A job done and a test passed, perhaps, but this is only a small step for Arsenal against a team that has now lost 10 games this season and was chasing the game with Philipp Degen leading the attack.
This term Arsene Wenger has claimed that now is the time for his kids to grow up. Having lost games to Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, a dismal first-half display at Anfield might have prompted a few tears before the youngsters were sent to bed without any dinner.
This, after all, was the team that was so embarrassed by Manchester United in the Champions League semi-finals last season and was recently decimated in front of their own fans by Carlo Ancelotti’s seasoned pros.
Instead, Wenger decided to play the authoritarian parent and make his players eat all their greens before they could savour something sweet. He was rewarded with the desired reaction and victory belonged to Arsenal.
The Frenchman’s team was 11 points behind the leaders after that defeat at the Emirates last month and they have now trimmed that deficit to five, with a game in hand.
This victory has to be viewed in the context of the fear and dread that lies just under the surface for the Liverpool players, who have been reminded so often this season just how poor they are capable of being.
But the fact is that Arsenal exposed those chinks and ruthlessly exploited them in a way that many thought they had forgotten. This was not keeping the ball for an hour around the edge of the opposition box, this was making the most of your chances and getting away from your rivals’ home ground with all three points, with their first league win against ‘big four’ opposition in seven attempts.
And all achieved without the likes of Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Tomas Rosicky, to name but a few.
Arsenal’s was an impressive performance but not quite worthy of some of the huge praise that will come their way over the next day or two. But that is the point. We all know what the division’s joint top scorers are like when they are on song, but here they were not. Even so, there was none of the scowling, hiding or meek surrendering that has characterised them for so much of this season.
Maybe an indication of the change in Wenger’s group is the fact that, incredibly, they have still not had anyone sent off this season. They battled their way back into the game and closed it out like champions.
True, the harrying of Javier Mascherano was severely limited after the Argentinian jarred his knee in the opening period but all the same, Cesc Fabregas did well to take charge of the midfield in front of the solid base provided by Alex Song and Denilson, with Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott given licence to flit around behind Andrey Arshavin.
Wenger admitted that the previous experiences against top teams meant his players went out “with the handbrake on” through fear of losing and were lucky to be behind by just one goal at the interval, and he was right.
Fernando Torres has somehow scored 10 Premier League goals this season and if he was anywhere near as fit as he was when he was banging those in, he would have made easy work of the first opportunity of the game. As it was, he was picked out by Steven Gerrard’s pass and glanced a weak shot straight at Manuel Almunia.
Moments later the same pair combined, with Torres slipping Gerrard through into the area and the Liverpool skipper going down under William Gallas’ challenge. Referee Howard Webb should have awarded a penalty, but Gerrard’s pleas went unanswered.
But before half time, Kuyt finally made the breakthrough when Almunia failed to deal with Fabio Aurelio’s lofted free kick into the area and the Dutchman was on hand to roll into an empty net.
All Arsenal had offered to that point was some long shots that had hardly made Pepe Reina’s heart beat any faster.
But after half time they emerged as a team that still believed they could get something from the game and they duly did. Nasri’s cross in the 50th minute was held up in front of Reina’s goal and trickled into the net off the back-tracking Glen Johnson.
Then, eight minutes later, they were ahead, when Fabregas’ lob into the area was not hacked away by the hesitant Johnson and Arshavin, who had not trained all week due to a foot problem, lashed the ball in off the post before Reina could even think about moving.
But it was the half-hour that followed that said plenty about the mind-set of these two teams. Liverpool simply had nothing to offer, while Arsenal kept hold of possession, stayed cool and never looked in trouble. If anything, they looked more dangerous than Degen and co; perhaps not, in itself, surprising.
Amid all the celebrations that followed what felt like a big moment for Arsenal, Wenger was also right to sound the note of caution by suggesting that his players have only given themselves an opportunity and that no-one in this division is outstanding.
This was quite a day but Arsenal have not achieved anything yet. They only will when there are trophies on display at the Emirates and when people would be surprised to see them chuck all this away at Burnley on Wednesday night.
REFEREE: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire) 6: Could have given Liverpool an early penalty for Gallas’s challenge on Gerrard and irritated the home fans and players throughout.
MATCH RATING: *** It was all about the intrigue and had nothing of the flowing football of last time around. Still fascinating stuff, though.
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