Champion signings inspire Arsenal
Remember the date, but remember the goals, their style, their scorers and their significance too. It is not often Arsenal wait until September for their first strike of the season but a belated opener was not simply a statistical oddity. Lukas Podolski's effort was the first goal scored by one of Arsene Wenger's summer signings and the first since Robin van Persie decamped for Manchester United. Santi Cazorla's second sealed a victory to kick-start Arsenal's campaign with class.
Mentions of the departed Dutchman have been a constant and memories are not wiped overnight, but this was evidence there is life after Van Persie. Podolski's pace and Cazorla's quality are highlights of the new-look Arsenal. The addition of a clinical finisher on the left wing, something of a problem position last season, is one improvement; the arrival of a creator-in-chief to operate in the striker's slipstream another. Given Van Persie's brilliant brace at Anfield last season, the Spaniard's virtuoso display came in fitting surroundings.
And while Arsenal waited until September to get a goal, patience is a virtue Wenger often exhibits. He waited a year to get his man. Cazorla, first targeted last summer, was signed 12 months later and has slotted in seamlessly. "Everybody understood very quickly that Cazorla would not take six months to settle," Wenger said. He had impressed from his first silken touch but, importantly, a side who had prospered in possession against Sunderland and Stoke had an end product.
Goals do not just change games; they alter perceptions, seasons even. The suggestions Arsenal lacked ambition have less credence now. Any side constructed around Cazorla, the diminutive maestro, cannot be called mundane. Wenger's obstinacy and his husbandry may frustrate but he is in the black in 2012 and the fans' bête noire, Abou Diaby, provided a belated vindication of his manager's faith with a performance of unexpected excellence. There were hints of Patrick Vieira when the Frenchman strode purposefully from box to box. The failure to recruit Nuri Sahin, who spurned Arsenal for Liverpool, seemed less of a loss as the Turk endured an awkward debut.
The focus on the luminaries leaving the Emirates Stadium rather obscured the £40 million overhaul Wenger has given his side in the final third. Two of his three newcomers combined for the opener, Cazorla angling a pass in behind Glen Johnson for the advancing Podolski to dispatch his shot crisply. "Podolski is deadly when you give him a chance," said his manager. He has 44 goals for Germany and, now, one for Arsenal. Wenger rarely signs the finished article, but few have arrived at Arsenal with greater pedigree.
But it was a pattern that should concern Liverpool as they were carved open on the counter-attack. Ten minutes later, Diaby combined power and finesse with a forceful run and a deft pass. Olivier Giroud, the third of the costly newcomers, should have scored but sent his shot into the Kop. Still, two out of three ain't bad and with Podolski the provider, Cazorla became a scorer.
It was actually an elaborate one-two with the Spaniard evading Jonjo Shelvey before drilling a shot that Pepe Reina fumbled into his own net. The goalkeeper has completed the wrong sort of hat-trick, erring in three successive games, but focusing on his failings ignores the excellent build-up. "We could have done better with the second goal," Brendan Rodgers said.
While the Northern Irishman detected "some good signs", there was much they could have done better. Susceptible to the counter - attack at one end - Arsenal were able to find space behind Johnson - they were also overpowered in midfield, where Sahin and Joe Allen lack Diaby's imposing physique. Their most profitable avenue was the left flank: Raheem Sterling struck the post and capitalised on some rather nervy defending by both Carl Jenkinson and Per Mertesacker. And yet Arsenal have the immaculate defensive record, three games without conceding, and while stand-in goalkeeper Vito Mannone may not inspire confidence, their defiance was epitomised by the terrific Thomas Vermaelen, reacting quickest when he parried Shelvey's shot to deny Steven Gerrard a tap-in.
Rewind twelve months and Wenger's side conceded eight goals in their third game. That was a historic low for them, officially their worst defensive display for 115 years, and, statistically, this is one for Liverpool. On what would have been Bill Shankly's 99th birthday, Liverpool made it their worst start for half a century since the Scot's first year in the top flight. They can take hope from their conquerors' recent past. A year ago, Arsenal were supposedly in crisis, only to be rallied and rescued by Van Persie. Champions League football was his legacy and, in Cazorla, Arsenal have secured a champion signing.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Abou Diaby - Excellent as Cazorla was, Diaby was a revelation. Injuries meant he did not start a single league game last season but he has begun this campaign brilliantly. "He is a tremendous football player," said Wenger. "Now he looks physically in a good shape. There is more to come from him."
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: One regret may be that the definitive Rodgers player was in the visitors' side; Cazorla would suit the manager's style of play perfectly. A more pressing problem is the lack of forward options. No sooner had Stewart Downing been rebranded a left back than he was introduced on the right wing; none of Liverpool's other substitutes can play in the front three. The spearhead, Suarez, appealed for a series of penalties, and had one very plausible claim but, for the second successive Sunday, he and Fabio Borini were both profligate. In goal, Reina's form must be a cause for concern, though there is no plausible alternative.
ARSENAL VERDICT: Excellent. Wenger could, and should, make his side even stronger by bringing the substitute Laurent Koscielny back in, either for Jenkinson or Mertesacker. The giant German began poorly, though he redeemed himself with a superbly-timed challenge to dispossess Sterling in the box. Despite the failure to sign Sahin, Wenger outlined a plethora of midfield options. While not a conventional holding player, Mikel Arteta is playing the holding player with elegant efficiency, allowing the more athletic Diaby to bound forward. Of the three summer signings, only the wasteful Giroud is a worry.