THE PREMIER LEAGUE couldn’t have thrown up two more contrasting fixtures on Sunday.
Both draws, yes, but that’s about all these games had in common.
In the early kick off, Arsenal continued their lacklustre start to the season while Liverpool fans will be wondering just what might have been, had it not been for some shocking defensive errors, in the 4pm game.
1. Seeing the word ‘profligate’ in relation to Arsenal has become a bit tedious over the years, but only because it’s been true. A club that has made an art-form out of passing around the opposition goal, only sporadically threatening to breach it, is in even greater bother now that their one truly gifted scorer has headed North.
Granted, there was little to be seen of Olivier Giroud for France during Euro 2012, but his lack of pace and mobility marks him out as another Marouane Chamakh at best, a Stephane Guivarc’h at worst.
As Chamakh knows, the difference between Ligue 1 and the Premier League is vast, and on the evidence of Giroud’s first two games in an Arsenal shirt it won’t be long before the far more direct and threatening Podolski is pushed front and centre.
2. Arsenal, at least, have a genuine superstar in Santi Cazorla. At one point in the first half he must have touched the ball a dozen times inside a minute, teasing and probing the Stoke defence and, more often than not, finding an Arsenal shirt with his passing.
Cazorla’s effectivity has been stymied a bit by the sale of Alex Song but if Wenger makes good on his promise to bring in another ball winner before the close of the window, the Spaniard will become an even greater asset to the North London club.
Song’s loss could also be felt when Arsenal went on the backfoot. Stoke were happy to invite the Gunners on to them for large spells of the game, allowing Messrs Shawcross and Wilkinson to get out their hatchets, but the Potters were effective on the counter attack and almost took a surprise lead through a decent Michael Kightly strike in the first half.
That effort on goal came from the space normally occupied by a player more defensively minded than Mikel Arteta, so a move for Yann M’Vila can’t be far away.
Or shouldn’t, more to the point, as you can never rely on Wenger to follow formula.
3. Liverpool fans have been waiting for Raheem Sterling, ever since the club signed him as a 15-year-old from QPR, and the hype seems justified.
News of his place in the starting line-up saw an excitement brew on Twitter that threw sharp contrast on the indifferent reaction of Liverpool fans to the club’s summer signings, and Sterling justified the hype with a buzzard-like display.
Tenacious, quick and disciplined, Sterling was never irked at rough-house treatment from a disgruntled Kolo Toure. If he allowed Tevez to ghost past him too easily for Yaya Toure’s equaliser, there’s mitigation in his eagerness to cover in the first place.
What the Reds have gained in an exciting young talent, they are still missing up front.
They, quite simply, don’t have a centre-forward. Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini both seem so determined to stay out of each other’s way that they occupy some kind of half space between up top and midfield, often drifting wide into the bargain.
However, the speed of Liverpool’s attacking play, with the parsimonious and excellent Joe Allen at its root, leaves the impression that it’s a problem should be left alone for now and might well fix itself.
4. With time a factor, I had written before City’s second equaliser that the best bit of business Rodgers, arguably, conducted this summer was to tie Martin Skrtel up to a long-term deal.
Moments later, he had a lovely assist for Carlos Tevez. Damn you, gods of deadline!
The Slovakian was both sublime and ridiculous. Giving two cheap goals away will haunt Rodgers and the Liverpool squad, given the strength of such a fluid performance.