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Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ FA Cup Fifth-Round Loss

Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds' FA Cup Fifth-Round Loss
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

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

Jordan Henderson Was Missed
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

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

Daniel Sturridge Picked the Wrong Day to Misfire
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

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

Two of England’s Brightest Young Talents Were on Show at the Emirates
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

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

More Refereeing Controversies Mar the Result for Liverpool
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

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

Liverpool Outplayed Arsenal, at Arsenal
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

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

Liverpool Must Focus on the Performance, Not the Result
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

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.

Liverpool Must Improve on FA Cup Display for Merseyside Derby vs. Everton

Liverpool Must Improve on FA Cup Display for Merseyside Derby vs. Everton
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Goals from Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge—both assisted by Luis Suarez—took Liverpool into the FA Cup fifth round with a 2-0 win over a spirited Bournemouth side at the Goldsands Stadium on Saturday.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe will have been pleased with the manner his side went about the game, as they fearlessly went about attacking their esteemed visitors in impressive fashion, only for the final finish to let them down.

His opposite number, Brendan Rodgers, will be glad to have overcome a potential banana skin fixture with a performance that was more professional than it was impressive, but one that did the job nonetheless.

But it is exactly because of the nature of the Reds’ win that they must improve on Saturday’s performance when they host the visit of high-flying and fellow top-four challenger Everton on Tuesday, in the 222nd Merseyside derby.

 

 

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Concerns at the back: A return to 3-5-2?

That Liverpool are now besieged with a host of injury problems is no longer news, but Rodgers and Liverpool fans alike could be forgiven for fearing the worst after Martin Skrtel received extended treatment off the pitch for a blow to the head.

His subsequent return to the field with a bandage around his head was comforting as it was important, but he will be paying further visits to club doctor Zaf Iqbal in the build-up to the Everton game.

With Glen Johnson out injured, Martin Kelly was granted an opportunity to stake a claim for a first-team place. But yet again he looked labored and still some way short of full match fitness as he faced a quick and dynamic Cherries left flank.

Not that fellow full-back, the perpetually out-of-position Aly Cissokho, fared any better. Not only was he lacking in defensive positioning, but he failed to provide any inspiration going forward.

This compounds the problem that Rodgers already has, with Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson—arguably the Reds’ first-choice back four—out on the sidelines.

In this context, the return of Jon Flanagan, and the man he replaced, was illuminating: Kelly could have been withdrawn to preserve his match fitness, but Rodgers showed Flanagan’s importance by giving him some minutes of his own to prepare for the derby.

With the current holes in the Liverpool squad, and the in-form partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, don’t be surprised if the 3-5-2 formation seen earlier this season returns on Tuesday.

For maximum work rate, positioning and defensive awareness, don’t be surprised if both starting full-backs on Saturday are replaced for Everton: It could yet be the in-form Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan who assume the wing-back roles in the derby.

 

 

Ian Walton/Getty Images

Gaps in the middle: Fitness is the key

With his inconsistent performances in the Liverpool midfield this season, club captain Steven Gerrard has had both his importance to and role in the squad questioned this campaign.

With Brendan Rodgers’ decision to move him into a holding midfielder role, Gerrard’s time to adapt to his new position has attracted criticism, while Jordan Henderson, as the only other fit senior midfielder in the squad, has been nigh-on anonymous in recent games as Gerrard’s midfield partner.

Saturday, however, showed just how important Gerrard still is to the Reds cause. Some excellent tracking back and timing in the tackle allowed the skipper to avert danger on a few occasions, while his passing added some much-needed directness and variability to the Reds’ approach play.

And while Henderson once again had a quieter game, his work rate and presence in the midfield remains important, especially when the advanced midfielder in front of him is the physically slight Philippe Coutinho.

But as much as their presence in the middle of the park enabled Liverpool to come away with a win, it was very much a gamble to start both players amid the club’s injury troubles.

The competitiveness of the game, and the dogged spirit of the Bournemouth players, ensured that the visitors had to wait until the hour mark before Liverpool gave themselves more of a cushion in the game.

Running themselves into the not-so-well-groomed ground at Goldsands Stadium won’t have done Gerrard and Henderson any good ahead of Tuesday’s derby, where Everton’s powerful and dynamic midfield will pose far bigger problems than Bournemouth’s.

Whatever spirit and attitude they showed in the FA Cup on Saturday, they’ll have to replicate it and then some if they are to get an important result against Everton in just a few days.

 

 

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Consistency in the attack: A second chance for Victor Moses?

Before we go into more detail on Liverpool’s first goal, let’s devote a few column inches to the Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge forward partnership.

The burgeoning strike duo, who were in such exciting form prior to Sturridge’s injury, have shown signs that they are back to their exhilarating best in Liverpool’s past few games. Saturday yet again saw “SAS” work in tandem for an impressive second goal, even though Suarez went a second consecutive game without scoring.

But enough about their collective excellence: More interesting was Victor Moses’ display against Bournemouth.

Critics will dismiss Moses’ performance as it came against a Championship side in the FA Cup, but what was evident for all to see were his much improved attitude and the attributes that have always threatened to show themselves on the pitch.

