Five things we learned from Arsenal vs Liverpool
1) Suarez is a talented (and greedy) so-and-so
For all his huff and puff against Arsenal, Liverpool’s tempestuous No.7 failed to produce his usual magic. Whenever he received the ball, Laurent Koscielny jumped on him like an eagle swooping on its prey. Suarez tried more take-ons than any other player on the pitch (11), but he only managed to hang on to the ball twice. When he did try and give the ball to a team-mate he wasn’t especially accurate, registering a 76% pass completion rate. His nemesis, Koscienly, was one of the game’s top tacklers, winning five of his eight attempted challenges. The defender also made three interceptions. When the Uruguayan did escape his grasp, there was no end product. Suarez created two goalscoring opportunities that his team-mates failed to convert and when he bore down on goal himself he either missed the target or found Wojciech Szczesny in the way.
2) When Flamini is not there, Arteta can put his foot in (and pass)
Concerns over who was going to protect the back four in the absence of Flamini quickly evaporated as Arteta took control of the midfield. No player made more tackles than the Spaniard – he successfully dispossessed an opponent seven times – and all without putting a hair out of place. Only Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel could match Arteta for ball recoveries (13). His defensive workload did not detract from his typically brilliant work in possession. Get ready for these stats – 106 passes attempted, 100 found their target – a success rate of 94%. Only Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey made more passes in the attacking third. Xavi eat your heart out.
3) Left foot, right foot, even his head - Santi Cazorla provides a threat with all three
5ft 6in of pure magic. The little Spaniard buzzed around the pitch and pulled the trigger as soon as he was in range. In fact, he was the most trigger-happy player on the pitch, registering four attempts on goal – one of which hit the back of the net. The goal itself encompassed all that is great about Cazorla. He rattled the post with a header, inadvertently setting himself up, as he recovered his balance and seized upon the rebound to hit a brilliantly controlled volley with his right foot past Simon Mignolet and into the roof of the net. He was equally threatening with this left foot, fizzing an effort just past the post on the cusp of half time. He completed 25 passes in the attacking third – only bettered by Ozil – creating three chances in the process. He also mopped up 11 loose balls – the third highest of the night.
4) Brendan Rodgers’ 3-5-2 got found out
This was always going to be a clash of systems – Wenger’s 4-2-3-1 vs Rodgers’ 3-5-2 – and it was the Frenchman’s that prevailed. Arsenal’s midfield swamped Liverpool’s in the centre of the park, pinning Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson back. As they chased the ball, the Gunners drew them out and played passes in behind the visitors’ wing-backs, Jon Flanagan and Aly Cissokho. This gave Bacary Sagna a lot of joy down the right channel. To counter this, Rodgers replaced Cissokho with Philippe Coutinho at half time and switched to a 4-4-2, but Arsenal’s defence stood firm against the added attacking threat. At the other end of the pitch it was 3 vs 1, but Olivier Giroud gave the Liverpool back three all sorts of problems. Ozil, Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey did a fine job of supporting the French striker when he was outnumbered. When the guests did get the ball forward they didn’t counter-attack with enough speed, leaving a huge gap between Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and the midfield. They tried to do it on their own and failed.
5) Aaron Ramsey is the complete midfielder
Surely this can’t go on forever? Ramsey’s form is nothing short of scintillating. Just a year ago pundits were starting to question whether he would ever fulfill his potential. Now he’s lighting up the Premier League week in, week out. In nine domestic appearances he’s scored six and made four. His performance against Liverpool had everything, including a spectacular goal to put the result beyond doubt. Tackling, passing, shooting – Ramsey can do the lot. His passing numbers – 69 successful from 84 attempts – were only surpassed by Arteta and Ozil. He made six tackles – the second-best record over the 90 minutes – and won two of his three aerial duels. Forget the SAS, it was the RAA (Ramsey and Arteta) that made the difference. Ok, RAA isn’t quite as catchy, but it sounds scary.