After losing 5-1 at Anfield, Wenger changed more than just his personnel.
It was always going to be a different game at the Emirates Stadium yesterday between Arsenal and Liverpool. You didn’t have many predicting 5-1 to Liverpool last weekend, and you didn’t this time around either.
Things have changed a little over the last week. Both sides freshened up to a degree, there were injury worries for both, and last week’s game did have an influence on the way both sides set up. Liverpool brought themselves right into the title race while Arsenal played out a dour draw against Manchester United, when Arsene Wenger admitted his side was nervous.
Aside from all the controversial decisions that were made or not made by Howard Webb, there were two football teams that played out a pretty good contest as Arsenal booked their place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
For Liverpool they wanted much more of the same again, a fast start to try to catch Arsenal on the hop so the Gunners would leave themselves exposed the back.
It nearly worked in the opening minutes of the game, with Daniel Sturridge getting himself into decent positions twice after through balls from Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho.
It looked as if Arsenal tried to counteract this by playing two midfield players sitting deeper in Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta to protect a back-four that looked heavily exposed in the Premier League meeting at Anfield, whilst behind the back-four they had a goalkeeper who was going to take his chance with Lukasz Fabianski pulling off several top class saves, while he outshone his opposite number in the Liverpool goal.
Though Liverpool had their chances they weren’t as forthcoming as the week before, the extra man sitting deeper nullified the threat to an extent and put the emphasis on the need for Liverpool to be more clinical in front of goal.
The other aspect was Yaya Sanogo up front. Liverpool’s defence has struggled against the physical threat in the not so distant past, and Sanogo was a handful for Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel at the back.
Though Agger has only just returned from injury he brought the ball out of the back a lot more and there were occasions when Steven Gerrard dropped even deeper than he perhaps would have liked, hence the numerous amount of cynical fouls from Liverpool players in the first half. Add into that factor without Jordan Henderson starting the game meaning there wasn’t the same presence in the middle of the park or energy. That is by no means a criticism of Joe Allen, it’s just that he is a different player to Henderson.
When Henderson was introduced into the action the intensity of Liverpool’s play ramped up a little in search of a route back into the game.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski were always a threat and constantly troubled as Arsenal counter-attacked the visitors very well, and played almost like the away side in the second half, and Liverpool’s back line were constantly tested, whilst Mesut Ozil looked a degree sharper than he did the previous week at Anfield.
Though Liverpool may feel hard done by not to have at least got a replay, Wenger clearly learnt from last week’s mauling at Anfield and deserves credit for it.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald