Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool: Is there a better team in England?

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This might seem like the hyperbolic tubthumping of the deluded fan, but I’m not sure there’s a better team in England at the moment than Arsenal.

Before you say it, it’s not Chelsea. They might lead the league table, but friends behind enemy lines assure me they’ve played well just once since Christmas. The January signing intended to reinvigorate their tiring team, Juan Cuadrado, is currently looking like the world’s most expensive Gervinho impersonator. They should just have bought this lovely curtain set:

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The game against Jose Mourinho’s men is beginning to feel like our cup final (apart from the actual cup final, of course, which remains very much a possibility). It’s a one-off opportunity to lay down a marker for next season, but more than that it’s an opportunity to make this season infinitely more memorable. You can’t win a trophy every year, but you can ensure you leave behind several glorious results enabling you to lord it over your rivals.

Arsenal finally seem to have got the hang of that, with victories over both Manchester clubs and now Liverpool in 2015. Beating the Anfield side isn’t particularly new, but the emphatic nature of this victory is. Arsenal approached this game with confidence rather than trepidation. That’s a delicious novelty.

I really hope they can do the same against Chelsea. The fact that Arsene Wenger has never beaten Mourinho is both bizarre and embarrassing, and this seems like an ideal opportunity to put it right.

We’re undeniably on a roll. The numbers prove it: we’ve won seven on the spin, Olivier Giroud has 10 in 10, and we’ve just put four past Liverpool.

It can’t be coincidence that the upturn in form has coincided with having a full contingent of outfield players for the first time in years. Shad Forsythe has taken some amusing stick this season, but perhaps we’re finally be seeing the benefit of his inaugural year at the club.

This is now the strongest Arsenal squad in years. It’s not perfect, but there is depth in every department. The fact that Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy, Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby all made a successful return to training during the international break yet were not needed for the bench tells you something about the variety of options at the manager’s disposal. Calum Chambers, who was entirely fit, was not even named in the matchday squad.

Of course, all this positivity comes laced with regret. After leading the league for so long last season and ending the wait for silverware, this should have been the year to mount a serious title-challenge. Unfortunately, our quest for the trophy was over before Autumn was out. Sadly, the emergence of Francis Coquelin and acquisition of Gabriel – both obviously required back in August – came too late to challenge Chelsea.

I’m proud that Arsenal are 2015’s best team, but enormously frustrated that they won’t be 2015’s champions. It was there for the taking.

Quick thoughts on Anfield + Arsecast Extra 47

It feels a bit like those two 4-1 wins never happened. That’s the problem Arsene Wenger has now: patience has worn so thin that each set-back seems to eradicate any goodwill or momentum he has managed to build up.

At the core of most fans’ frustration is the fact that Arsenal conceded a late equaliser to – shock horror – a set-piece. I understand that entirely.

However, my problem with what we saw at Anfield is rather different. I’m not too fussed about the result – I can see that in isolation, a draw at Liverpool could prove to be a valuable point. My concern is the performance: Arsenal were utterly dreadful. A scoreline more akin to the 5-1 we suffered last season would have been far more appropriate than the 2-2 we somehow managed.

Despite a week of rest, Arsenal played with a baffling lack of intensity. As a fan, it’s difficult to get excited about a team who so regularly display such a complete lack of character. We’ve had difficult seasons before, but I can’t remember one that felt quite as uninspiring as this one.

Anyhow. I discuss the game in more depth in my latest SportsLobster blog. Have a read for stuff on Giroud, Mertesacker, set-pieces and more.

Once you’ve had a read of that, do listen to the latest Arsecast Extra with Arseblogger, in which we chat about the Liverpool game and the forthcoming January transfer window. This Arsecast Extra is brought to you by Audible.com – turns out you can get a free audio book download and a 30 day free trial. Click the banner below to sign up or go to audibletrial.com/arsecast.

