arsenal. However, similar to the end of last season, the Reds have failed when it mattered the most and are now in a desperate position, eight points adrift of Manchester United with just seven games to go. This would most probably be enough in any other league, but in the Premier League anything can happen, however the situation is well out of Liverpool’s hands.
Arsenal on the other hand have put themselves in a very comfortable position, just behind Chelsea in the table, where they will remain at the end of this gameweek if Manchester City fail to defeat Crystal Palace later today. The Gunners have been statistically the best team in the Premier League since New Year and in Saturday’s victory over Liverpool, they have given one of their best performances yet.
Francis Coquelin was his usual instrumental self in the middle of the pitch just ahead of Arsenal’s centre back pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker. The midfielder stopped many of Liverpool’s attacks before they could cause any harm and has been the biggest difference maker between Arsenal’s inconsistent performances in the first half of the season and their much improved displays since his coming into the team. Coquelin’s presence in the team seems to have a positive, calming effect on all the players ahead of him, notably Cazorla and Ozil, who can focus on playing to their strengths, which are undeniably with the ball at their feet, rather than when the opposition have it. The pair have less to worry about concerning coming back and helping with defending than they were used to. There is also less pressure on them to not lose the ball, as in the past, that would have exposed the Gunners to counter attacks they often failed to cope with. Less pressure on them allows them to be more creative and express themselves more, play without fear, which is traced in their rise in performance.
Alexis Sanchez found the form he was in when he pulled Arsenal to results in his early Arsenal months. Certainly one of the best and arguably the very best summer addition to the Premier League, Sanchez has been a joy to watch all season and Saturday was no exception. With his 20th goal of the season and an assist, he was a threat all game and gave another man of the match performance. The Chilean is one of the hottest candidates for the Player of the Year award and quite rightfully, as he set the league alight in his maiden season in English football, something many players from abroad struggle with.
Olivier Giroud scored yet another goal, and it was a beauty, in the last minute of the game, restoring Arsenal’s three goal lead. It was his 10th goal in as many appearances for the Gunners and the Frenchman has now scored in 6 Premier League games in a row, becoming the first Arsenal player to do so since Emmanuel Adebayor back in 2008. Giroud has really stepped up his game since returning from his injury at the end of 2014, with 9 PL goals in 11. The Gunners have played to his strengths as a target man who leads the line. His link up play with his teammates has improved as well, particularly with Santi Cazorla, creating some glorious actions and goals from Arsene Wenger’s men.
For Liverpool on the other hand, their main man Sterling was kept quite. His movement in the first half had caused Mertesacker quite some problems and he eventually won Liverpool a consolation penalty, but by then it was too late for the Reds. The England starlet was isolated in the line-up, as neither Coutinho nor Henderson managed to provide him with notable service. Perhaps if Lazar Markovic hadn’t panicked when him and Sterling were running at Ospina and gave a proper pass to the forward, the game could have folded differently with Liverpool having the momentum and a 1-0 lead… but football is not played on an “if”.
Arsenal’s victory leaves the Gunners with a bid for their best season in a decade as they can finish runners-up in the league and are still in the FA Cup semi-final against Reading, with a chance of going to the final for the second time in as many years. Meanwhile Liverpool look set to be disappointed after their almost fairy tale campaign last season, which put the proud club back into the Champions League. At the moment, fulfilling their target of a Top 4 finish, which would again secure Champions League football, seems unlikely and completing this target would be a little miracle for the Merseyside club. Never say never because anything can still happen in the seven remaining games.