You don’t go from a top side to an average one overnight.
Much has been said about Arsenal’s depleted squad, but just think for a moment about RVP’s capability to produce random moments of genius, Arshavin’s 4-goal haul, Walcott’s terrifying run to set up Adebayor. Thomas Vermaelen had a cracking game matching up to the underwhelming Andy Carroll and Wojciech Szczesny will clearly be a top-class goalkeeper (and there will come a time when I won’t need to look him up on Wikipedia every time I write about him). The Emirates is not an easy stadium to go to by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, and I almost forgot about Samir Nasri (no, I’m not a closet Gunner).
This was no swashbuckling performance in the class of our 4-0 demolition of Madrid, 4-1 of United and many other breathtakingly ruthless dispatches towards the tail-end of the 08-09 season (yes, here I am again, reliving my Rafa memories). Nor was it a depressing show a la our 0-3 reverse against City last year (we all have our fair share of Woy’s woes). This was somewhere in between. Yet, the result was as ruthless as United’s dismantling of Arsenal’s Invincibles at Old Trafford and as rock-solid and impenetrable as Mourinho’s Chelsea: you also have to add in the Fat Lady’s blessings to complete the whole picture.
Of course, hindsight is always twenty-twenty. I would be singing a different tune had Suarez and Meireles not had enough time to freshen things up from the bench, had Frimpong not been walking a fine line all match, had Miquel’s clearance not ricocheted off Aaron Ramsey. But besides our luck lining up nicely, this was a believably efficient performance.
Without Suarez, there wasn’t much of the pass-and-move football on show in the first half against Sunderland last week, but rather plenty of long balls hauled up to our man mountain (who should start learning how to be less of a mountain and more of a mobile striker). But with Dirk Kuyt running his rainboots off (his immense run to take the ball off…Nasri, was it? was phenomenal) and Lucas destroying plays as destroyers are wont to do, and with Martin Kelly fully justifying Fabio Cappello’s post-match praise, JC and Dagger gobbling up most Arsenal attacks (and the latter making some fine runs of his own), and new-kid-on-the-block Enrique dominating Theo Walcott – we controlled the midfield and were beyond comfortable at the back. Make no mistake: Arsenal didn’t get played off the park at all, but we were good enough, efficient enough.
Even after we managed to get an Emirates-sized monkey off our back, we’re still taking flak from all sides and quarters on how we didn’t tear apart a depleted Arsenal as full-strength United and Chelsea sides oh-so-definitely would. Well, we’re formulating a new side and integrating new signings into our lineups. And without our captain and our erstwhile first-choice right back, we’re not at our full strength yet, either. We won’t go from an average side (over the last couple of seasons, we Liverpool fans have to admit we’ve been average) to a top one overnight. But we’re adding a certain efficiency to our game.
I experienced a new and strange feeling when Martin Atkinson blew the final whistle on Saturday. A strange, anti-climactic feeling at a frankly average attacking display, but a new, refreshing feeling that only comes from winning on the back of a not-so-good performance. At last, it seems we’ve gotten that winning mentality in our systems. Took us long enough.