FOX Soccer Exclusive
Ramsey, Arsenal prove their strength
It had the feel of a title fight: the two top teams in England meeting in a match so important that it evoked memories of 1989’s finale. It’s early going still, but Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Liverpool at the Emirates seems a harbinger of things to come. Opening up a five point gap atop the Premier League table with the result, one shudders to think what this Arsenal will look like when its gets all their players healthy.
In an open, fast and high-quality match that showcased two of the most incisive attacking sides in the Premier League, the Gunners came out clear winners thanks to goals from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey’s insurance strike, his tenth of the season, highlighted the difference between the two sides: while the vaunted “SAS” pairing of Daniel Sturridge and Luiz Suarez struggled to create up top alone, Ramsey’s goal was created by a sublime chip from Mesut Ozil, beating Steven Gerrard to the ball. It was a team-created goal and a signal that these Gunners are not the weaklings of years past, something that Ramsey alluded to in his post-match remarks.
“We weathered the storm and got the job done,” said Ramsey. “They’re very confident right now as well, so it was tough. [That confidence] is something we’ve been lacking over the past few seasons, so it’s very important for us to get off to a good start, which we have done. We’ve had to play catch-up over the past few seasons but we know that if we get ourselves into a strong position in January, we’ll have a successful season.”
Against a backdrop of a wild Saturday afternoon that had seen Newcastle humble Chelsea while both Manchester teams romped, top slot was there for the taking. And with not much initially to decide between the two sides, Arsenal’s ability to boss the midfield and close the gaps proved the difference.
Santi Cazorla opened the scoring with a somewhat fortunate goal: set up by Bacary Sagna from the near side, he headed the cross onto Simon Mignolet’s post. But the rebound fell into empty space, and with the keeper scrambling to his feet, Cazorla was able to nip in and tuck the shot home. It was somewhat against the run of play, but it was also another instance of Liverpool’s weaknesses against crosses, for no defender nipped back to clean up the mess.
Ramsey’s goal was a thing of beauty, a long, looping strike to the top left corner from range. Collecting a perfectly weighted chip from Ozil, Ramsey sat the ball up and then fired it around Kolo Toure to leave Simon Mignolet helpless.
“It was a fine goal,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger after the game. “Everyone was looking to see how we would respond [to the back to back home losses] and we did that in a positive manner. What you want is a good focus, and all in all it was a very convincing performance. Going five points clear is nice, but it’s early in the season.
"We had to respond today as we don’t want people to say ‘Arsenal cannot win the big games at home.’ This was a big game and we had to win it and we won it."
Arsenal's impressive run has been spearheaded by a vicious attacking front. (Photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC)
The busy work had been done in the back, by a tireless Mikel Arteta and the very ferocious Tomas Rosicky, who put in a superb 70 minutes in midfield. Arteta, taking up the role normally done by the injured Mathieu Flamini, effectively cut Sturridge and Suarez off from their teammates. That lack of link up play left the two strikers often struggling to create for themselves and while Suarez enjoyed a fine afternoon, Sturridge cut a frustrated figure. That was summed up late in the match when Suarez collected a slack ball and with a chance on net fired – missing not only the goal but his wide-open teammate to his right. Sturridge raged at the skies and Suarez, and it signified a dismal afternoon.
Gerrard also faded badly over the match, irrelevant at the final whistle to the point where you wondered if he was carrying an injury. If so, that hurts Liverpool badly ahead of a late-November match against Everton at Goodison.
While the loss is damaging to Liverpool, the wound is hardly a fatal one. Brendan Rodgers will also have seen many positive things from this performance that he can build upon. But he will have to address how compressed his center backs became under top-tier pressure; with them restrained, Liverpool were frequently pinned back, unable to break and counter.
And Arsenal also have many tests immediately ahead: they travel to Germany for a difficult encounter against Borussia Dortmund that has major implications for their European future. They then must travel north to face Manchester United at Old Trafford, and their former star, Robin van Persie.
But for right now, the Gunners will bask in a deserved win. They won this fight among heavyweights. It is no longer ludicrous to suggest they may be champions by season’s end. In fact, Arsenal are now the favorites.