Liv-ing for retribution
The last time Arsenal faced Liverpool at home in the FA Cup was during the historic 2001/02 double season. Having lost the previous year's final to the scousers thanks to a combination of an inspired Michael Owen and an unpunished Stephane Henchoz handball, Dennis Bergkamp's glancing header meant the Gunners were able to gain a measure of 'revenge' as they won the fourth round tie. Following the trouncing at Anfield just eight days before this latest encounter, there was once again talk of 'getting our own back' and Arsene Wenger's side duly delivered with a hard fought 2-1 victory at the Emirates.
While this talk of vengeance makes great copy, what was far more important about this result was the fact that the team was able to respond with a crucial victory – just at the point when one was just starting to suspect that last week's defeat was set to derail any serious challenge for honours. A view that appeared to carry some weight following the lacklustre showing against United on Wednesday. However the Arsenal team of this season has shown itself to be far better at coping with setbacks than they might have been in previous years and this win is a sign on the continued progress they seem to be making. The hope is that this victory will galvanise the team moving forward.
One in the Chamber
The TV broadcasters awarded the man of the match award to Alex whose involvement in both goals ultimately secured the victory. Having been on hand to fire in the rebound to open the scoring, it was the Ox's darting run down the wing that led to him feeding Lukas Podolski for the all important second. Yet it wasn't simply these moments that earned him the post match plaudits and accolades. In the first half, was the beating heart of the Arsenal team and rarely stopped running. So much so, he quite easily managed to give Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard something of a run around. One imagines Oxlade-Chamberlain would be looking to the stellar career of the Liverpool man as something to emulate and on the evidence of this performance, he is certainly heading in the right direction. Now seemingly back to full fitness and picking up form, the Ox could well play a vital role in red and white for the remainder of this campaign and beyond.
Following my impassioned despair at his continued exclusion, it was nice to see Lukas Podolski back in the starting line up. His goal and all round contribution to the victory just seems to reinforce the clamour from many quarters to see in the team more often. In the first half in particular, Podolski was often the outlet in attacking moves and seemed in sync with his German compatriot Mesut Özil as Arsenal attempted to try and get a foothold. His movement and link up play helped open up the game in ways that were certainly lacking in midweek. With Podolski in the side – as well as the abovementioned – there is always somebody willing to make runs rather than allowing the team to fall into trap of pointless sideways passing that doesn't necessarily go anywhere.
Podolski's directness coupled with his finishing ability were both vital assets on the day. Not many players in the current side would have been willing to make that late run into the box to get on the end of Oxlade-Chamberlain's pass. The goal was just reward for his endeavour. Hopefully this will not merely prove to be another cameo he gets more opportunities to show exactly what we all know he is capable of.
I'll ignore the concession of the penalty. Striker's tackle and all that...
Ya da Man!
Also coming into the side for this game was the much maligned Yaya Sanogo. The young Frenchman has been the conductor that has drawn the ire of Arsenal fans following the manager's refusal to sign the top class centre forward that will undoubtedly lift us to greater heights. The 21 year old was, for a long time last summer, Arsenal's only recruit and given the fact he immediately found himself sidelined with injury, hearing his name alone would trigger feelings rage from frustrated Gooners – not so much based on his ability (the majority had never seen him play), but rather the fact he seemed to represent a lack of meaningful ambition.
The announcement he would be starting this tie didn't exactly inspire confidence. Here was a kid with very little experience thrown in at the deep end by the manager. Even the most optimistic of supporters would have been apprehensive and questioned whether this was the right scenario to be 'testing' a new player and whether he would be able to handle the pressure.
As it turned it, we were pleasantly surprised as the former Auxerre man had a relatively decent game. Rather than showing any fear and buckling under pressure, Sanogo was brave and commited and went some way to changing the minds of the many that doubt his worth as an Arsenal player. He even managed to get an “assist” as it was his blocked shot that Chamberlain was able to pounce on for the opening goal.
That said, the reaction to his performance has been a little over the top. His first touch leaves a lot to be desired and the frequency with which blindly and wildly swings at the ball (often missing it completely) suggests there is great deal of work needed as far as his technique is concerned. But his effort cannot be faulted. Sanogo was keen to get involved with the play as well as put himself about causing problems for the Liverpool backline. I tweeted with glee during the game that he “isn't a pussy” and provides something of a “battering ram” presence that has been lacking in the Arsenal forward line for some time. He is, in football speak, a handful for defenders who don't know what he's going to do next... probably because he doesn't either.
In all likelihood, he isn't going to be the second coming of Thierry Henry but with the right development, he could well provide a useful option as a third choice striker next season and beyond when we (hopefully) bring someone in up front over the summer.
