[dropcap]A[/dropcap]rsenal made it nine consecutive home wins in the Premier League with a 4-1 victory over Liverpool yesterday, which all but ensures that the victors will play Champions League football next term, while the losers will not.
The Gunners still may have thoughts of an unlikely title triumph and for the time being move into second place behind leaders Chelsea.
The Reds meanwhile know that they will need a minor miracle to finish in the top four after back-to-back defeats against rivals have all-but derailed their season.
Here are five key observations from the game.
Liverpool guilty of overplaying
Although it took until the half-hour mark for Héctor Bellerín to open the scoring, Liverpool rode their luck in the early exchanges and were guilty of overplaying the ball.
Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen and Kolo Touré all looked questionable in possession, with Brendan Rodgers’ men giving their opponents the impetus to attack with careless play.
Only Simon Mignolet’s heroics kept the Merseysiders in the game after a frenetic first 15 minutes, while Liverpool’s constant insistence on trying to play from the back was maintained all game.
The number of overhit or misplaced back-passes to the Belgian goalkeeper will also have been a real concern.
Ozil looks lethargic, but shows class
The Germany international’s mindset did not seem right, with his languid style easily being misinterpreted for laziness.
However, after striking home an inch-perfect free-kick to double Arsenal’s lead, Özil came into the game much more and showed some superlative touches on the ball.
His disappointment at being withdrawn in the second half was evident, but the signs are there that the ex-Real Madrid man can be the star the Gunners expected when they parted company with a club record transfer fee last summer.
Henderson’s presence missed in central midfield
With Lucas and Allen certainly not getting to grips with the midfield battle in the first half, Jordan Henderson’s presence at right wing-back was something of a mystery.
Although Liverpool lack an established option in this position due to Jordon Ibe’s injury and a lack of confidence in Glen Johnson, playing Lazar Marković in the wide role was still an option.
Henderson has shown time and again that he is willing to play out of position if it is for the good of the team, but taking him out of the centre of midfield weakened Liverpool as a whole.
Switching to a back four and putting the England international in his normal position at half time saw the Reds take more of a grip of proceedings; despite not getting fully back into the game, Henderson played a much more prominent role in the second half and Liverpool were stronger as a result.
Arsenal’s finishing ruthless
Perhaps the defining moment of the game came with the score at 0-0, as Marković was bearing down on the Arsenal goal and tried to pick out Raheem Sterling – only to overhit his pass and waste a glorious opportunity.
This failure to score was thoroughly punished by Arsenal, who showed their opponents the importance of taking your chances with a number of clinical finishes to win the game.
Olivier Giroud’s strike, despite coming when the game was over as a contest, made it six games in a row that the Frenchman has hit the back of the net, while Alexis Sánchez’s thunderbolt was unstoppable.
Coutinho nullified, Liverpool thwarted
Although the likes of Sterling and Daniel Sturridge gain much of the credit for a usually dangerous Liverpool attack, Philippe Coutinho is the undoubted star man in the final third for the Reds.
The Brazil international pulls all the strings when the Merseysiders have the ball and has the range of passing to unleash his fellow attackers.
With Francis Coquelin putting in another diligent and disciplined performance in front of the Gunners’ back four, Coutinho was not afforded much time on the ball and struggled to get to grips with the contest.
As such, Liverpool did not look like their usual potent selves when they were on the front foot.
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