LONDON: Too often, in the last few years, Arsenal fans have greeted the referee’s final whistle with whistles and boos and an murmuring undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the manager Arsene Wenger and his team. On Saturday everything had changed. Instead of jeers from a rapidly emptying stadium there was a standing ovation from around the ground.
The 2-0 win over a revived Liverpool encouraged Gunners to maintain hope that, after eight years without a trophy, this season will be different.
Liverpool launched a spirited assault on Wojciech Szczesny’s goal in the closing stages but, by then, goals from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey had put the outcome beyond dispute. Victory kept them established at the top of the Premier League and reinforced morale ahead of the Champions League return against Borussia Dortmund and a Premier visit to champions Manchester United.
Arsenal began with purpose. There was an early opportunity for Tomas Rosicky before Bacary Sagna crossed, Cazorla headed against a post and then put away the rebound. The crowd, tense after home defeats by Dortmund and by Chelsea in the League Cup, began go relax and enjoy the duel.
Not that it was easy. Per Mertesacker had to be as solid as ever to lead the resistance to the counter-attacking threat of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge who had claimed 10 goals in their previous five starts together. Sagna was booked for tripping Suarez and Sturridge mistimed a left-foot shot.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers introduced more creativity for the second half in the shape of Philippe Coutinho. To no avail. Instead Wales midfielder Ramsey, enjoying his finest season yet, struck his sixth goal of the campaign to inflict a second league defeat of term on Liverpool and extend Arsenal’s lead at the top.
Here was proof that Arsenal are not Mesut Ozil and 10 others. Ramsey was man of the match and, while Ozil played well enough, Cazorla played a more decisive role.
Not that Wenger was concerned about individuals, only the team.
“It was important to respond to convince people that we can win these big games,” he said. “To win it in a convincing way is even more important. Had we not won people would say Arsenal cannot win the big games at home. But it was done in a convincing way. Our defensive performance was outstanding.
“We live in a world where we have to be questioned and the only response we can give is on the football pitch.”