Arsenal and Manchester United emerged as the big victors from the weekend not because of their superior attacking play, but because their forwards were clinical in front of goal. While Liverpool and Tottenham can claim to be unlucky, they only have themselves to blame for failing to take their many chances.
In a number ways, the match that began the weekend’s Premier League play mirrored the clash that capped a remarkable two days of football. Liverpool outplayed Arsenal, especially in the first half, and Tottenham dominated United in the first forty-five, but the Gunners and the Red Devils claimed the points. The failure to finish ultimately doomed Liverpool and Spurs.
Liverpool accomplished a rare feat on Saturday; they had the majority of the possession against Arsene Wenger’s team (54% to 46%). As a former world-class striker, Kenny Dalglish can only be pleased with the manner in which his team bombarded Wojceich Szczesny’s net, but he will be disappointed that none of his forwards could put the ball in the goal. It took an egregious mistake by Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny for Liverpool to finally tally.
And it wasn’t as if the Reds didn’t have plenty of opportunities to score. Arsenal’s back four was as secure as the job of a Chelsea manager. Open space beckoned for Liverpool’s attackers down the flanks, but the crosses came to nothing (save Koscielny’s gaffe). An onlooker could practically hear Kenny Dalglish’s post-match comments as Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt hit the post. The manager would call his side unfortunate, although striking the bar counts as just another miss.
On the other side was Robin van Persie. The Dutchman only needed two shots to score two goals. His winner was a majestic volley, one in which most strikers would blast past the net or completely scuff. It was a half-chance really. Despite all of the headlines, van Persie did not have much of an impact on the flow of the match. He patiently waited for his time to shine.
Whenever the Gunners win in large part due to van Persie’s performance, Arsene Wenger’s side is characterized as a ‘one-man team.’ Usually, this is portrayed negatively. However, a strong case can be made that Arsenal’s attacking army of one is stronger than Liverpool’s forward quartet of Luis Suarez, Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll combined.
In the other huge match of the weekend, Manchester United defeated Tottenham Hotspur thanks to the expert finishing skills of Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side grabbed two goals when Spurs appeared to have the upper hand in the game.
Like Liverpool, Tottenham had the lion’s share of the ball (52% to 48%). Harry Redknapp’s side also had far more shots than United (18 to 6). Ashley Young, in particular, more than neutralized those statistics by scoring two wonderful goals. The first was a lesson in precision and technique. The ball was bouncing and Young only had a sliver of an open net to aim for, but he converted his chance in the same way van Persie had a day earlier. To complete his brace, Young cut inside and curled his strike into the far corner. Aaron Lennon tried a similar move during the match, and, rather predictably, his shot sailed miles over the net.
Jermain Defoe’s late goal proved only to be consolation for Tottenham. After the match, Harry Redknapp felt his team deserved more than a defeat. Both Tottenham and Liverpool performed admirably in the latest “Clash of the Giants” Premier League weekend. However, the strikers for Arsenal and Manchester United put on a display that provided evidence for why efficient goal-scorers are the most expensive and valuable players.
With the victory, Manchester United look destined for another run at the title. The difference this time is that their fiercest competitors for the Premier League title are their cross-town rivals Manchester City. Roberto Mancini’s side have been at the top of the table for months now, but, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team remind us season after season, it’s all down to how you finish.