Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal: 270 Clean Sheet Minutes and Counting

Two matches into the season, the football press ecstatically hammered home the point that Arsenal were scoreless for 180 minutes. Three matches in, Arsenal have kept three consecutive clean sheets - a feat they have not accomplished in the league since January 2009 (West Ham, Sunderland, Spurs, Fulham). Let's see if anyone mentions that in their match report, eh? For the record, the Gunners kept two in a row on four occasions last season, but could not match what this lot have accomplished in their first three outings.

Admittedly, Vito Mannone's continued place in goal worried me, as I figured that Luis Suarez might capitalize on his inexperience. The back four remained the same despite Laurent Koscielny's return to fitness, while the Lukas Podolski-Santi Cazorla-Olivier Giroud triumvirate started again. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was preferred to Gervinho or Theo Walcott on the right, while Arsene Wenger handed Abou Diaby a chance to make up for his putrid performance last week.

Perhaps the Scousers' strong start was expected in the wake of their mostly-impressive performance against Manchester City. They zipped the ball around the fringes without looking threatening, although referee Howard Webb did show Per Mertesacker a ridiculously-harsh yellow card six minutes in. Replays uncovered yet another risible dive from Suarez, though I find myself strangely at peace with it - there is more than a bit of the scorpion and the frog parable in play here.

Despite the dangerous runs of the youngster Raheem Sterling, Liverpool could not breach Arsenal's ramparts. Thomas Vermaelen was immense in central defense, complementing several key blocks with bombing runs forward. Even his performance was eclipsed by Mertesacker, however. The BFG was a colossus in the penalty area -  he popped up with a key interception, a brilliant tackle, or a saving header whenever we were in trouble. How he gets slagged off by some fans and some corners of the media is mystifying to me - winning 81 caps for your country is one thing if you're Andorran, quite another if you're German.

Speaking of, Koscielny's return presents quite the selection headache for the manager. TV5, as captain, is on the teamsheet in permanent marker. Per is playing out of his mind at present, and Kieran Gibbs is ticking along well enough where you can't shift TV5 out to LB to accommodate him. Think about that for a second - Koscielny was arguably our finest player last season (non-Judas division), and he can't get in the team right now.

Take a wild guess how badly I want to buy Steve Bould a beer right now.

The defense held firm long enough for the rest of the team to grow into the game, and the good guys were duly ahead on the half-hour mark. It started with Steven Gerrard witlessly hammering a promising free kick into the wall, with the Arsenal countering at pace. Gerrard briefly won the ball, but the pressing Gunners seized it back immediately and worked it to Cazorla. His slide-rule pass perfectly caught the overlapping Podolski, whose low finish eluded the leg of Pepe Reina en route to the far corner. The Spanish stopper will be disappointed when he sees the replay, but the German striker will be pleased to open his Arsenal account.

Liverpool's heads did not drop though, and eight minutes later the post came to the visitors' rescue. A badly overhit pass from Gerrard was kept in play by Fabio Borini (his only positive contribution of the day, mind). He hooked a high ball into the area, which Mannone improperly left for his defense to handle. This allowed Sterling to sneak in and smash a hard shot onto the outside of the near post. That was a let-off, but it was also as close as they'd come to scoring.

Conversely, Arsenal should have extended their lead before halftime. Again, Giroud was guilty of an absolutely shocking miss. This is a worrying trend, three games in or not. Diaby - who was absolutely brilliant on the day - won the ball in the center of the park and sashayed past several red-clad defenders. He played a lovely ball in to the Frenchman, who only needed to roll the ball into the corner, across the keeper. Sadly, he blasted a dreadful shot miles wide of the far post. It may still be early days for Giroud, but the longer he goes without scoring, the more he has to prove. It's hard to argue with those who say that other foreign imports, such as Michu at Swansea City, have adjusted in short order. 

That took us to the second half, where the home side had an early penalty shout turned down by Webb. Suarez was in the thick of it again, making a meal of an innocuous challenge from Mertesacker. I have a sneaking suspicion that Webb had a look at the video of the first half incident with those two and realized he was snookered. Needless to say, the Uruguayan didn't get the decision this time. A few minutes later, he had a vicious-looking lash at goal, but it was dead central and easily palmed over the bar by Mannone.

The Scousers now had to commit men forward to get back into the game, and our new signings made them pay in the 68th minute. Cazorla played a one-two with Podolski on the counter. The pass sent him out to seemingly far too acute an angle to score, but the Spaniard had a go anyway. It was low with a ton of pace on it, but honestly Reina should save that all day. It hit the heel of his hand and rebounded into the top of the net. Secretly, Reina has been an absolute shower so far this season, and it paid dividends for us here.

Liverpool hadn't looked like scoring at 1-0, and at 2-0 they were a dead team walking. The fight they had shown either side of halftime dissipated, and the rest of the match was largely comfortable from there. Arsene made a few changes with proceedings under control - Aaron Ramsey on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Andre Santos on for Podolski.

There were a few half-chances left to come - Mannone got down well to block a shot from the substitute Jonjo Shelvey, while Giroud headed over from a corner.  Shelvey had one more effort that was repelled by the diving Mannone, though at a comfortable height and fairly easily saved. I can't speak for my fellow Gooners, but I was not worried at any point, and the four minutes of stoppage time were calmly played out.

All in all, this was a fantastic win and should silence some of the more annoying critics. Look, I think we should have made additional signings at the deadline more than anyone. I was positively apoplectic that we let a talent like Clint Dempsey go to our rivals for a piddling transfer fee without even throwing our hat in the ring. I note for the record that guys like Michu were the types of signings we used to make. However, that does not take away from the fact that we have do have a strong squad in place that will only get better as time goes on. We have navigated two tricky fixtures in the early going, and come away with four points and zero goals conceded.

It is not a bad day to be a Gooner.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 7, Gibbs 7, Vermaelen 8 (Koscielny N/A), Mertesacker 9, Jenkinson 7, Podolski 8 (Santos N/A), Arteta 8, Diaby 8, Cazorla 8, Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Ramsey 7),  Giroud 6.

Man of the Match: There are so many guys deserving of the honor. Arteta kept things ticking in the center of the park and put in a shift defensively, Diaby was absolutely everywhere on both sides of the ball, Vermaelen was fantastic and Podolski had a goal and an assist. For me, though, Per Mertesacker towered over them all. On the types of plays that put us under serious pressure in seasons past, the Big Fucking German was there to calmly intercept, to bravely block, to ferociously tackle. Georgie would have been proud.