This is the story of how Liverpool’s £52.1million midfield overwhelmed Arsenal’s £84.5million worth of talent in the middle of the park. First, how the Reds swarmed the Gunners in that first 20, glorious minutes, before showing their aptness in shutting the game down in the second 45.
Man-of-the-match Raheem Sterling, now also hugely-tipped contender for a seat on England’s plane to Brazil in the summer, was somewhat surprisingly deployed by Brendan Rodgers on the left-flank. Unlike how I predicted pre-game, Sterling was used to pin Bacary Sagna back, and expose Per Mertasacker’s severe lack of pace by running into the channel between right-back and right centre-back.
This worked a treat as both of Sterling’s goals came from him running into space in that channel. Sagna advanced too high in the build up to Sterling’s first goal, which meant the Frenchman could not track back in time to prevent the Englishman from tapping in Luis Suarez’s pinpoint cross. This was much akin to Daniel Sturridge’s first goal in the derby, where Everton right-back John Stones was caught too high up the pitch to cover for Phil Jagielka. Sterling’s second was when he beat Arsenal’s offside trap, leaving Mertasacker needing a miracle to catch the speedy winger.
Having cost £600k from Queens Park Rangers, Sterling has definitely blossomed since making his debut last season. And though Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain look one of two Arsenal midfielders trying to make a difference, winning the penalty that led to the Gunners’ consolation goal, Sterling simply outshone the £12million former Southampton prodigy.
The Real Contender To Gerrard’s Crown.
As ever in a big game, homegrown skipper and icon Steven Gerrard duly delivered in his new deep lying role. When defending, he was mostly seen in between the two centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure, but such was Gerrard’s commitment and drive saw many tackles and blocks fly in, though enthusiasm overflowed to an extent that saw him concede a needless penalty. And I have not even mentioned his vital contribution, those two set-piece deliveries that led to Skrtel’s two goals. To be fair, Arsenal anchorman Mikel Arteta had a solid game, but he simply did not provide enough protection to the back four such that Philipp Coutinho had so much space to pull the strings and thread the passes. This just shows how much a step up academy star Gerrard is over the former Evertonian, who cost Arsene Wenger £10million.
Jordan Henderson arrived with a huge price tag over his head, £20million to be exact. This season, he has improved considerably and consistently performed at a high level. Recently his performances has dropped off a little, but against Arsenal, he was back to his imperial best. Chasing and harrying every lost cause, it was his pressure and dispossession of Mesut Ozil near the halfway line that led to Liverpool’s third. He never allowed the Arsenal record-signing time on the ball, and even made a few of what is becoming his trademark forward runs beyond the striker. Arsenal academy graduate Jack Wilshere was arguably the Gunners’ best player on what was an otherwise disastrous day, but Henderson outplayed and outperformed the man many in English football sees as their ‘saviour’.
Work-Rate As Important As Creative Talent
Since being moved into the middle, not in his favoured position behind the striker, but slightly deeper alongside the other midfielders, Coutinho has showed he is not just another twinkle toe Brazilian playmaker. Along with Chelsea’s Oscar and Willian, Coutinho is amongst a new breed of Brazilian technicians who combine their creativity and skill on the ball with hard work and immense work rate. In this game, he showed his tigerish nature, and positioned himself well enough to intercept Arsenal’s passes, none more so when he caught Ozil’s pass before instantly springing Sturridge away for Liverpool’s fourth. Compared with Arsenal’s £42.5million record signing Ozil, Coutinho looked much greater value for money.
And then lastly, a converted right winger/midfielder for the day, Suarez showed how adaptable he is when he combined supremely well with Sturridge, as Liverpool tried to overload Nacho Monreal on Arsenal’s left-hand side. Suarez could have scored with a superb volley, or an audacious free-kick that had Wojciech Szczesny at full stretch. The Uruguayan maestro will be disappointed he did not add to the scoreline, but his work rate and crazy ability on the ball will surely give Monreal a week or two worth of nightmares. The final midfielder who started for Arsenal that day was Santi Cazorla, and he had little impact, constantly being stopped by either Liverpool full-back. Suarez’s £22.5million price tag continues to look like the bargain of the century, while Cazorla at £20million, still looks like a good buy.
The Arsenal game just proved that you don’t always need really expensive purchases, as long as you can get your team to play together and in sync with one another, in-tune to your tactics. This game should be another lesson to Rodgers, a positive one though.