Sunday, February 16, 2014

Arsenal Get Revenge in the FA Cup: Arsenal 2 - Liverpool 1

Everyone at Arsenal - coaches, players, staff, and fans - had to be at least a bit nervous going into today's FA Cup match against Liverpool, a side that destroyed the Gunners 5-1 in Premier League competition at Anfield one week ago. Since then, Arsenal and Man United tied 0-0 at the Emirates, and questions were rightfully being asked about Arsene Wenger's decision not to buy reinforcements during the January transfer window (despite what was reported this past week as a huge treasure chest), and about the Gunners' prospects for going another season without winning any silverware.

Liverpool couldn't have been expected to replicate the near perfection they achieved in the first half of last Saturday's match, when they came out on fire and were up 4-0 within the first 20 minutes. Nevertheless, Liverpool created the first two good chances of the match, and could easily have been up 2-0 within the first 10 minutes. But a greatly changed Arsenal side, featuring Yaya Sanogo up front replacing Giroud, Mathieu Flamini back from his red card suspension to help Mikel Arteta shore up defensive midfield, Karl Jenkinson replacing Bacary Sagna on the left side of defense, Lukas Podolski replacing the flu-ridden Santi Cazorla, and Lukas Fabianski deputizing for his fellow Pole Wojciech Szczesny in goal, as he usually does in FA Cup matches, eventually got a foothold into the match. They scored the only goal of the first half after about 15 minutes off of a corner kick that eventually found its way to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the center of the goal box. He dispatched the ball first time into the Liverpool goal.

For the rest of the first half, the two sides seemed pretty evenly matched (though Liverpool's fleet forwards continued to threaten an Arsenal defense that, as the half wore one, wisely positioned themselves farther back toward their own goal). Arsenal's fresh players - Sanogo, Podolski, and Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular - impressed; but once again Mesut Ozil seemed out of sorts and unable to make any impression on the contest. The first half ended 1-0 to the Arsenal.

The second half started much like the first, with Liverpool creating good chances. The score would have been tied 1-1 within the first minute of the second period had not Fabianski made an excellent save with his legs from a shot by Suarez. But less than a minute after that, Arsenal doubled their pleasure on a sweeping move that started with Mesut Ozil, who found Oxland-Chamberlain bounding down the right flank. He found Lukas Podolski, who was busting a gut to break into the Liverpool box, with a perfectly weighted pass that Podolski had no trouble putting into the net. Ozil's role in that goal seemed to wake him up a bit. He nearly had Arsenal's third goal several minutes later, hitting a hard low shot from the left side of the Liverpool goal, which goalie Brad Jones did well to get a strong hand to.

In the 59th minute, Lukas Podolski made a poor forward's challenge on Luis Suarez in the penalty box. Steven Gerrard stepped up to take the penalty kick and calmly pulled Liverpool back into the match, down 2-1 with 30 minutes left to play. Arsenal were fortunate not to give up another penalty five minutes later, after Oxlade-Chamberlain clattered into Suarez in the Arsenal penalty box without getting any piece of the ball.

Throughout the last half hour of the match, the tension in the Emirates Stadium was palpable, as Arsenal tried to hold on to their one goal lead. Liverpool created a couple of good chances, including a strong shot from Suarez that flew over the bar. Finally, when the whistle blew to end the game, the Arsenal players and fans could both breathe a big sigh of relief.

Next up for Arsenal in the FA Cup quarterfinals, Everton. But first they have a big Champion's League match at home in mid-week against Bayern Munich, and more tough matches upcoming in the Premier League.

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