Arsenal are in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
They reached the last eight after a fraught and frantic - yet deeply satisfying - 2-1 win over Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
The home side withstood another early Liverpool onslaught to take the lead through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after 16 minutes. The midfielder set up Lukas Podolski for a second just after the break but Steven Gerrard’s penalty reduced the deficit on the hour.
In the latter stages, this boiled up into a great cup tie. Both sides battered each other with attacks. Arsenal’s incisiveness was crucial but so was the handling of Lukasz Fabianski. Liverpool showed why they are one of the form teams in the Premier League but Wenger’s much-changed side matched them for urgency and took their chances.
Everton await in the next round but, just as importantly, Arsenal kicked-off a crucial week with a stirring and hugely welcome victory.
SETTING THE SCENE
Arsène Wenger had been coy about the level of rotation in his team at his pre-match press conference. In the end he made seven changes.
Only the midfielders – Mikel Arteta and Mesut Ozil – plus the regular two centre backs – Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny – retained their places from the midweek draw with Manchester United.
The incoming were Fabianski, Carl Jenkinson, Nacho Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski. Mathieu Flamini was back after suspension while Yaya Sanogo made his debut up front.
Liverpool made three changes from the midweek win at Fulham that had thrust them back into the title race. However the attacking quartet that had caused Arsenal so many problems at Anfield last Saturday were present.
That 5-1 win at Anfield last week had been based on a lightning start and early goals.
Liverpool tried to repeat the trick this afternoon with Daniel Sturridge going close twice in the opening minutes.
First Gerrard’s vision played him through but Fabianski saved well. Then he darted past the keeper but found the sidenetting from a tight angle.
It was a nervy start from Arsenal but, gradually, they settled and worked their way forward.
Then, in the 16th minute, they took the lead.
Ozil floated the ball to the far post where Sanogo controlled the ball and unleashed a venomous goal-bound shot. It hit Gerrard and rebounded out for Oxlade-Chamberlain to tuck home a shot from close range.
Liverpool tried to respond but their early incisiveness had deserted them. And, of course, there was Arsenal’s miserly make-up at home. As we reached the half-hour, the home side notched up 11 hours of football without conceding at Emirates Stadium.
Having seen off Liverpool’s early offensive and taken the lead, Arsenal began to gain confidence. That, combined with their dogged energy, kept Liverpool at range.
The visitors edged the latter stages of the first half but did not test Fabianski except when the Pole had to save shaprly from a Luis Suarez cross-shot a few minutes from time.
The Uruguayan striker had been relatively quiet in the opening 45 minutes. But he might have equalised straight after the restart when he found space on the right of the area and forced a fine save from Fabianski with his legs.
It would prove to be a crucial moment as seconds later, Arsenal extended their lead. Oxlade-Chamberlain roared down to the right and cut the ball back perfectly for Podolski to hammer home his sixth goal of the season.
Liverpool were already chasing the game but the second goal demanded an increase in pace.
Suarez fired over and then Fabianski clung on to a fierce Sturridge drive. Inbetween Brad Jones made a fine low stop from Ozil’s angled shot.
Liverpool were pouring forward but they needed a route back into the game quickly. They received one just before the hour when referee Howard Webb adjudged Podolski’s clip on Suarez sufficient to send the Liverpool striker over. Gerrard dispatched the penalty.
It was the first goal Arsenal had conceded at Emirates in 695 minutes.
Sturridge would have ruined the statistic seconds later but for a superb intervention by Fabianksi, who swiped the ball away from the striker’s legs as he burst through.
Five minutes later, Liverpool had decent claims for a penalty when Oxlade-Chamberlain ran into Suarez.
It was turning into a wonderful cup tie; full of pace, passion and incident. Neither midfield had much control, it was end-to-end football.
In the 71st minute, Arsenal spurned a glorious chance when Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross was cleared to substitute Santi Cazorla on the edge of the area. The Spaniard was in ample space but snatched at the opportunity and smashed his effort high over the bar.
Four minutes from time, Daniel Agger beat Fabianski to Gerrard’s free-kick. Fortunately for Arsenal, he steered his header wide.
It was the last chance for the visitors. Arsenal played out time with something to spare.
This gutsy, gritty victory says much about Wenger’s side this season.
Referee: Howard Webb
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