After resting many regulars, Arsene Wenger knew he’d be castigated if Arsenal had lost this dramatic cup tie, but lady luck smiled on him after a difficult week as his side made the most of their chances to book a quarter final tie with Everton.
Liverpool started fast last week at Anfield when they went 2-0 up inside 10 minutes. Well they almost equalled that today, but Sturridge missed two one on ones as Liverpool carved open the Arsenal defence with worrying ease early on. Thankfully the England striker overindulged and allowed Fabianski to block the first before sending the second into the side netting. Two huge let offs with only five minutes gone.
To their credit Arsenal recovered well and took the lead when Sanogo’s blocked shot fell kindly for the Ox to shoot past Brad Jones on 16 minutes.
That goal lifted the players and Arsenal played with more purpose, shaking off the shackles of their humiliation last Saturday. They still weren’t creating much, but at least they were able to stop their opponents getting through them so often. Indeed the only other notable chance of the half at either end came when Suarez hit a speculative volley which the alert Fabianski pushed away.
The second period began with Liverpool on the offensive once more and Fabianski made his fourth brilliant save of the match when he kicked away Suarez’s effort after the Uruguayan had wriggled clear. If Liverpool counted themselves unfortunate to still be behind they would’ve been in despair a few moments later when the Ox raced clear down the right and pulled back a perfect pass for Podolski to sweep home. 2-0 up on 47 minutes and a modicum of revenge looked on the cards.
Liverpool didn’t give up though and Gerrard converted a penalty after Podolski’s clumsy challenge on Suarez. It was great to see the German tracking back and helping out, but his tackling makes Paul Scholes look like Bobby Moore.
With just a one goal deficit Brendan Rogers went for broke and brought on Henderson for Cissokho, switching Sterling to right back. The result was a frenetic half hour of end to end football as Liverpool surged forward and we tried to hit them on the counter. Unfortunately, without much pace in our side we rarely threatened to increase our lead, although we still managed a couple of good chances — Ozil was denied by a great save and Cazorla volleyed wastefully over when well placed.
In truth Liverpool were the ones looking more likely and Fabianski saved yet another Sturridge one on one. Our hopes of going through were now pinned on the solidity of Koscielny, Mertesacker and Fabianski to keep the lead intact and all three were having excellent games.
Then we got help from an unexpected source when Howard Webb ignored a blatant foul by the Ox on Suarez inside the area. Sure, the goofy one gave his usual anguished expression and fell to the ground clutching his knee as he over dramatised the situation, but it was as clear a penalty as you’ll see this season and fortunately for us the incident came soon after the first spot kick and so Webb bottled it.
That decision seemed to deflate Liverpool and we were looking comfortable as the game headed into the final stages. Webb then made another terrible decision as he failed to show Gerrard an obvious second yellow card for a lunge on the Ox, and I was seething as Gerrard stood over a free kick five minutes from time which he shouldn’t have been on the pitch to take. His delivery was perfect, Fabianski made his only error of his game as he came for and missed the cross, but thankfully Agger’s free header drifted just wide and the match was ours.
Wenger, the fans and Monreal show their relief at the final whistle
There weren’t many great individual performances for us, it was definitely a team win and the solidarity and determination was visible for all to see as the players hugged and celebrated at the final whistle. However, I want to make special mention of a couple of players.
Firstly, the much maligned Fabianski. I have been very critical of him for a number of years and today showed why (bear with me here!) He made five excellent saves and was our Man of the Match, but then there has never been a question over his shot stopping — his achilles heel is his decision making. While opposing strikers are peppering our goal I am comfortable with him between the sticks. But a floated cross or a through ball which he has to decide whether to come for or stay at home is his undoing and so it proved today. That late flap at Gerrard’s free kick should’ve resulted in a goal and today’s match summed up Fabianski perfectly — capable of brilliance, but just as likely to undo all his work with an ill-advised rush from his line. I think he can do what Mannone has done and go on to become a first choice keeper at a lower Premier League club, but he isn’t and never will be good enough for our first team.
Secondly, Yaya Sanogo. His first start was quite impressive and he shows a lot of promise. I already prefer him to Bendtner and the young Frenchman reminds me very much of Adebayor — tall, slim, fast yet not blistering and with good aerial ability. His chest trap and shot that led to the Ox’s opener were excellent and showed composure, technique and confidence — many strikers would’ve just tried to get their head on it. It is far, far too early to be making predictions about him, but that was a good first impression and if we’re lucky Wenger may well have found another rough gem to polish up.
However, whilst I’m praising Wenger’s eye for talent, let me criticise him in the same breath. Every top European club should have four strikers and Sanogo should be a third or fourth choice striker — a young, hungry guy with bags of potential who can be played every now and then in games with little or no pressure while he learns the game and adapts to the Premier League. But we are so light up front that it looks like he’s Giroud’s back up already (Bendtner was nowhere to be seen and Podolski was stuck on the wing again). Is Sanogo ready to step up and lead the line in a crucial match should Giroud get injured/suspended? Not likely. Bottom line — we should have a world class striker as our number one choice, Giroud as his back up and then Sanogo. It’s great to see a promising young talent, but not in place of a proven striker whilst £120m sits untouched in the Emirates vault. Sort it out in the summer Arsene, no more excuses.
Anyway, it was crucial to win today to restore some confidence ahead of the Bayern Munich clash and our players worked hard to achieve it. Yes, Liverpool were unlucky — they had 57% of the possession, 15 shots to our 8, should’ve had another penalty and found Fabianski in inspired form. But the result is the most important thing in cup football and we got it today.
However, based on our previous few performances we’ll have to be twice as lucky just to hold off a vastly superior Munich side in midweek and I am far from confident. It’s not often you’ll give a team as many clear sights of goal as we did today and not be punished. Any chance we can get Webb to officiate on Wednesday?
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