Arsenal 2 Liverpool 0
Can Arsenal win the Premier League title?
It is the question of the moment, not just in North London but throughout the world, with a new global audience for the English game that has never seen Arsene Wenger’s men land a trophy.
Those new fans of the Premier League in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Indonesia, the new frontiers of global football, may not remember the last time Wenger’s men won the title, when Patrick Vieira lifted the trophy in 2004 after an amazing unbeaten season.
Wenger’s latest creation may not be invincible — the opening day defeat by Aston Villa saw to that — but they have barely put a foot wrong since the opening day of the season, certainly not in the league at least.
Saturday evening’s emphatic victory over Liverpool served notice to the rest of the league on several fronts.
It took Arsenal five points clear of Chelsea in second place, saw off Liverpool’s challenge and showed their lack of true title credentials, and most importantly proved this Arsenal side can win when it counts.
Successive home defeats by Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Chelsea in the Capital One Cup led to familiar doubts resurfacing about Arsenal’s ability to win the big games. But the goals from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey did more than just kill off Liverpool — they destroyed the idea that Arsenal’s early season form will fizzle out like a damp squib. There were fireworks over the night sky in north London, and plenty on the pitch too, none illuminating the evening brighter than Ramsey, who has come such a long way in a short time.
Only three years ago this month the Welsh midfielder was sent out on loan to Nottingham Forest and then his former club Cardiff in a bid to rediscover form and fitness after the horrific leg break he suffered at Stoke in February 2010.
But for most of the following two seasons Ramsey struggled to fulfil the promise he had shown as a teenager, and many of Arsenal’s own supporters wondered whether Wenger was right to keep faith in the youngster.
But there are no doubters now. Ramsey is the player of the season so far, running the show at the Emirates even with the likes of Cazorla and Mesut Ozil in the side.
His superb volley on the hour mark was his tenth goal of the season, and he has the assists and stats to back up his claims to be the best box-to-box midfielder in the league right now.
The key to it all, of course, is confidence, not just individually but as a team, as Ramsey acknowledged.
“You make more right decisions when you play with confidence,” he says.
“I’ve always got in good goalscoring positions but I was bit rash in front of goal. I wasn’t as confident in my finishing which is why I didn’t take as many of those chances. But I’ve got more composure and feel more relaxed in front of goal, and I’m making them count.”
He is also showing what a strong runner he is, covering more than 11km against Liverpool. “I’ve always had a good engine. I did cross country at school and enjoyed the 800m as well.”
It was these attributes that persuaded Wenger to pay Cardiff £5m five years ago, a fraction of the £42m spent on Ozil in August. But the German’s arrival galvanised the Gunners, who are growing in belief according to their manager.
“Once we scored the first goal, we controlled the game,” said Wenger.
“These big games are decided by one or two positions that are not completely there, and today in every single position we had players who could turn out top performances.”
Wenger admitted he did not expect to be doing so well in November after the opening day, when some fans were calling for his head.
“After the Aston Villa game, if I had told you that [Arsenal would be five points clear] I would have to run away because you would have killed me! It shows you that it can change quickly, but that should also alert us that it can go the other way.
“At the moment, 10 games played, you can say 25% of the season, you see the first tendencies and trends, but it’s still not settled. By the end of November you will have a clearer idea. The players believe of course, and every win makes you stronger.”
Brendan Rodgers could not argue with the result, with his striking stars Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge having an off day.
“The best team won, that’s the honest appraisal of the game,” he said.
“I thought we were always in the game because we create chances, and if we could have taken those chances then the scoreline might have been totally different.
“They [Arsenal] are winning the race. These 10 games we’ve all played, people talk about it being early, but you don’t get them back. You don’t get to play them again so you’ve got to claim the points. At the moment we’re on 20 points and they’re on 25.”
ARSENAL 4-2-3-1: Szczesny 6; Sagna 7 Mertesacker 7 Koscielny 7 Gibbs 7; Arteta 8 Ramsey 9; Rosicky 7 Ozil 6 Cazorla 7; Giroud 6.
Subs: Monreal for Rosicky (71), Vermaelen for Gibbs (78).
LIVERPOOL 3-5-2: Mignolet 6; Toure 5 Skrtel 6 Sakho 6; Flanagan 6 Henderson 7 Gerrard 7 Lucas 6 Cissokho 5; Sturridge 6 Suarez 7.
Subs: Coutinho for Cissokho (46), Moses for Flanagan (67).
Referee: Martin Atkinson
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