Petr Cech shows his class but Arsenal still need to strengthen

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Arsenal keeper Petr Cech saves from Liverpool striker Christian Benteke
Petr Cech moved to Arsenal from Chelsea for £10m

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers claimed victory for either side at Arsenal would deliver an early psychological advantage in the battle for places in and around the top of the Premier League.

In a thriller at the Emirates that belied its goalless scoreline, Arsenal and Liverpool traded blows from first whistle to last without either being able to land the decisive shot to put down a marker against a close rival.

How the scoreline remained blank was a mystery amid madcap defending, brilliant goalkeeping, rattled woodwork and two halves divided between Liverpool's supremacy for the first 45 minutes and Arsenal's recovery after the break.

It was hugely entertaining - if flawed - fare and left plenty for Rodgers and his Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger to pore over after a frenetic 90 minutes.

Redemption time for Petr Cech

Petr Cech's save
Petr Cech's 39th minute point-blank save from Christian Benteke was the pick of the saves he made

Petr Cech's £10m arrival from Chelsea ticked every box for Wenger. He solved a goalkeeping problem by luring a world-class goalkeeper away from a clearly reluctant Jose Mourinho as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich showed his softer side by rewarding Cech for his service, and loyalty when replaced by Thibaut Courtois last season, by allowing him to join a rival.

It seemed the perfect signing for Arsenal - and then West Ham United happened.

Cech was at fault for both goals in Arsenal's shock home defeat in their opening game, misjudging a free-kick as Cheikhou Kouyate scored, then going down too slowly when Mauro Zarate added a second.

The rush to suggest Arsenal may have erred in signing Cech was as unedifying as it was hasty - and this high-quality keeper and model professional put matters right in a game that contained 34 shots and no goals.

Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech on Sky Sports
"When you start with a new club and everything goes wrong, you need to bounce back and this is what I tried to do.
"Today was one those games where I was in the right place at the right times and helped the team overcome a difficult moment in the first half."

From the opening seconds the old command was on show and it needed to be, making a stunning save from Liverpool striker Christian Benteke when he seemed certain to score, then showing great elasticity at 33 to turn Philippe Coutinho's shot on to the post.

Cech's handling was sure and he gave an air of reassurance to a vulnerable defence robbed of first-choice central pairing Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny through illness and injury.

This was exactly what Wenger brought Cech to do - give reassurance, experience and quality when Arsenal are under the cosh, make the big saves when needed. The errors of West Ham seemed an age away.

Cech made eight saves in all, only the fourth time he has made eight or more stops in his Premier League career.

It was said he would save Arsenal 10 points a season with his mere presence alone when he signed. It is fair to say he delivered the first two of that tally on Monday.

Liverpool exorcise another ghost

Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho
Philippe Coutinho twice hit the woodwork against Arsenal

When Liverpool's season went into sharp decline in April, one of the starting points was a 4-1 thrashing at Arsenal, where they were completely outclassed by an Alexis Sanchez-inspired Gunners.

The campaign ended with the Merseysiders conceding a half-dozen in the league for the first time in 52 years when they were thrashed 6-1 at Stoke City.

Liverpool's fans vented their fury at manager Rodgers and his players at the Britannia Stadium and there was even speculation the manager would lose his job before an end of season review saw him receive continued support from owners Fenway Sports Group.

The Stoke humiliation was avenged with a 1-0 win on the opening day of this season and it was a much improved Liverpool that took one point and could have had three from Arsenal on Monday night. Quite a difference in a matter of months.

Rodgers will have been pleased at how his reshaped Liverpool side have adapted to the new season, with seven points from three games and an equally pleasing statistic of three clean sheets.

Liverpool striker Christian Benteke
Christian Benteke may not have scored against Arsenal but he has allowed Liverpool to take a more direct approach

It is early days but there is cause for cautious optimism in a side that is now more direct thanks to the presence of £32.5m striker Christian Benteke, while still sticking to their manager's passing principles.

Liverpool's possession figure of 34% was the lowest under Rodgers in the Premier League but it did not stop them creating a host of chances, especially in the first half.

Arsenal were hit on the counter attack with pace with Benteke as the spearhead and Coutinho acting as both creator and marksman, the little Brazilian twice hitting the woodwork.

Liverpool are a team in transition, getting used to life without their iconic former captain Steven Gerrard, but if they want to lay their hands on a sign of progress these two improved results at Stoke City and Arsenal are a good starting point.

Wenger must strengthen Arsenal

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger says Arsenal's start to the season has been "very average"

It is the old refrain from Arsenal fans as they urge Wenger to go the extra mile in the transfer market. And it is easy to understand their frustration.

After a fine end to last season that saw Arsenal ensure Champions League qualification again and retain the FA Cup by taking Aston Villa to the cleaners with a 4-0 win at Wembley saw optimism levels rise to their highest for years.

And why not as Wenger made what many saw as the signing of the summer in Cech? There was, however, surely the need for more. The platform was in place and the time was ideal to add the crucial building blocks.

A start to the season even the eternal optimist Wenger describes as "very average" points up the need to strengthen the squad in key areas - but will he meet the wishes of the fans?

Olivier Giroud is a good striker but the suspicion remains he is just short of the highest class, especially against the close rivals Arsenal will need to eclipse if they are to challenge for the title.

Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud had five shots on goal against Liverpool with two on target (in green), two blocked (in yellow) and one off target (in red)
Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud had five shots on goal against Liverpool with two on target (in green), two blocked (in yellow) and one off target (in red)

Arsenal desperately need a class striker to deliver power and goals, not only to aid Giroud but offer another focal point for the more diminutive Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Danny Welbeck is on his way back from injury but he has never been a prolific goalscorer.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema, long linked with Arsenal, has made it plain he is staying at the Bernabeu so Wenger's options are limited but he will face criticism if he fails to address this one and his side fall short of goals.

Paris St-Germain's Edinson Cavani is another possibility and a powerful midfield man would not go amiss to take some of the load off youngster Francis Coquelin, who will be charged with a very heavy responsibility this season as things stand.

So will Wenger move in the market?

He was not showing huge enthusiasm for doing so after the Liverpool game - but those Arsenal fans who are starting to despair already will hope for a repeat of the business that saw him pluck Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid for £42.4m on deadline day two years ago.

If he does not and Arsenal falter, then those voices of criticism will get louder.

Goalkeepers' union

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