Comeback Denied: Arsenal 2, Liverpool 1

Shaun Botterill

Reds fall to Gunners in riveting fifth round FA Cup contest.

Coming into the match we promised not to be too bothered if Liverpool lost, but when 90 minutes of heart-in-mouth football produced a 2-1 defeat, it was hard to claim complete indifference. Daniel Sturridge's dejected reaction to the final whistle mirrored that of many Liverpool supporters - head in hands, ruing what could have been on a more prolific afternoon.

Liverpool began as they ended in last Saturday's 5-1 victory, releasing Sturridge in on goal twice in a matter of minutes. On the second chance, Sturridge touched the ball past Fabianski but couldn't get around it properly, striking it into the side netting.

At the Emirates, it felt like Arsenal would make Liverpool pay for their early misses, and sure enough, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put the Gunners up 1-0 in the 16th minute. The goal came when Skrtel completely whiffed on an attempted clearance of a cross, and Sanogo's ensuing shot was deflected by Gerrard into the path of Chamberlain who slotted into the goal.

After the Chamberlain strike, Arsenal did well to press Joe Allen, Coutinho, and Steven Gerrard into some poor passes and keep Liverpool from regaining control. Yet even as the midfield experienced problems and Aly Cissokho ruined a great deal of moves down the left wing, Liverpool created some meaningful chances. The real issue was finishing from the forwards, as Suarez had a plethora of half chances saved by Fabianski.

No chance for Suarez was as good as the one he made for himself shortly after halftime. On ball at the edge of the box, he faked left before leaving his defender for dead with a wicked cut back to the right where he unleashed a low effort that was barely saved by Fabianski's outstretched foot.

Moments later it was Arsenal back in control after a Liverpool giveaway, with three Gunners running at Liverpool's defense. As the attack progressed, Chamberlain was played down the wing and Lukas Podolski burst into the center. John Flanagan was in the best position to cut in front of Podolski after the German international player received Chamberlain's low cross, but Flanno could not get there in time and Podolski finished emphatically to put Arsenal ahead 2-0.

At that point it looked like Liverpool were headed to another 2-0 defeat at the Emirates, with the quality of play dipping for the next ten or so minutes. However, a stupid kick at the back of Suarez's legs in the box from Podolski changed the entire mentality of the match. It was certainly a soft penalty, with the replay showing some theatrics from Suarez, but it was the correct call from Webb nonetheless. As we've come to expect, Gerrard made no mistake with his spot kick, sending Fabianski the wrong way and setting up a suddenly exciting final half hour.

Unfortunately, the talking points for the remainder of the game had more to do with Howard Webb than the actual game itself. Liverpool deserved a second penalty when Chamberlain barged Suarez over, yet Webb wagged his finger at Suarez and millions of Liverpool fans watching from home. I don't like to bag on referees too much because losses always come down to more than a single decision, but that wrongful no-call on the second penalty claim was truly atrocious. If you're going to give the first penalty then you have to give the second one, which was far more egregious.

Steven Gerrard perhaps should have been sent off with a second yellow after a dumb challenge, but Webb again opted to get on with the game without further action. Jordan Henderson came on for Cissokho as a last throw of the dice with in-form Sterling moving to right back and Flanagan switching to the left, but Liverpool could not find an equalizer despite a few chances including an open header from Daniel Agger in front of goal.

Liverpool could not capitalize on their opportunities, and were hard done by the wagging finger of Howard Webb. It's a disappointing result, but as the smoke clears and Liverpool look ahead to Swansea, positive perspective replaces negative sentiment. The Reds now have one focus - finishing in the top four of the Premier League (or dare I say higher) - while the teams around them in the table are weighed down by domestic cup competitions and games in Europe. Arsenal got the last giggle but Liverpool had the biggest laugh between the sides this season, and as much as the Gunners paraded around the Emirates after this win, they are very wary of the threat Liverpool bring to the top of the table.

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