Seeing as any match against heavyweight rivals is considered a ‘Category A’ game – the ticket for the game Vs Liverpool was priced accordingly.
So expensive that selling my kidney on Ebay was considered.
The match was a 1245 kick-off, but more importantly, the match was on a Saturday which is an increasing rarity thanks to the despot antics of TV scheduling. My fellow blogger and @GoonerspherePod cohort @JamesRaulStokes was to be my companion for the day and we attempted to evade the many changes and obstacles that the Underground system had in store for us.
Any matchday is incomplete, a shell of an occasion, without a visit to the finest pie establishment in the land – @PieburyCorner (The Thierry Henry is simply unbeatable ) – and seeing as after a leisurely sojourn on London’s subway system had turned into an arduous trek akin to a desert crawl, nourishment was required. After meeting up with @GreeneBantern – we selected our pastry weapon of choice and proceeded to scoff said crusty treat whilst stood around a refuse receptacle as sitting spaces were rarer than rocking horse fecal matter. The location mattered not a jot when the fare is as delightful as this and with a smile we finished up and proceeded to The Emirates.
The Banternator had to leave us at this point so we parted ways and James and I made our way to The North Bank. The view as the pitch comes into view after scaling the stairs never fails to stem my breathing and this was no different.
The opinion regarding the outcome of this game erred toward the cautious. More than aware of our fantastic recent run, this only increased our chances of downfall as we simply couldn’t maintain this excellent run – could we? It would seem that repeated seasons of mediocrity has dimmed expectation somewhat but most would agree that the result was on a knife edge. Liverpool too had embarked on an impressive surge of form which reignited hopes of a Top 4 finish – but defeat to a Manchester United side had revealed the extensive work Brendan Rodgers has in the summer to iron out the evident deficiencies his side has.
So Liverpool had gotten their blip out of the way, but what about us? The anomaly of the 5-1 hammering we had suffered at the hands of the Scousers last season still lay fresh upon my mind – thanks in no small part to BT Sport constantly reminding everyone about it – but a repeat performance was looking scarcely likely when the teamsheets were announced.
Daniel Sturridge was on the bench, with Rodgers plumping for Sterling as the lone man up top, ably assisted by Lazar Markovic and Phillipe Coutinho. They were looking to expose our Captain Mertesacker’s lack of pace by pinning Sterling on the shoulder of our Huge German.
This would have worked if Per Mertesacker hadn’t marked him tighter than yoga pants on Vanessa Feltz. He gave him noi inch to squirm into and took the ball when he could. It was a faultless performance from a player who has been maligned for his apparent inefficiency when facing players of speed. The perfect riposte to the critique it would seem.
Arsenal made the sort of start which breeds optimism amongst fans. Sanchez was looking vibrant, Giroud was holding the ball up well and Santi was looking to assist them running into the box late. We troubled a rather flustered Mignolet and should have taken the lead but it was cleared. Even after ten minutes, my irksome mind was reminding me of our profligate ways in recent seasons and how it always come back to haunt you when chances go begging. Damn my brain.
Liverpool rode the storm and then created an attack of their own which should have resulted in them taking the lead but rather hilariously, they conspired to mess it up on a grand scale. It was to be an infrequent sniff at our goal.
I had made James promise to recreate the famous dynamic that was Laurent Blanc and Fabian Barthez of World Cup ’98 fame prior to the game if we won the game. I believed my latest tattoo to hold good fortune and inferred this to my learned friend who blatantly refused until the first goal went in.
Hector Bellerin, who had been having a shaky game defensively – cut in to the box and wrapped his youthful foot around the ball which whipped past Mignolet and gave us a 1-0 lead. Cue James laying a smacker on my tattoo on my arm. It is now officially good luck and will hopefully be recognised by the National Trust if my petition and application go to plan.
Wild celebrations ensued. Voices strained with joy. Once the din had abated, the usual worry of immediate backlash reared its fugly head. We needn’t have worried as we earned a free-kick about 25yards from goal which Mesut Ozil – who like Bellerin wasn’t having his greatest hour – proceeded to place nonchalantly but to great effect, past a sprawling Belgian.
