Last season Liverpool launched their title challenge on the back of blistering first half displays, but the tables were turned this weekend as they were given a dose of revenge in the form of a rampant Arsenal early show. It was the first time Liverpool had been 3-0 down in the Premier League at half time since 1994, and Arsenal produced a contained defensive second half performance to prevent any Istanbul style heroics.
A defining feature of the first period was how confident The Gunners appeared, they started with a swagger and verve which often goes missing in the biggest ties. Relentless pressing high up the pitch from Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey resulted in nervy wayward passing from the Liverpool backline, but two fantastic stops from Mignolet kept the Arsenal tide at bay. This allowed a brief respite from the wave of pressure, but bar an over-hit pass from Lazar Markovic to play in Sterling, Arsenal restricted Liverpool to shots from distance.
Then came the goals. For the first, young Hector Bellerin cut inside to slot home on his weaker foot, before a sublime free kick from Mesut Ozil and a thunderbolt from Alexis Sanchez rounded off a fine half for the home side.
In the second half, Liverpool did manage to pull one back through a Jordan Henderson penalty, after a rash challenge from Bellerin. But the penalty was only one of two shots on target by the travelling side. More Liverpool misery followed when Emre Can lashed out to earn his first red card for Liverpool, before Olivier Giroud capped the win off in style with a composed finish to put the gloss on a win which served as revenge for last seasons 5-1 defeat at Anfield.
Hector Bellerin put the home side in front with his second Arsenal goal.
Much was made of Arsenal’s failure to turn up when it really mattered last year, conceding 20 goals in 6 games against their top four rivals. And over the last few seasons there have been many false dawns for The Gunners, one big win against major opposition which displayed there was potential, 3-0 against AC Milan, 2-0 in Bayern Munich and the 5-3 at Chelsea all spring to mind. But usually those results have proved an anomaly before reality came crashing back down with further heavy defeats in high profile ties.These same questions were understandably asked after the 3-0 defeat against Monaco, and the win over Manchester City looked to be the anomaly once again. However a win in the return fixture in France, another at Old Trafford and of course today’s result appear to show otherwise, so what exactly has changed?
The difference this year certainly appears to be a mentality shift, at 3-0 Arsenal didn’t pour forward recklessly leaving the defence exposed as they have done in years gone by, instead they brought on Mathieu Flamini to partner Francis Coquelin to see the game out. This more disciplined approach was similar to the game plan in the 2-0 win at the Etihad earlier this season. A switch suddenly seems to have clicked in the mind of Arsene Wenger, that disciplined defending is just as valuable as beautiful attacking football. Old dogs sometimes do learn new tricks.
The result could mean that Arsenal finish the weekend in 2nd, but with Chelsea looking dominant a title challenge this season appears unlikely. But if The Gunners can take this adaptability into next season on the back of a few summer signings then they could achieve big things next year.