You can subscribe to the Arsecast Extra on iTunes by clicking here. Or if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do that too. To download this week’s Arsecast Extra directly – click here – 40mb MP3. Thanks to Arseblog as ever for the mighty hosting power.

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If I don’t appear here before then, Merry Christmas you lot. Really appreciate you reading.

 

Looking back at the Hammers, ahead to Hull, and up at Liverpool

The win over West Ham was huge. After being put through the wringer in the semi-final, a physical Allardyce team were hardly the ideal opposition. When we fell behind, the collective intake of breath was almost audible.

However, Lukas Podolski’s instant response settled nerves. Goals from Giroud and Podolski again later settled the game. The German’s record is pretty remarkable. His 10 goals this season have come in about 1197 minutes. That’s roughly 13.3 “games”. The figures aren’t distorted by cup goals either. In the Premier League, he boasts a record of six goals in 9.3 games. He is absolutely lethal.

I understand that he doesn’t quite fit in to our system, but our system is hardly pulling up any trees is it? Podolski’s efficiency in the final third is approaching the point whereby it justifies experimenting with a formation that suits him better. It would be intriguing to see how he would get on in a front two, absolved of a degree of defensive responsibility.

A good week got better when Everton lost to Crystal Palace. As an Arsenal fan, it causes me great pain to credit Tony Pulis with a pretty remarkable job down in South London. A positive result away to Hull will put us firmly in the driving seat as far as fourth place is concerned. With Everton still to face the two Manchester clubs, a four-point lead will feel pretty comfortable.

Never mind a four-point lead over fifth: if Liverpool beat Norwich tomorrow, they’ll open up a five-point advantage over the rest of the Premier League.

I can’t be the only Arsenal fan looking at Liverpool and thinking it ought to have been us. If they do go on to win the title, as looks increasingly likely, it will be confirmation that this league was there for the taking. United, City and Chelsea have all had their problems this season. It was a unique opportunity to snatch the big prize, we were in poll position, and we surrendered it.

Yes, they’ve benefited from a lack of European fixtures. But they’ve also built a truly title-challenging team without the lure and financial boon of the Champions League. We had both of those things at our disposal, and yet we’ve failed to match them.

Yes, we’ve had injuries. But we knew about the problems with both Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott well before the close of the January transfer window, and did nothing.

From the first months of the season, it was clear this season presented a unique opportunity for a dark horse to snatch the league. Arsenal fumbled, and Liverpool seem poised to pick it up. We needed to gamble, but in what would become a recurring theme, we lacked the balls.

It’s like Liverpool have been sent to show us what we ought to have done. They’ve invested ambitiously, fought tooth-and-nail to keep hold of their best players, and played with style and courage.

They also, not too long ago, replaced an ageing legend with an upwardly-mobile young manager. Increasingly, I think Arsenal may have to do the same this summer. Regarding Arsene’s future, it suddenly struck me the other day: have we all missed the obvious?

If Arsene is staying, why hasn’t he signed? He’s had ample opportunity to do so throughout the season. If it was a question of PR timing, surely the optimum time to announce a new deal would have been either side of the Christmas period, when Arsenal topped the table?

I can’t remember when it was now, but after one of his contract renewals Arsene spoke about the importance of offering security and certainty to the team. Surely that would have proved beneficial this season, too. And yet the manager has resisted.

A few years back, he spoke about his intention to quit management before retirement age. He’ll be 65 in October. When Arsene said after the semi-final that the result of the final would have no bearing on his future, I immediately felt his mind was already made up. And then much of the above crystallised in a moment of what felt like clarity.

Bacary Sagna hasn’t signed his new deal, and it’s led many of us to conclude that he’s definitely leaving. Apply the same logic to Arsene, and you can only reach one conclusion.

I’m only speculating, and you’re all entitled to point and laugh when Arsene announces his new deal on Monday morning. I just wonder if our heads have been in the sand all season long, when the obvious has been hammering on the ground desperately trying to get our attention.

Anyway. Hull next. Time to tame the Tigers.