Arsene Wenger changed things around quite a lot from the midweek 0-0 draw with United as he made seven changes to the team. The four players who stayed in the team were Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta and Mesut Ozil as others were rested with the Champions League game against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night in mind. It looked like a risk to make so many changes in a competition where Arsenal probably have their best chance of a trophy this season.
The players to come in were Carl Jenkinson and Nacho Monreal in the full back berths, Lukasz Fabianski in goal, Mathieu Flamini in midfield and the attacking trio of Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yaya Sanogo. The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Sanogo in the central strikers role with Olivier Giroud on the bench and Nicklas Bendtner not even in the match day squad. It was a big vote of confidence in the young striker who has spent most of the season so far in the treatment room.
With the draw for the quarter finals being made before the game the winners knew they would have a home tie against Everton in the next round. Arsenal had progressed with home toes in the previous two rounds and the thought of another home tie to progress to the semi finals was a real incentive. Arsemal haven't won the FA Cup since 2005, but their path to a semi final was laid out before them with consecutive home games against the two Liverpool clubs.
Liverpool had the better of things early on and Daniel Sturridge missed a couple of good chances before Arsenal even got the ball anywhere near their goal. Arsenal gradually got into the game and were ahead after only 17 minutes when Chamberlain hit the rebound home after a Sanogo shot was blocked by Steven Gerrard. It was their first real attempt on goal and it was the confidence boost the team needed.
The rest of the first half went off without too many scares for either defence, but Liverpool certainly had the better of the chances. Fabianski was having a good game in the Arsenal goal and showed he has a lot to offer after the break in particular. He made the first of his saves in the first minute of that half and within a minute of that save Arsenal had increased their lead.
They broke quickly from defence and Ozil played a delightful ball behind the Liverpool defence for Chamberlain to run on to as he outpaced Daniel Agger. He got to the end line and cut the ball back for the rapidly arriving Podolski to hit it home first time and double the lead. I said in my preview that Ozil needs outlets and runners for his passing and the pace of Chamberlain provided that for the second goal.
Liverpool knew they were on their way out of the cup if they didn't up the pace of the game and came at Arsenal with everything they could muster. With just less than an hour gone they got the break they needed when they were awarded a penalty after a clumsy foul on Luis Suarez by Podolski. It was definitely a penalty despite Suarez making a meal of the situation and Steven Gerrard stroked it past Fabianski to cut the deficit to one goal.
It was game on now and only a few minutes later Liverpool should have had another penalty when Chamberlain collided with that man Suarez again, but the referee chose not to give it. He could have been influenced by Suarez's theatrics as he threw himself all over the place, but he probably didn't give the penalty because it was so soon after the previous one. Whatever the reason it was a lucky break and one which went Arsenal's way for a change this time.
It can't be forgotten that Liveroool got the dodgy decision in their favour last week when Martin Skrtel was offside as he scored their first goal. Arsenal also had a certain penalty and red card denied to them in both of their games against City and Chelsea. These things supposedly even out over a season and maybe it was time for Arsenal to get a call in their favour at last.
Santi Cazorla came on for Podolski not too long after that and he was involved quite quickly a couple of times at the Liverpool end. He blazed a good chance over from just inside the box first of all and then had what a I thought was a penalty denied when Skrtel came out studs up to block a shot and caught him on the leg. A studs up challenge is against the rules as I understand them, but the referee had no interest in penalty claims and played on.
He had already allowed Gerrard to stay on the pitch after he should have received his second yellow card of the day for yet another foul on Chamberlain. The Arsenal player had outpaced him and was in a dangerous position when Gerrard deliberately took him down and that's a definite yellow card. His position as England captain lets him get away with an awful lot and he's not the first person to enjoy that privilege.
At the other end Fabianski was called on to save at the feet of Daniel Sturridge and make a few good saves from Liverpool shots too. His only error of the day was when he came for a free kick and missed it, but thankfully Agger put his header wide with an open goal. Liverpool looked for a penalty again as they claimed Fabianski had caught Agger instead of the ball and Arsenal were perhaps a little lucky to escape yet again.
Arsenal saw out the rest of the game with Kieran Gibbs and Giroud coming on for Chamberlain and Sanogo late on. At the final whistle the players and the manager were very happy with the victory and to have put last week's humiliation behind them. Liverpool were a little unlucky not to have got at least a draw out of the game and a replay at Anfield would have been the last thing Arsenal wanted.
Fabianski was probably Arsenal's best player on the day with Chamberlain getting a goal and an assist to run him close for the award. He has looked very good in recent games and has either scored or assisted in each of Arsenal's last five goals. With Theo Walcott's season over he could be just coming into form at exactly the right time for the team.
Liverpool were probably the better team on the day and Arsenal were a little fortunate to progress but it's about time they got a result like that in their favour. We have often complained how other teams can sneak wins in games where Arsenal might not and it's a very nice quality to have. I'd be perfectly happy if Arsenal were outplayed by Bayern on Wednesday night but still ended up winning the game.
There's only Arsenal and City now who can win the double and it makes a pleasant change to have the team still fighting on three fronts as we approach March. They're only a point off the top of the league with 12 games to play and have a home game in the last eight of the FA Cup to come too as well as that Champions League last 16 tie with Bayern. If that had been offered as a scenario at the start of the season I can't think there would have been too many Arsenal fans unhappy with it.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.