By Tony Attwood
Sitting in the stadium last night ruminating over the first half, my friends and I in the upper east stand were of one opinion: Arsenal were playing brilliantly. We were matching Liverpool man for man with Martinelli in particular having moved up yet one more level. We were running out of superlatives.
We also knew that prior to the game Mr Arteta had suggested that Arsenal were still a long way behind Liverpool, and of course by the end of the match we were forced to agree we were some distance short of them, but still the feeling was that the distance we had travelled from those opening defeats followed by those 1-0 wins over Norwich and Burnley, was quite extraordinary.
Liverpool however last night had the means to go on to another level, and we lost. But the record still shows a dozen league games in which we have lost to Manchester City and Liverpool, drawn with Burnley and won the other nine. And that is something we should not lose sight of. Arsenal are not at the level of Manchester City and Liverpool yet, but considering the condemnation and abuse the club took at the end of August, we should be focussing on that achievement, not on last night’s defeat.
And we can do that not just because of the brilliant run Arsenal have been on, because this is the youngest team in the league and a team that was defensively rebuilt from scratch last summer.
In fact to see how good a run Arsenal gave Liverpool, we only had to look across the pitch, from our vantage point in the front row, at the Liverpool bench to see just how excitable and frustrated Klopp appeared to be with his hand waving and movement up and down, because Arsenal really did dominate. And the game stayed close until a little way into the second half when Ødegaard didn’t score, when he could have done. There was just a feeling we were not going to get too many more chances like that.
The difference in fact was that Liverpool were a team built to completion, while Arsenal are still playing with the final touches to a very young squad. But as we watch Martinelli bewitch everyone time and again last night it was clear that there is so much more to come from this team.
And perhaps we should continue to remember that Martinelli was the player that Manchester United thought was not good enough for their august ranks. For not only is he phenomenally talented, he kept on going on and on, no matter what.
Indeed sometimes as teams approach the Champions League there is a widespread feeling that to survive even the group stages they will need to buy, buy and buy again. Yet here, with this team, I don’t get that feeling at all. They are developing and maturing and in that regard, desperately disappointing as last night’s defeat was, this looks like a team that is going to have some great fun in league and cup next season.
What we have seen are two defeats since early December, one to Liverpool and one to Manchester City, but in both we have witnessed a young team full of vigour and at times the ability to outmanoeuvre the opposition. Yes we lost, and of course I know we are not there yet, but Liverpool and Manchester City are not sailing away out of sight.
I felt there were star players all over that team last night – but also I thought as a team Arsenal worked. With 48% of possession and more goal attempts than they had, we were not pushed aside, nor did we hide, and let us not forget Liverpool were also forced to start fouling to keep Arsenal under control – something Arsenal were not tempted to do.
Defeats, especially home defeats, are troubling and worrying. But a quick look at the league table shows that from a season in which the media were talking of the worst start ever, and of “being left behind” and all that stuff, we are achieving beyond anything that the pundits could have expected in those early days.
There are very few teams who could have withstood the sort of assault we delivered in the first half last night and we will not be playing either Liverpool or Manchester City again this season.
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