Missed chances by Liverpool's attackers and Arsenal's choosing to let go of possession helped Wenger's side progress into the quarterfinals...
By Shikharr Chandra
From being thrashed 5-1 a week back to a 2-1 win, Arsenal seem to have found their bearings right just when it mattered.
"You may think Liverpool would be the last team we want to play (after 5-1) but I'd say no it's the first team we want,” Wenger mentioned in his pre-match notes.
The game might have lacked the number of goals but it certainly wasn’t a one-sided affair to the one at Anfield where Arsenal went to sleep. The home side went into this game without their first choice goal keeper and striker as Wenger opted to start new signing Yaya Sanogo upfront as he chose to give Olivier Giroud and Wojciech Szczesny some much needed rest ahead of the crucial Champions League round of 16 match against Bayern Munich.
On the other hand, Liverpool fielded Joe Allen and Brad Jones as the only two notable changes from the last time when the two sides met.
Arsenal, for a change allowed Liverpool to keep the ball and instead relied on hitting them on counterattack. In the second half, Liverpool had close to 70 percent possession.
The presence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski provided the Gunners with ample pace when hitting on the break and Sanogo's strength and hold-up play played a vital role too.
The presence of Mathieu Flamini alongside Mikel Arteta provided some much needed steel in the midfield - something which has been lacking in the Frenchman’s absence who is adept at breaking up opposition’s play.
It must be mentioned that Liverpool had ample opportunities to take the lead. With more than 40 goals between them, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez failed to take their chances despite having 14 shots. Sturridge seemed to have forgotten his finishing boots as he was guilty on more than one occasion.
The former Chelsea striker could have put the away side 2-0 ahead inside the first ten minutes but his poor finishing coupled with Lukasz Fabianski's good show at the back saw the Reds spurn their chances.
This was an Arsenal side that looked completely different to the one that was humiliated at Anfield. They did almost everything right this time around as their counter attacks, constant pressing and the defensive contribution of their attacking midfielders came to the fore.
Much has been made of Mesut Ozil's lack of support at the back but the German playmaker made his presence felt in the defense as well as he completed two interceptions and won back possession thrice from Arsenal's half.
The most encouraging sign for Arsenal though was to how well Oxlade-Chamberlain has settled into the side after coming back from injury. The England winger has played a part in each of the last five goals the club has scored.
His 16th minute opener, thanks to some good work by Sanogo came at a time when Arsenal were finding it hard to contain Liverpool. His cross for Lukas Podolski at the start of the second half was inch perfect which the German slotted it home to double their lead.
Sanogo’s contribution was another positive for Arsenal as the 21-year old made his first start in the Arsenal colours after completing a move in the summer of 2013, and he vindicated Wengers decision to start him ahead of Giroud and Nicklas Bendtner.
The Ivorian had his few awkward moments in the game but he used his ability to hold the ball by using strength to good effect as he kept the Liverpool defense occupied for most part of the game. The striker went off to a standing ovation from the crowd when he was replaced by Giroud in the final few minutes.
Although he does not look like the final product who could start every game, it definitely gives Wenger more options given that they are short on strikers.
It wasn’t the most enthralling performance by the north London side but certainly Wenger had learnt his lessons from the thrashing at Anfield. The win will surely boost their confidence ahead of the massive Champions League game against Bayern in the midweek.
Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool won’t lose much sleep over this result as they can now turn their attention to the Premier League where they have twelve games to go, with only four points separating them from the top.
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