2-0 and both goals were excellent. Fantastic technique and skill from Ozil and Bellerin showing the composure of a veteran winger but also with the added bonus of it being his weaker foot. James and I marvelled at both goals and we sat back, contented with going in at the break two goals up but the Arsenal hadn’t stopped giving yet.
The third goal swept away any lingering doubts and niggling worries regarding conceding just before Half-Time as Sanchez, who once more was looking to take on all 11 players and their spouses, families and pets before scoring, collected a pass and nipped the ball away from a tightly pressing Kolo Toure before absolutely leathering the ball in from 20 yards, high above Mignolet. It was a fantastic goal which showcased desire when we reclaimed possession through our pressing and harrying but also that Sanchez was returning to form. His touch which bamboozled Toure must be watched on loop.
Half time arrived and respite for the beleaguered Scouse players and fans – who I must add were rather on the quiet side. James and I were in delighted shock. It was so rare to witness a game where our full range of skills and play would come to fruition – much less when you consider the calibre of the opposition. We had pressed, we had set up with our game plan which was superior to Rodgers’ team and our star players were on song. We had zipped the ball around with pace and looked dangerous with every attack. It was fantastic and something that will stay with me. The potential this team has is frightening.
The second half began with Daniel Sturridge taking the field as Brendan Rodgers hastily reassemble his team to avoid the gaping holes his wards had created. It mattered little. Despite Liverpool having the majority of the possession for the first twenty minutes, it amounted to little as our defence held firm. Coquelin once again was having a brilliant game and seems now to have eked out the rash facet of his game which could have been a major flaw. He looked assured and hunted any threatening build-up until he vanquished it. A stunning display from a player who was playing in the Championship only three months ago.
Gabriel replaced Koscielny on 49 minutes which prompted the highest levels of anxiety amongst Gooners all game. Gsbriel, despite the language barrier, showed that he isn’t averse to the more industrial side of defending as he sealed off any avenues in which Liverpool could run. A great display.
Not content with being an understudy during the game – Gunners-Botherer Anthony Taylor started to become more embroiled in the game. Niggly fouls on our players went unheeded whilst sporadic bouts of lying on our turf from Liverpool players brought unwarranted set-pieces. The crowd, including my own vociferous outbursts, began to turn on the referee. He then gave a penalty for Jordan Henderson to scuff past an unlucky David Ospina which did the match official no favours in regards to fan opinion within the stadia.
This display couldn’t be capped off with a Liverpool goal though. Such was the efficiency of our gameplan and the flow of our play that there was only one way to end the game. Olivier Giroud – recipient of March’s Player of the Month Award – chested down a ball to a teammate and ran his handsome legs off toward the box. He received the ball back with interest just outside the box, sidestepped a challenge and buried a shot past a hapless Mignolet. Beating his chest and touching our beloved crest after kneesliding toward the North Bank where we were sat – it was just what he deserved for the work he had put in. Scoring against big teams, carrying an aerial threat, long range strikes – Olivier Giroud is exhibiting why he must be considered to be among the brightest of striking lights in the Premiership.
By now, my voice had gone as well as James’s. Just before the Giroud spectacular we had the added delight of a deserved sending-off of Emre Can so Anthony Taylor does know the rules of the game after all, but it was a negligible sidenote on what was a powerhouse display. The final whistle blew and Liverpool had been schooled. Much better though – last seasons match had been exorcised. With this victory, we had sent out a message that we are fully assembled and mean to march on. What a fantastic advertisement for the Arsenal way.
We left the stadium with sore throats but the happiest of memories. The Emirates had stepped up in terms of sheer noise and begged the question as to why we cannot maintain such a thunderous atmosphere. Despite the exorbitant cost of spectating the game, we had been privy to four goals of the highest order and also a reasserting of the ranking of Premiership powers. Happy days? It was much better than that. Throughout the side we have strength. This doesn’t mean we don’t need to strengthen in the summer, for there is still players to sell and areas we need to concentrate on – but this display wasn’t down to Brendan Rodgers’s tactical failings. It was down to the faith shown in players by Arsene Wenger and a blooming of potential flowering with regularity.
Even Anthony Taylor couldn’t ruin our day.