Arsenal vs Liverpool match report: Gunners move up to second as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil sparkle for superb Arsenal

Arsenal 4 Liverpool 1: Reds' top-four hopes left dangling by a thread as Hector Bellerin and Olivier Giroud round out scoring

Click to follow
The Independent Football

There are days when Arsène Wenger is consumed by a martyr’s anguish, taunted by the ignorance of the fickle and the faithless. This was his compensation, the crystallisation of his vision of football as a fusion of art and science, intelligence and application.

Arsenal’s seventh successive victory confirmed Liverpool’s exile from the top four, and left Brendan Rodgers clinging to the lifeboat of the FA Cup. The most he can hope for is revenge at Wembley, assuming both sides justify the bookmakers’ odds and reach the final on May 30.

Three sumptuous goals in nine first-half minutes gave Arsenal the platform to move into second place. Their first title in 11 years remains an unsustainable flight of fancy, but they no longer exude the vulnerability of spring lambs.

Wenger spoke of “a great day,” embroidered by a coruscating performance by Mesut Özil, but effectively conceded their ambition of becoming champions was unsustainable once they won only two of their opening eight games: “We missed important players at the start of the season, when we dropped too many points. We have the quality to find ourselves at the top, but that needs us to be perfect and for Chelsea not to be perfect.”

He studiously avoided the most obvious mantrap, of confirming his interest in Raheem Sterling, by artfully highlighting the attacking strength on his bench. Danny Welbeck made a vibrant cameo appearance. “We are not in a transfer period,” he observed.

Emre-Can2.jpg
Emre Can was booked early in the second half

Sterling’s most telling contribution was to win a penalty converted by Jordan Henderson. Rodgers did not shy away from exposing the curse of agent-driven intrigue.

He favoured paternal understanding, praising Sterling’s contribution and distancing him from the distasteful opportunism of modern transfer sagas. He defused emotion while reinforcing his authority, and hinted at Mario Balotelli’s lack of commitment by revealing the Italian spared himself the chore of being a secondary substitute by ruling himself out with an indistinct knee injury.

For the neutral, the football was a blessed relief. The backcloth of synthetic emotions and sly protestations of loyalty was ripped asunder by a game of speed, intensity and technical skill applied at pace.

Hector-Bellerin.jpg

The moral question framed by a long red and white banner which read “£5bn and what do we get? £64 a ticket” will eventually require an answer, but this was undoubtedly Premier League gold. 

Arsenal passed quickly, and Wenger praised their “killer instinct” but took care to highlight the quality of their combination play in the final third. They allowed Liverpool back into the game for a 15-minute spell in the first half, leaving large pockets of space which invited exploitation, but had few alarms.

This is a squad which is capable of much more; significantly they would have trailed but for Lazar Markovic’s fearful, overhit squared pass, which Sterling missed with an empty goal gaping. Liverpool’s only other genuine chance, squandered when Sterling dragged a shot wide, lent credence to suggestions he remains an incomplete player.

Mesut-Ozil4.jpg

The back stories of Arsenal’s goalscorers hint at the breadth of Wenger’s philosophy. Liverpool’s defending was neurotic, but the manner in which they conceded was not entirely down to their fallibility.

Hector Bellerin, who opened the scoring after 36 minutes, has surprised Wenger with his progress, but is the perfect example of organic growth. Recruited from La Masia at 16, he has developed so impressively that he is even being spoken of as a realistic replacement for Dani Alves at Barcelona.

The Spaniard was almost abashed by his impudence in sweeping past Alberto Moreno, who was too square on and obsessed with keeping his arms by his side to avoid the risk of handball. He shifted the ball on to his left foot, and scored past Simon Mignolet’s right hand.

Alexis-Sanchez.jpg
Sanchez celebrates for Arsenal

Özil’s left-footed free kick two minutes later, set out wide before it arced into the side panel of the net, was so well struck he was running away in celebration while the ball was still in the air.

The standing ovation he received when, physically spent, he was eventually substituted signalled overdue acceptance from a demanding crowd, which expects value from the £42m invested on their behalf. He was outstanding, creative and diligent.

Wenger stressed: “He is always class. He is agile, flexible, and the intelligence and timing of his passes is exceptional. People love to play with him. ”

Alexis Sanchez remains the darling of the Emirates, however, a player of unremitting intensity, compelling physicality and endearing optimism. His 20th goal of the season, the perfect completion of a flowing move which started on halfway, was one for the ages.

Henderson-penalty.jpg
Henderson's penalty just beat Ospina

His first touch inside Kolo Touré was sublime, and the ball stood up perfectly for him to strike it through the sweet spot. His rising drive was past Mignolet before the goalkeeper could even flinch. The game demanded and duly received a suitable exclamation point, when Olivier Giroud scored his 12th goal in 13 games with a majestic sweep of his left foot.

By that time Liverpool’s season was further complicated by Emre Can’s second yellow card, a lamentable lunge at Welbeck. He misses Wednesday’s Cup replay at Blackburn. Life for Rodgers gets no easier, but for Wenger it is almost redemptive.  

Olivier-Giroud2.jpg
Olivier Giroud scores Arsenal's fourth goal against Liverpool

Arsenal: (4-2-3-1) Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny (Gabriel, 48), Monreal; Coquelin, Ramsey (Flamini, 61); Özil (Welbeck, 73), Cazorla, Sanchez; Giroud

Liverpool: (3-4-3) Mignolet; Can, Toure, Sakho; Henderson, Allen, Lucas, Moreno; Markovic (Sturridge, 46), Sterling, Coutinho.

Referee: Anthony Taylor.

Man of the match: Özil (Arsenal).

Match rating: 8/10.

Comments