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Arsenal and Unai Emery on the up

MAKING HIS POINT: New Arsenal boss Unai Emery

WHEN ARSENAL hosted Liverpool, it was widely accepted that we would get a true barometer reading of how far the Gunners were progressing under Unai Emery. Thirteen games unbeaten in all competitions going into the Saturday evening’s arrival of the Reds, Emery’s side it was said hadn’t really played any side of note.

Arsenal’s winning run may have stalled with the 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace last week end but this post Arsene Wenger Arsenal demonstrated both steel and substance against a Liverpool side who are on track to mount their first genuine Premier League title assault in years.

They showed us that much too, in taking the lead through James Milner after 61 minutes. Sadio Mane’s cross was parried into the danger zone and all the galloping Milner had to do was hit his shot low and on target and it would go in. He did, and Liverpool were in front.

The Emirates stadium however responded with roars of encouragement for Emery’s side. They has witnessed Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lucas Torreira offer genuine chances, while Virgil van Dijk in particular seemed to have made it his mission to take on the Gunners defence single handed.

Bernd Leno looked comfortable with the ball at his feet, so much so, Mane, Robert Firmino and Mohamed Salah didn’t bother to press him high up the pitch. The German saved from Andy Robertson, while the woodwork took care of van Dijk’s header before the break. Leno will accept he needn’t rush off his line, and especially when his defence is in place. Both sides had a goal ruled out for offside, and both Mane and Lacazette could count themselves unfortunate.

Still Arsenal fizzed and surged forward. Only two players featured in the midweek 2-1 Carabao Cup win over Blackpool and it actually looked like Liverpool were tiring in the latter stages of this high octane affair. Perfect time then for Emery to send on Alex Iwobi to replace Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Emery highly rates Iwobi, and the Nigerian is responding with some brilliant performances of late.

As Torreira and Granit Xhaka went about their defensive midfield duties with robust composure, the former should have scored as he slalomed through the Liverpool lines, only to see Alisson parry his shot for a corner.

Xhaka put on a precision sliding tackle on Salah as the Egypt striker surged into the box. Whereas once Xhaka would have conceded a penalty or worse, he demonstrated a ruthless calm which has come from Emery.

The Gunners efforts were duly rewarded eight minutes from full time, when Iwobi picked out Lacazette haring in from the 18 yard line. Alisson came off his line to quickly narrow the angle, but the France striker nipped past him, then turned to rifle into the empty net, using Joe Gomez’ static position as his sighter.

The Emirates erupted and on the touchline, arms aloft, Emery danced a quick step in celebration on his birthday. 47 seven years old, but in a matter of months, the Spaniard has set down his philosophy of what many are terming “EmeryBall.”

A second consecutive point, and the manner in which Arsenal responded to Liverpool’s opener spoke volumes of the progress being made. The fragility is decreasing with every game and Emery is proving to be that new spark which the Gunners needed to re-ignite their game.

Emery said: “I'm happy with our performance and I think today the balance in the 90 minutes is more balanced positively with the control against them, but it’s very difficult to not let them have chances also. We needed a little luck in some moments of the match and also we needed, when we were attacking, to find our goal. It’s the reason that at the end.

“I think 1-1 is a good result for how we did in the 90 minutes after 1-0 when we are losing and it’s the reason we are happy 50 per cent. The second, maybe also we can lose in one moment and in the 90 minutes we could also have won in the balance of the 90 minutes.”

With Arsenal starting with a strong offensive line, Aubameyang, Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette, Jurgen Klopp later joked that he almost expected Robin van Persie and Dennis Bergkamp to be involved.

Klopp said: “It was intense, very intense. It is clear Arsenal are in a very good moment. We made life a bit too easy for them in the first half, formation-wise I was not happy at how compact we were and stuff like that. When we had the ball it was good, we were a threat, we were in behind. The start was like ‘Wow, Arsenal are there’ but then the first attack we had, everyone knew ‘OK, they are not too bad as well!’ It was then a pretty open game. That’s OK. Our set-pieces were outstanding and we should have scored from them; Virgil said immediately after the game he should have had a hat-trick, but he had not even one (goal).

“That’s a shame. Second half we changed formation a bit and it helped us today. We scored a really nice goal, had super counter-attacks, played good football in a lot of moments, but – as they have done a few times already this year – Arsenal brought pretty much all of their strikers (on) - I was actually waiting for Van Persie and Bergkamp! Because first half we were not compact enough, the three in midfield had to do too much and then the one time we don’t close the half-space, they play the ball through and could score the goal. It’s not nice, but of course a point at Arsenal will always be an absolutely good result so we take it. Now let’s carry on.

Emery’s Arsenal are now unbeaten in 14 games in all competitions, and after this draw with Liverpool, the Gunners’ potential for this season will have been upgraded by many.

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