Arsenal make amends against Liverpool
Gunners into FA Cup quarter-finals but Howard Webb in the dock after denying Reds a second spot-kick
Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (left) celebrates after opening the scoring at Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Gerry Penny/EPA
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez goes to ground after a challenge from Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1
Arsenal are not supposed to win like this. In fact, Arsenal are not supposed to win at all when the prospect of silverware flashes before their eyes. With plenty of big guns cast from the FA Cup, the winner here knew that the chances of glory would soar, particularly as a home tie awaited in the quarter-finals, albeit a tough one against Everton.
Liverpool will wonder how they are out. They were offensively dynamic, creating a host of chances, and if they were awarded one penalty for a foul on Luis Suarez, they could not believe that they were denied another one shortly afterwards. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, one of the Arsenal heroes, crashed into Suarez inside the area and it was a surprise that the referee, Howard Webb, who had an extremely busy afternoon, ignored the Liverpool appeals.
Arsenal got the job done. It was a performance that was characterised by grit and defiance, and it was epitomised by the stand-in goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, who made a string of vital saves. At full-time, Fabianski ran from his goal to slide on his knees in front of the one of the main stands.
Arsene Wenger had rotated his line-up ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 first-leg at home to Bayern Munich and it felt, especially after the 5-1 mauling at Liverpool in the Premier League the previous weekend, that Arsenal were somehow the underdogs.
But they punched their weight and they advanced on the back of two pieces of ruthless finishing from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski. Liverpool laid siege to the Arsenal goal for much of the second-half but, despite the menace of Suárez, they could not bend the tie to their will. For Arsenal, the revenge for Anfield tasted sweet.
Wenger’s team had cut through the mutterings about the strength of their line-up and the opening 10 minutes in which they were second best to forge ahead. The goal owed much to the physical presence of Yaya Sanogo, the full debutant, and a misjudgment from Martin Skrtel, who leapt for and missed Mesut Ozil’s cross from the right. Sanogo got the ball down and shot, firmly. It hit Steven Gerrard and it broke kindly for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who swept past Brad Jones.
The pace of the tie was unrelenting and there was much to admire in the technique on show from the creative players, with the Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling, in particular, a joy to watch with his quick feet and incisive running. There was also old-fashioned niggle with Arsenal looking to leave a mark on their opponents.
Perhaps it was the return of Mathieu Flamini, the club’s all-talking, all-snarling midfielder, or maybe it was Sanogo’s presence. All that the France youth international missed was a pair of boxing gloves. The crowd loved it when he closed down Daniel Agger on 28 minutes to make a blocking challenge. A serious back problem has undermined his first season at Arsenal but he bristled with a determination to make up for lost time. When he was substituted late on, he departed to a great ovation.
Webb showed five yellow cards in the firt-half and he let a couple of other challenges go, including Podolski’s lunge at Jon Flanagan. Podolski had been caught, moments earlier, by Gerrard, who was spared.
The Liverpool captain, though, went into the book for a cynical foul on the impressive Oxlade-Chamberlain as Arsenal broke and had men over. Flamini got his booking for a clumsy follow-through on Gerrard, which was the preface to a few verbals between the pair while Nacho Monreal’s rake on Joe Allen looked painful.
Liverpool had, initially, threatened to reprise the early blitz that they staged at Anfield on the Saturday before last, when they led 4-0 after 20 minutes. Daniel Sturridge had two golden chances inside the opening five minutes, which were laid on by lovely passes from Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho respectively. On the first occasion, Sturridge’s shot was blocked by Fabianski and on the second, he went around the goalkeeper only to shoot into the side netting.
Liverpool looked dangerous throughout, with Suarez showing yet again that it is impossible to keep him quiet. There was one wonderful, counter-attack-sparking pass from him for Sturridge in the first-half, plus a smart low shot that worked Fabianski just before the interval.
He was more prominent in the second-half, beating Laurent Koscielny and forcing Fabianski into another save before Arsenal sprang forward to extend their lead. After Carl Jenkinson had won the ball, Oxlade-Chamberlain swapped passes with Ozil before cutting back for Podolski and his shot beat Jones.
Game over? Hardly. Liverpool merely intensified their efforts and they came to dominate, although Ozil did force Jones into one low save. Suarez and Sturridge had sightings before the tie swung again on the penalty. Podolski’s hack at Suarez was needless and a clear penalty; Gerrard converted without fuss.
Arsenal were fortunate that Webb did not whistle for another one in the 65 minute. After Suarez’s free-kick had been blocked, the Uruguayan sought to work another opening inside the area only for Oxlade-Chamberlain to crash into him. It looked to be another penalty but Webb was unmoved. Moments earlier, Fabianski had left his line to thwart Sturridge, again.
In terms of intensity alone, this was one of the matches of the season at this stadium. Suarez kept going but, when Agger headed wide from a Gerrard free-kick, Liverpool knew that it would not be their day.