By Andy Sixsmith
Cast your minds back a week. Doom and gloom reigned supreme on the red half of north London.
A second successive 0-0 draw, albeit at a difficult ground like the Britannia, continued Arsenal’s stuttering start to the new season and life without Robin van Persie.
Fast forward seven days. Another Sunday, another tricky away game. But an altogether different result and reaction.
Arsenal’s 2-0 win against Liverpool at Anfield restored confidence among Arsenal fans and there appears to be a quietly whispered belief that the club could be in the mix for honours at the end of the season.
The manner of the win was stylish, the performance as solid as it was effervescent and the individual displays combined impressively to strengthen the team as a whole.
So often criticised for their lackadaisical and error-strewn defence, the Arsenal backline were a model of concentration, composure and discipline, with new captain Thomas Vermaelen leading the team with a vocal and committed display.
Alongside him, Per Mertesacker looked as if he’d put his debut season problems firmly behind him, shackling the dangerous Luis Suarez comfortably in tandem with Vermaelen. Young full-backs Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson improved after a nervous start and contributed as much defensively as they did in the offensive third in this now seemingly well-oiled Arsenal machine.
It is midfield however that should give Arsenal fans cause for optimism. Gone are luminaries such as Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Alex Song. In have come Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla, but the Spanish pair can walk away from Anfield knowing their performances were exemplary.
Arteta has evidently been requested to play a deeper, more defensive role following the departure of Song and the former Everton man appears to have taken to the challenge with ease - his composure in possession pleasingly unaffected by the demands of his new duties.
New import Cazorla was at the hub of everything creative for the Gunners. Having already slipped in fellow new-boy Lukas Podolski to give Arsenal the lead, Cazorla’s mesmeric close control and seemingly effortless ability to glide past opposition players led to him slotting in the game’s decisive second to put the result beyond doubt.
A mention must be made of Abou Diaby who, after several injury ravaged seasons, was an impressive midfield presence throughout; breaking up Liverpool attacks and producing powerful, driving runs to put his team on the front foot. His form and fitness could prove crucial to Arsenal’s chances of silverware this season.
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Despite Podolski and Cazorla getting off the mark for the Gunners, it was to be another blank day for the club’s third summer signing, Olivier Giroud.
The man many have earmarked as Van Persie’s replacement had attracted somewhat unjustified criticism following missed chances against Sunderland and Stoke, but his first-half miss against Liverpool, which followed Diaby’s glorious through ball, was as untimely as it was rushed.
A ready-made replacement for a player of the talent of Van Persie, Giroud is not. But Arsenal fans would do well to remember a certain Thierry Henry, so profligate in his early Gunners days, yet so lethal after an initial, blank adjustment period.
Giroud should be judged on his overall play rather than scoring statistics in these early appearances. His touch was certainly a little heavy as he adjusts to the speed and intensity of the Premier League, but his work rate was good, his movement off the ball decisive and his hold-up play important in ensuring Arsenal had a focal point in their attack.
The Frenchman has not settled in as quickly as fellow new recruits Podolski and Cazorla but there is a sense that his first goal for the club will bring about the confidence he so currently clearly lacks.
As for Arsenal, the club head into an unwelcome international break in high spirits after an excellent all-round display. Injuries and a settled starting eleven will prove crucial to their season's aspirations.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger know full well what they have and lost in the form of Robin van Persie, and there will be greater tests on the horizon, but their Anfield display indicates enough promise to dispel the early season doom and gloom of a week ago.
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