RÖze from the Ashes
The indifferent form/performances of the team recently have seen many turn their guns of criticism toward record signing Mesut Özil and take aim. Following the disastrous display at Anfield, the German bore the brunt of the criticism as if he was at fault for everything that went wrong on the day. While, by his exceptional standards, he had a poor game, the reaction was beyond extreme. It was as if everybody with a laptop had agreed to lay the blame squarely at his door and question his application, commitment and even ability. Reading much of what was written, you would think there was an agreed consensus that he was somehow letting the team down at present.
The problem with jumping on bandwagons unfortunately is that with so many others up on there with you, it's hard to get off before you slam head-on into a brick wall. Those who were so hasty to write him off could well be feeling a little silly as Özil went some way to returning to form playing what was to be a key role in securing the win. The former Madrid man had a major say in both goals, firstly taking the free kick that picked out Sanogo for the opener before making the perfectly weighted pass for Chamberlain to set up Podolski. That neither of these contributions will be recognised in the statistical analysis of the goals makes a mockery of how an “assist” is defined.
As a footballer, Özil is a player whose best work often goes unnoticed. Simply saying he hasn't scored or got an “assist” is a far too simplistic interpretation of his game. While he has stuttered of late, one bad game or even a handful of them don't really provide a reason to be concerned. As one of the best players in the world currently, he's never going to be too far off producing something that will ultimately benefit the team.
It was admittedly a far more nervy encounter than we would have liked. I would like to say the win was built on solid defensive foundations but I'd be lying. Given that Liverpool were only able to score from a spot kick would suggest I am being harsh but on the whole, I felt the defending was often panicky, desperate and far from secure. This was evidenced by the number of shots they were allowed to get away and had they been as clinical as last weekend, I dread to think what the outcome of this match would have been. Oxlade-Chamberlain may have received all the praise at the other end, but for many, the true man of the match was the Arsenal goalkeeper on the day Lukas Fabianski who pulled off a string of vital saves, punches and catches to keep Luis Suarez et al at bay. Despite being second choice, the *other* Pole in the goal stepped in to perform admirably.
In his error-strewn early appearances back in 2009 (Liverpool away, Chelsea in the Cup semi) and 2010 (Porto away, Blackburn away, Wigan away) when he was quite literally, and regularly, throwing the ball into his own net, 'Flappy-hand-ski' looked less like a keeper than he did somebody randomly plucked from the crowd to play in goal because nobody else was available. Since then, he has come on leaps and bounds and following his brief run in the first team last season, now looks both competent and confident between the sticks. In a perfect world, he is a more than adequate Arsenal number 2 keeper but such is his newfound poise and determination, it looks as though he is ready to flee the nest at the end of the season and make a name for himself as first choice elsewhere. I'm sure I'm not the only one wishing him all the best.
Webb of lies?
Fabianki and Arsenal were only denied a clean sheet through a Steven Gerrard penalty following Podolski's clumsy kick at Suarez – which of course the Uruguayan needed little invitation to go down under. Moments later, things could have been much worse as the Ox booted the Liverpool striker so high up in the air, his teeth would have dominated the skyline for any Islington residents looking out their windows at that particular moment. For some inexplicable reason, Howard Webb chose not to award the visitors a second spot kick and Arsenal survived.
One of the most tedious things about watching football is the victim complex of supporters. Webb made a huge mistake not awarding the penalty but seeing the Liverpool fans moan about “conspiracies” after the match was both ludicrous and laughable. Webb was generally awful for both teams on the day. How Gerrard wasn't sent off is anybody's guess. However, the fact we did get a big decision go our way might want to make certain Arsenal fans stop constantly complaining about “bias” when we don't get one lest you want sound like whining scousers.
As I always say, if you really believe the authorities are in some way 'against' you, then why do you even bother watching the sport?
Toff tie ahead
Bizarrely, the draw for the quarter finals was made immediately before the match. The winner would be rewarded with a home tie against Everton and they prospect of a local derby would have certainly provided a huge incentive for Liverpool to beat us. Thankfully, we were able to overcome and it will be instead Arsenal facing the Toffees. While the draw might have been kinder, you have to fancy us at home against anyone. Especially having seen off Liverpool and Spurs so far in this year's competition. That's not to say it will be straightforward. The Blue half of Merseyside put in an impressive performance in the league game earning a well deserved draw so we know exactly what we're up against. However, if we are to talk about incentives, a semi final trip to Wembley and a potential first FA Cup Final since 2005 should be all the motivation needed. This year and this competition provide a real opportunity to end that much talked about trophy drought. The players need to make sure they grab it with both hands.
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