Arsenal extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to five points with goals from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey helping them to a deserved win over third-placed Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium. Having been accused of failing their only tests of the season so far in losing their last two home matches to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, this was a crunch encounter that Arsene Wenger’s side came through with flying colors.
The hosts were the sharper side throughout and there was also a decisive gulf in quality in key areas. While it was Arsenal came into the match under pressure to prove their title credentials, it is Liverpool that emerge with plenty of doubts about whether they can sustain their strong early-season form and lofty league position.
It was an engaging contest throughout, but Liverpool failed to rise to the occasion with few of their side coming out of the match with any great credit and some showing that they just aren’t good enough to be in a title-contending side. After Cazorla had put Arsenal in front midway through the opening period, Liverpool came back strongly with a change of formation after the break. Although Suarez’s movement was superb, the final product was lacking, something which couldn’t be said for Ramsey, who ended Liverpool’s revival with a stunning strike in the 59th minute. There were still some edgy moments late on for Arsenal, but the better team came out on top and now, after second-placed Chelsea also lost earlier in the day, hold a commanding advantage atop the Premier League.
With the floodlights enlightening the early evening gloom in London, the match started with the level of intensity befitting a top of the table duel. There were early openings at both ends, too, with Tomas Rosicky having a shot turned wide for Arsenal, while Jordan Henderson woefully wasted a chance as he burst into the box.
It was Arsenal that gained control of the contest, though, with their work rate off the ball accompanying their better use of it than Liverpool when in possession. Their ascendency translated onto the score sheet in the 19th minute. Aly Cissokho, who was poor in every respect before being hauled off at half time, was at fault in allowing Bacary Sagna to get away from him charging down the right flank. The full-back’s cross wasn’t the best but Cazorla made the most of it with a fine header that came back off the post and, with Liverpool’s defenders statuesque, reacted quickest to slam the ball past Mignolet.
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Arsenal were pushing for a second and both Cazorla and Ramsey forced Mignolet into action. Liverpool, meanwhile, were struggling to make any inroads, with their lethal front two all too often left isolated. When given the chance to break past Arsenal’s initial press, Liverpool’s decision making and passing let them down. The one moment they could look back on with grievance was when referee Martin Atkinson failed to allow play to go on from a quick Suarez free-kick in order that he could book Sagna. The ball ended up in the Arsenal net.
There was need for a change for Liverpool at half-time and Rodgers obliged with a positive one by sending on the returning Philippe Coutinho in place of Cissokho and switching to four at the back. Helped by the alteration in personnel and system, the visitors enjoyed their best spell of the match straight after the break. Three times the superb movement of Suarez got him in behind the Arsenal defense, but Liverpool were unable to capitalize. The best chance came when Suarez’s cross picked out Jordan Henderson but the midfielder blasted poorly over the bar.
With that difficult spell averted, Arsenal began to threaten a second. It really should have been Olivier Giroud that provided it. The man who has flourished this season thanks to Arsenal’s failure to land Suarez in the summer will not look back fondly on shooting wide after Kolo Toure’s slack pass on the edge of his own box put him one-on-one with Mignolet. Minutes later he found the target, but with little power or direction as he stretched onto a low cross.
Fortunately for Giroud, Ramsey was about to ensure that those misses did not prove costly. The Welshman’s reformed confidence this season was in full effect when he received the ball 20 yards from goal and with little on fired a half volley of exemplary technique that sailed beyond the dive of Mignolet.
Given the late goal conceded to Dortmund in the Champions League, Wenger will have some concern that his side were not more composed in seeing the game out. Still, their opponents couldn’t capitalize, with Suarez striking the outside of the post and then curling a shot wide to fittingly end both his and Liverpool’s evening.