Arsenal 4 (Bellerin 37, Ozil 40, Sanchez 45, Giroud 90) – Liverpool 1 (Henderson 76 (pen))
Man of the Match – Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
About 14 months ago, Liverpool made complete mockery of Arsenal’s then position at the top of the league, by thumping a beleaguered Gunners side 5-1 on a cloudy afternoon at Anfield. Liverpool, at the time, were slowly rising as real contenders for the title. A season without European football had left their team fresh, and with a strike force of the explosive Uruguyan Luis Suarez and in-form Daniel Sturridge, supported ably by youngster Raheem Sterling, Liverpool were demolishing teams in the final few months of the season.
Of course, it would all end in agony, as a costly slip from iconic captain Steven Gerrard, handed Chelsea a 2-0 win at Anfield, which would eventually end Liverpool’s chances, as Manchester City clinched the title. But, Liverpool seemed unstoppable at some point. Fast forward a year, and how things have changed. Liverpool hesitantly sold off Luis Suarez to Barcelona for a whopping £75 million, and have replaced him with a series of flops. They signed Southampton duo Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana for a combined £29 million, midfielder Emre Can from Bayer Leverkusen for £10 million, Serbian winger Lazar Markovic from Benfica for £20 million, Belgian striker Divock Origi from Lille for £10 million (he was loaned back), left-back Alberto Moreno for £12 million from Sevilla, and finally Mario Balotelli from AC Milan for £16 million.
The biggest disappointment probably has been Balotelli, who has scored a meagre 4 goals all season, 1 in the league, the winner in a 3-2 win over Sp*rs. To be fair, the Reds have fallen considerably after the highs of last season. Liverpool had a mixed March, starting off with a fine 2-1 over Manchester City, and followed it up with successive wins over Burnley and Swansea, with a 0-0 draw against Blackburn in the FA Cup sandwiched in between. The ended the month with a 2-1 loss at home to eternal rivals Manchester United.
Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil returned to the first team, with Wojciech Szczesny missing out through a rib injury, which gave a place on the bench for rookie keeper Matt Macey. Liverpool were missing both Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel, both serving 3 match suspensions for their actions in the feisty clash with Manchester United. Former Arsenal defender Kolo Toure started.
Arsenal got off to a brisk start, creating the first opportunity, after just 30 seconds, Alexis shot going wide. Santi Cazorla then tested Belgian international keeper Simon Mignolet, but he was up to the challenge. Arsenal created a chance of real danger in the 5th minute, when Aaron Ramsey was put through, but his weak left-footed effort struck the post, and Liverpool managed to clear the danger before Cazorla could pounce upon the loose ball.
Arsenal’s brisk start was slowly being nullified, as Liverpool slowly drifted into the game, but Arsenal still seemed to have the upper hand. Up until, the Reds created a chance of real danger. Markovic got in behind Arsenal’s defence, and his cross was too heavy for Sterling to tap it in. He could have taken the chance himself, as he had only Ospina to beat.
Brazilian midfielder Coutinho’s shot went narrowly wide, with Ospina stretching, and Sterling nearly capitalized on a mispass from Cazorla, as he could only find the side netting. Liverpool managed to create another chance, when Sterling found Henderson, who had to beat the keeper, but the cross had too much weight in it. When it looked like Liverpool were getting the upper hand, Arsenal scored.
It began when Ozil played in Ramsey on the right, who played it to the speedy Bellerin. The young Spaniard raced into the box, easily rode a challenge and neatly tucked home a curling left footed finish past a stunned Liverpool defence. It was a brilliant finish for a young right-back, playing in his first full season.
And, before Liverpool could recover, Arsenal had begun their rampage. Mesut Ozil was fouled by centre-back Mamadou Sakho right outside the box. The German took the free kick, and he curled the ball expertly into the far corner, the side which Mignolet was positioned.
By now, Arsenal were on fire, and Liverpool struggling to douse that very fire. Bellerin played in Ramsey, who took the ball from a roving defender, played in Alexis, who stepped inside of Kolo Toure way too easily, to smash one past Mignolet, to score his 20th goal of the season. It was a whirlwind finish to the half from Arsenal, and Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers bought on Daniel Sturridge for the ineffective Lazar Markovic.
Arsenal made a change early in the second half, Gabriel Paulista coming in for Laurent Koscielny, who had to go off with a groin problem. Arsenal began the second half with the same verve as they had ended up the first. Ramsey and Cazorla combined to set up Giroud, who tested Mignolet. And Mignolet denied Arsenal their 4th goal in the 55th minute, when an Ozil cross was dangerously heading towards the goal.
David Ospina had to be alert, too. A shot from Emre Can threatened to go in, but the Colombian was equal to it. Arsene Wenger decided to bring off Aaron Ramsey for the defensive minded Mathieu Flamini, as the manager looked to shut shop. This gave Liverpool more space to exploit, and Coutinho’s shot dragged just wide, as Arsenal looked non-committal.
Emre Can shot over the post, as Liverpool enjoyed possession, but didn’t really make use of it. Danny Welbeck came in for Mesut Ozil in the 74th minute, and 2 minutes later, Liverpool were awarded a penalty when Hector Bellerin, who had managed to keep Raheem Sterling quiet all afternoon, bought the England man down in the penalty box with a rash challenge. Jordan Henderson stepped up and scored, despite Ospina getting a hand on it.
Welbeck forced Mignolet into a save, before he was fouled rashly by Emre Can, and the Liverpool midfielder was sent off for his second yellow card. Giroud then had a chance to connect to a volley, but Kolo Toure managed to avert the danger for Liverpool. Cazorla struck the post, having been set up by the trio of Alexis, Welbeck and Nacho Monreal.
When it seemed like the game would end at 3-1, Arsenal scored yet again, in injury time. Alexis played in Giroud, who had Welbeck and Cazorla for support, but decided to go for it himself, cutting inside and unleashing a shot past Mignolet, to make it 4-1.
A fine with that strengthens Arsenal’s position in the top 4, and a 7th consecutive win in the league. Good omens for FA Cup success, surely.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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