Time and again, Moses showed great acceleration to get past his man on the left wing, and good awareness in passing, positioning and attacking. His first goal, a combination of an excellent first touch and a clinical finish, was deserved reward for an encouraging first-half performance.

Simply put, this was more like it from Moses, after what has been a thoroughly disappointing six months in a Liverpool shirt.

And it comes at a good time for Brendan Rodgers, who could do with a selection headache and will have been pleased that Moses grasped a chance to impress with both hands.

If Sterling is indeed employed as a safe defensive option but an intriguing counterattacking weapon in the derby, then Moses could yet reprise his starting role against Everton.

Alongside an interchanging strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Victor Moses might just salvage his Reds career yet.

But just like the rest of his teammates, simply replicating their display against Bournemouth won’t be enough: They’ll have to improve on that to get a morale-boosting win over a tough rival on Tuesday.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Thanks, Steven Gerrard.

The title of this piece seems a bit premature, given that Steven Gerrard hasn’t ended his career, and a bit inappropriate, given that Liverpool just lost the FA Cup to Chelsea last night.

But rather than putting out a match reaction on the final itself, I thought a tribute to Steven Gerrard should be in order.

After all, he is the main reason I started following Liverpool in the first place, and the main reason I’ve stayed with the Reds all these years.

I’ll spare all the unnecessary obsessive touting of his skills, experience and superhuman feats, because everyone who knows football will know what a force of nature Gerrard has been for Liverpool, in the Premier League and in the Champions League.

I’d rather comment on the issue of loyalty.

Perhaps Gerrard is a soft-spoken guy. His interviews are normally quite bland, and while he affords a smile once in a while if an interviewer mentions the 2005 Champions League or a great goal he scored in a man-of-the-match performance, he often puts on a poker face in interviews even after the best of celebrations.

But seeing the unbridled joy he exhibits when he celebrates a win on the pitch, and having read his perhaps-too-hastily-published autobiography, we see that this guy is Liverpool through and through.

Set aside that public flirtation with Chelsea in 2005 that is still often reminisced upon (usually by supporters of other teams). To think that a young captain of 24, barely approaching his prime and with the world at his feet, shouldn’t be tempted by untold riches on offer and an ambitious team in the country’s capital is to be naive and utterly unrealistic about being a professional athlete. (In that respect, although my heart tells me to think otherwise, Fernando Torres’ departure for Chelsea made sense, especially considering the circumstances then. And the circumstances now.)

No, the fact that he chose to stay (where Michael Owen once left, remember) should speak volumes about this man’s integrity, commitment and loyalty.

And the fact that he still puts on the Liverpool shirt week in, week out (when his fitness allows) as often the only fighter on the pitch says everything we need to know about this man.

As a mere spectator (and one from an overseas armchair at that), I can’t even begin to count how many rebuilt teams he’s had to work through. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to win a Treble, then having to play with the likes of Salif Diao and El-Hadji Diouf. Then to win the European Cup and the FA Cup, and then to return to reality alongside Nabil El Zhar and Jermaine Pennant. And then to hit heady heights with Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres, only to wake up year after year to see their departures.

Then to wake up with the prospect of playing alongside Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen. And now Jay Spearing and Jordan Henderson.

For years, I tried to mirror that sort of unwavering loyalty by putting on my own #8 shirt whenever Liverpool had a game to play that day. And for an extended period of time, this coincided with a run of Champions League games in which Liverpool went unbeaten whenever I watched them live with my Gerrard top on.

Then that run finally came to an end – and when you’re working a full-time job like I am now, it’s hard to sport a Gerrard shirt on match-days. Times have changed.

Yesterday, I set aside all the presupposed characteristics of a working man and retrieved my Gerrard shirt from my shelves. And for a brief two hours last night, I returned to my heart-on-sleeve instincts, shouting my voice coarse for a team that has become part of my life, courtesy of a man who has made that much impact on it.

But the hard fact is that Liverpool are no longer what they used to be, and Gerrard is no longer what he used to be.

Still, until Andy Carroll came on and changed the game, Gerrard was the only person on the pitch to not be overawed by the occasion, to still put on the fight he’s done so often in his illustrious career.

Maybe, when he hit a Carroll knock-down into the stands, it was all too reflective of an erstwhile powerhouse whose finishing prowess have deteriorated to that extent.

But for the last 20 minutes of the game – even towards the last 5 – I was hoping, yearning, straining for that loose ball to fall to his feet outside the area, so he could, much like he did 6 years ago, be the hero again. So that Stevie G could once again save the day. So that his smile would be plastered across the front pages with the familiar Roy of the Rovers, Captain Fantastic, Super Stevie G headlines again.

Alas, it wasn’t to be.

And so, rather than the outright anger at Kenny Dalglish for his time-and-again incompetent tactical approach and personnel selection, rather than the outright depression that Liverpool couldn’t cap a terrible season with the scant consolation of a Cup Double, the overriding emotion I felt was the heartbrokenness that Liverpool have not done justice to the loyalty of their captain all these years.

I was told after I left the bar that the cameras showed a Steven Gerrard in tears.

I’m glad I didn’t witness it.

It might’ve been too much.