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Liverpool, Arsenal on opposite ends
That old Arsenal mantra, which had been voiced with diminishing force over the past few trophy-less years, rang loud and true again at Anfield on Sunday.
Arsene Wenger's faith in what remains of his squad after another summer in which the selling was heavier than the buying was vindicated by a splendid victory over Liverpool. Robin van Persie has gone — long live Santi Cazorla.
In truth it is not RvP’s place Cazorla is filling, but fellow Spaniard Cesc Fabregas, and it is only a year late. The little attacking midfielder came in from Malaga and, after outlining his potential in goal-less matches against Sunderland and Stoke City, delivered on Merseyside.
Like Fabregas, beginning his second season in his native Barcelona, Cazorla can make and take goals and lead by shining example. He did all three under the nose of Steven Gerrard and Liverpool's defeat was comprehensive; with only one point from the first three Premier League fixtures, new coach Brendan Rodgers is looking at the beginnings of a crisis.
To be more accurate, Liverpool may already be in crisis. The American owners, John Henry and Tom Werner, have twice tried sacking coaches during their relatively short period in charge. They got rid of the unpopular Roy Hodgson — and then the revered Kenny Dalglish. And things have not got better.
Liverpool had to beat Arsenal, or at least put on a decent show, to dispel disquiet among the support over the summer player trades. The failure to land Clint Dempsey, which, with Andy Carroll being allowed to join West Ham United on a season-long loan, has left Rodgers with just one striker in Luis Suarez.
The last thing his team needed was to encounter an Arsenal team more impressive than at any stage of last season, when Wenger's side finished third thanks to the prolific goalscoring of Van Persie. Arsenal is still likely to miss the Dutchman — despite new attacker Lukas Podolski's first goal for the club at Anfield, his fellow recruit Olivier Giroud continues to look something of a blunt instrument — but there was more than adequate compensation in midfield.
There, Abou Diaby, who missed almost all of last season through injury, played well enough to merit comparison with the old Arsenal hero Patrick Vieira, his long legs constantly eating up ground and transforming defense into attack; Alex Song, who has followed Fabregas to Barcelona after his best season with Arsenal, was never missed as Diaby dovetailed with the excellent Mikel Arteta in front of the back four, leaving the main creative duty to Cazorla.
Wenger has always insisted that Diaby, whose Arsenal career has been blighted by fitness issues, would come through and prove himself capable of competing with the best. Trust Arsene. He waited patiently for Cazorla while higher-profile stars — Cazorla had tended to be overshadowed by the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta in La Liga and on the Spanish national scene — came and went elsewhere. Trust Arsene. Now all the fans want is for his faith in Giroud to be more liberally rewarded than by Marouane Chamakh, his previous striker signing from France.
These are, of course, early days. But the signs are good in several areas. Not a goal has been conceded in the first three matches and this may owe something to the presence at Wenger's side in the dugout of Steve Bould, the centre-back he inherited along with the likes of Tony Adams and Martin Keown upon his arrival at Arsenal nearly 16 years ago. The midfield, meanwhile, should get even stronger when the brilliant young Jack Wilshere, sadly missed for most of last season, is fit again; it could be a matter of weeks.
It is just a question of who will score goals — the news that a hat trick from van Persie had given Manchester United victory in a thriller at Southampton may have marred Wenger's otherwise perfect Sunday. As for Rodgers and Liverpool, it could hardly have been a more perturbing weekend, for, less than 24 hours before Suarez and company fired a blank, a West Ham side invigorated by Carroll crushed Fulham, being 3-0 up long before the big man went off clutching a hamstring. Carroll will be back. West Ham's opponents won't like it one bit.
Patrick Barclay is one of England's most experienced soccer writers. He has covered the game for every broadsheet newspaper and attended eight World Cups and nine European Championships. Barclay is the author of biographies of Jose Mourinho (Further Anatomy of a Winner) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Football - Bloody Hell!) You can follow him on Twitter @paddybarclay.
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