Arsenal make most powerful statement so far in Liverpool win
Arsenal’s long-time observers looked at two meetings with Tottenham and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium, and suggested any verdict on the measure of their current progress must wait until those games were played.
The received wisdom was that while the Gunners had looked hugely impressive under manager Mikel Arteta as they went to the top of the Premier League early in the season, a more accurate judgement could be made after those tests.
Now we know the outcome. Two games. Two wins. Arsenal back on top of the Premier League.
As stated after Arsenal over-powered Spurs in a 3-1 win in the north London derby, no-one is suggesting the title could be coming back or they are the finished article. But they have provided serious evidence in the last eight days that they are heading in an upward direction.
Arsenal outplayed a strangely conservative Spurs in relative comfort, but this win over Liverpool showed a different indicator of the growing maturity and development of this side under Arteta.
The outstanding Gabriel Martinelli, whose duel with struggling Trent Alexander-Arnold was flagged up as an area where Arsenal could get joy, won his first battle to score inside the first minute.
Liverpool, who have so often dominated Arsenal in recent years, tested their character by responding with a deserved Darwin Nunez equaliser, levelling again through Roberto Firmino after Bukayo Saka was the beneficiary of more outstanding work by Martinelli on the counter-attack in first-half stoppage time.
Arsenal’s nerve and character has been questioned in this situation in the past, but here they gathered their composure, built momentum and secured their biggest win of the season, making their most powerful statement so far in the process.
The winning goal came 14 minutes from time from what Liverpool felt, with justification, was a soft penalty award when Michael Oliver pointed to the spot following Thiago Alcantara’s challenge on Gabriel Jesus.
Saka was made to wait while arguments continued, but the youngster was calmness itself to drill his spot-kick past Liverpool keeper Alisson.
Arsenal, showing new guile and steel, were able to see out the win without further alarms.
Saka is not the only young gem being polished at Arsenal, with Martinelli the game’s outstanding performer.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp made his admiration for Martinelli clear in the build-up to the game and he was proved painfully correct as the 21-year-old Brazilian tormented his side throughout.
Alexander-Arnold’s half-time removal owed more to an ankle injury sustained challenging Martinelli than the torrid time he had given him, but it was still a miserable first 45 minutes for a player who is totally out of sorts.
Martinelli was a key figure as Arsenal were the more dangerous side after the break and while Liverpool will complain about the penalty that decided the game, and indeed a penalty not given after Gabriel’s first-half handball, the final outcome was just about right.
Arsenal’s celebrations at the final whistle illustrated how important this win was, not just for the three points that put them back above Manchester City but in terms of what it will do for self-belief and confidence at the end of a vital week.
Arteta’s touchline demeanour was frantic in the closing minutes as Arsenal protected their lead, straying yards outside his technical area before being ordered back inside, all while conducting animated debate with the fourth official.
He has experienced defeat too often against Klopp, five losses in 10 games, so the taste of victory was sweet, not just in this game but in the wider context of where Arsenal are heading.
Arsenal have had false dawns in the post-Arsene Wenger transitional era before, losing out on Champions League football to Spurs on the final day of last season after having it all in their own hands being a prime example, but there is a different feel to this.
And it is reflected in the atmosphere inside Emirates Stadium, which has often been toxic and divided in those years. There is now unity, support and noise.
The atmosphere was electric throughout, Arsenal’s fans fuelled by what they are seeing, finally all in with Arteta’s “trust the process” mantra which has been questioned – and even mocked – at various stages since his appointment in December 2019.
Manchester City are overwhelming favourites for a fifth Premier League title in six years despite Arsenal’s current lead – but the Gunners proved once again that they growing optimism around Emirates Stadium is fully justified.