Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored one and assisted another for Lukas Podolski, before a Steven Gerrard penalty reduced the deficit, as Arsenal held on to a narrow lead to beat Liverpool 2-1 in their FA Cup fifth-round tie at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Fresh from a demoralizing 5-1 hammering at Anfield last weekend, Arsenal set about the match in a revitalized manner, applying some excellent pressure onto the visitors to start the game.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was a standout performer, but Liverpool threw bodies forward in the second half in hopes of snatching a result. First-half misses from Daniel Sturridge and a few wasted chances by Luis Suarez ultimately proved costly, however.
Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s FA Cup fifth-round loss to Arsenal on Wednesday. Let us know your views in the comments below.
Jordan Henderson Was Missed
It was during the victory over Arsenal last Saturday that Jordan Henderson broke his wrist, so for him to have been rested for the reverse fixture on Wednesday was entirely understandable.
But as Arsenal took a leaf out of Brendan Rodgers’ book and applied a strong pressing game on the Reds from the start of the match, Liverpool increasingly missed the influence and relentless running they’ve been so used to seeing from Henderson.
Philippe Coutinho has developed his physicality and a newfound tenacity on and off the ball in the Reds midfield, but alongside a returning Joe Allen not operating at the peak of his powers, he was overwhelmed at times by the powerful running of the Arsenal midfield.
So it was no surprise that as Henderson came on for Aly Cissokho just past the hour mark, Liverpool started taking the game to their hosts and came close to equalizing and forcing a replay.
Daniel Sturridge Picked the Wrong Day to Misfire
Going into the match, Daniel Sturridge had an impressive milestone to achieve: If he scored against Arsenal on Wednesday, he’d become the first ever Liverpool player to score in nine or more consecutive games.
Sadly for him, his teammates, managers and fans, he wasn’t to break the record at the Emirates Stadium.
And not only that: Sturridge failed to bring his shooting boots for such a grand occasion, as he missed two early chances on his right foot and later squandered at least a couple more.
Beside him, Luis Suarez also suffered a rare off-day, as the prolific SAS strike pair failed to hit a barn door.
Liverpool fans will be hoping that Sturridge will be saving his goals to aid their Premier League top-four push.
Two of England’s Brightest Young Talents Were on Show at the Emirates
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will take the plaudits after a stellar display on Wednesday, and rightly so.
His direct running, explosive pace, strong physicality and clever positioning caused Liverpool problems all match, and his goal and assist were just rewards for a scintillating performance.
His presence on the flanks gave Mesut Ozil a much more effective outlet to look for, while he is one of Arsenal’s best players transitioning from defence into attack.
On the opposing side was Raheem Sterling, who once again turned in a performance belying his young age, featuring slaloming run after slaloming run and an impressive shift as right-back toward the end of the game.
In two FA Cup matches tonight, we’ve seen three attacking midfield players who could form the backbone of the England national team for years to come.
Not only Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling belong in this group, but Ross Barkley of Everton is yet another genuinely exciting talent.
Who’s to say all three of them might not force their ways into Roy Hodgson’s squad for Brazil 2014?
More Refereeing Controversies Mar the Result for Liverpool
The foul from Lukas Podolski on Luis Suarez inside the penalty box right around the hour mark was obvious enough to justify a deserved spot-kick.
But the decision that came shortly after—to ignore Oxlade-Chamberlain’s blatant bodycheck and foul on Suarez following a free-kick attempt—was a puzzling one, to say the least, from Howard Webb, England’s representative referee at this summer’s World Cup.
Add Lukasz Fabianski’s late punch toward Daniel Agger’s head, and Liverpool could well have been awarded two additional penalties for Steven Gerrard to convert.
Of course, it’s not like the Liverpool captain should’ve been let off the hook, either: His frankly reckless tackling and diving in could’ve seen him receive a red card for another foul on Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Gerrard stayed on and almost inspired the Reds to a comeback.
Safe to say it wasn’t a good day for the men in the middle. After Liverpool’s lack of a result (and point) against Manchester City, however, Liverpool fans could be forgiven for having just a slightly bitter taste in their mouths.
Liverpool Outplayed Arsenal, at Arsenal
Last weekend was already noteworthy enough: Liverpool comprehensively outplaying Arsenal at Anfield—five goals worth of comprehensiveness.
But this week, especially in the second half as Liverpool took a stranglehold of the game at the Emirates, we have seen the Reds outplay the Gunners at Arsenal.
Even without Jordan Henderson, Liverpool’s pressing was admirable, while the visitors also attacked with purpose and intent, only to be let down by the final finish.
An important change by Brendan Rodgers to recalibrate the midfield balance by sending Henderson on also allowed Sterling to show some of his defensive attributes, which have been developing impressively in the past few months.
While the result means that it is Arsenal who will face Everton in the FA Cup quarterfinal, Rodgers and his team can take heart from the fact that they have quite completely turned the tide around, after what was a comprehensive defeat at the Emirates in the league back in November.
Liverpool Must Focus on the Performance, Not the Result
While a 1-2 loss isn’t by any means a significant loss, the reality is that Liverpool outplayed Arsenal but still left empty-handed.
And so Liverpool must take heart from the performance they put in at the Emirates.
It may stand them in good stead as they prepare to focus solely on Premier League matters and finish strongly to try to qualify for next season’s Champions League, as they look to replicate the quick-pressing game plan.
Tricky league games against Swansea City and Southampton are on the horizon. Brendan Rodgers will ensure that they keep with the same overarching approach but with a firm emphasis on the results and points on board.
Onwards and upwards for the Reds, then, as they look to get back into the Champions League next season.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.