After Manchester City exacted their revenge on Chelsea for inflicting upon them their first defeat at home in the league all season it was Arsenal’s chance for payback and to amend themselves after their hammering at the hands of Liverpool at Anfield.
Liverpool were lighting quick to get on the score sheet in the league clash a week ago and they almost repeated themselves as Steven Gerrard slipped Daniel Sturridge through on goal with a sublimely weighted ball but the in-form forward could only direct his shot straight at Lukasz Fabianski. Sturridge went close again a few moments later as the England international recieved a clever pass from Luis Suarez but could only fire into the side netting after rounding the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Arsenal were slow to get going in the game but there were signs of life as the half wore on, especially from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who linked well with the youthful Yaya Sanogo but a heavy touch by the winger gifted possession back to Liverpool. As the game opened up Brad Jones was forced to tip a looping header over the bar from Per Mertesacker. Jon Flanagan was guilty of a clumsy challenge on Nacho Monreal to give Arsenal a free-kick in a dangerous area and the away side could only header the initial ball back out to Mesut Ozil whose chipped cross was well controlled by Sanogo and his blocked shot fell kindly to Oxlade-Chamberlain who lashed the ball into the back of the net.
The goal came against the run of play but acted as a catalyst for the Gunners who seemed to be that much quicker and sharper, willing to press Liverpool higher up the pitch and stop them from picking out the dangerous passes that had bothered the Arsenal back-line early in the half. The game grew in intensity as both teams were giving it all, neither side willing to back out of a challenge which led to a string of cautions by referee Howard Webb who was lenient towars Raheem Sterling as the fledgling winger placed hands upon the official after being annoyed at a decision to award a goal-kick instead of a corner. Webb called skipper Gerrard over to clam the youngster down who was lucky not have been put in the book.
Suarez was quiet in the opening minutes but sprang to life near the end of the half as he fashioned a shot on target from virtually nothing but Fabianski reacted well to get down low and smother the attempt. Arsenal applied some pressure late in the first half and they would have been relieved to go into the break leading against a team who had brushed them aside in the opening twenty minutes a week previous.
Things were to get better for the home side as straight after the break they were to go two up. More good work from Oxlade-Chamberlain as he breezed past Agger to play a ball across the box which was met by Lukas Podolski whose first time shot alluded Jones to give his side some breathing room.
The game opened up after the second goal, Suarez hit a fierce effort over the bar before Jones made an agile stop to deny Mesut Ozil. Goal scorer Podolski was to become the villain as the hour mark approached. The German international clipped the heels of Suarez as he tried to hassle his opponent in his own box. Webb gave himself time to think before awarding a penalty to Liverpool. Up stepped Gerrard who calmly slotted into the corner, sending Fabianski the wrong way. The Polish stopper did much better a few minutes later as he made a inch perfect diving save to clear the ball at the feet of Sturridge as the prolific striker made to round the keeper.
Arsenal looked out of sorts after conceding and they were the benefactors of a contentious decision by Webb as Oxlade-Chamberlain collided with Suarez in the box in what was a clear foul. No penalty given in a scenario that may have been effected by Suarez’s reputation for simulation. Fabianski will have to take a lot of the acclaim as he was fantastic to deny Suarez and Sturridge again and again, helping his side to close out a game that on another day could have been a cricket score.
This match will help to bring the magic back to the FA Cup as it was truly an enthralling encounter. Both teams were willing to put it all on the line and neither was shy about taking the game to the opposition. Arsenal know they still have a long way to go but they will be aware that they have a real chance of breaking their eight year wait for silverware as they prepare to face Bayern Munich in the Champions League, chase the Premier League title and now have an exciting quarter round match up against Everton in the FA Cup. This victory may have a potent effect on the outcome of Arsenal’s trophy hunt both domestically and in Europe as they vanquish the demons of that woeful display at Anfield. Branded a ‘specialist in failure’ by Jose Mourinho in the week, Arsene Wenger will be as desperate as anyone to prove his rival manager wrong by breaking the dry spell and finally lifting a piece of silverware.