Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool: Instant Classic

There were 75 minutes on the clock when I wrote in a closed Facebook group: "No hyperbole - this 15 minutes is our season".  Had Liverpool come back to draw or even win this game, I believe our campaign would have derailed in horrific oh-the-humanity fashion. Instead, Arsenal overcame their nerves and held firm under tremendous pressure to book a home date with Everton in the quarterfinals.

It could have been so different for the Scousers, had they taken the chances presented to them by a shaky Arsenal defense in the first few minutes. Fundamentally, there was no difference between the opening of this match and the previous meeting with this lot. Namely, a dynamic fast-attacking Liverpool tore the Gunners midfield and backline to shreds in a devastating blitzkreig.

The match was barely two minutes old when Steven Gerrard sprung Daniel Sturridge in past a terribly static backline with a precision through-ball. The England man was in alone on cup keeper Lukasz Fabianski, who did exceptionally well to block with his legs. Despite that, Sturridge had no excuse for not opening the scoring there.

Several minutes later, the visitors fashioned another glorious opportunity. This time, Luis Suarez was given far too much time to scoop a pass over the top, aided by Carl Jenkinson's horrendous positioning to play Sturridge onside. This time, he tried to round Fabianski. The Pole stayed with him just enough to force him out wide into a tougher shot, which was duly sent into the side-netting...another massive let-off for us.

It should have been 2-0 and the match gone at that point. Were that the case, I could easily envision us suffering another 5-1 hiding. That's the thing, though. If you don't take your chances, you're going to pay for it at this level.

The home side fought through the early jitters and started to impose themselves, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the center of it all. His interception and run down the right was the first warning of what was to come, even if Lukas Podolski couldn't be bothered to give him a target for his cross.

Five minutes later, we had the lead.

We won a free kick in their territory, which was floated into the box by Mesut Ozil. Yaya Sanogo,so beloved of the Twitter Mouthbreather Brigade, displayed his strength to hold the ball up and get a shot away. It pinballed off of a defender into the Ox's path, and our man took advantage of goalkeeper Brad Jones already diving the wrong way to dink it into the empty net.

That turned out to be a huge difference for us today. Our goalkeeper was upright, confident and in good positions. Theirs was fighting off the ball, never set on his feet and made life easier for us on both of our goals.

The Gunners kicked on from there, as they pinned Liverpool back for long periods. That said, for all of their pressing off the ball and their nifty one-touch passing on it, they never did threaten Jones' goal at any point. Liverpool, for their part, continued to be dangerous on the counter. Suarez almost hauled them level just before the break with a nice turn and shot off yet another long ball over the top, but Fabianski got a strong hand on it and parried to safety.

Apparently that wasn't enough of a warning, as Suarez again could have scored seconds after the restart. I don't know what it is about this team where there is so little focus at the start of halves, but it's getting on my last nerve. This time, Bitey Divey Argentine Guy danced his way through several half-hearted challenges and aimed for the far corner. Thankfully, Fabianski was there once again to repel the danger with a stellar foot save.

That was the theme of the game. They failed to take their chances, and we made them pay for it.

Immediately thereafter, Jenkinson broke up a play and sent it first-time up to Ozil. The German threaded a marvelous ball into the path of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who dragged it back to Podolski. This time, he had made the run, and scored in almost a mirror image of the Ox's goal - again, Jones falling the wrong way as the shot came in.

Frankly, that should have been the game done and dusted there. Jones did make an excellent save on Ozil to keep it from getting out of hand, but there was no reason to let them back into the game the way we did. I had wondered many times why Arsene was so reluctant to play Podolski when it matters, and today we got our answer. A nothing move in our area - with Monreal absolutely in control of the situation - saw Podolski come in from behind and take out Suarez's legs. It was a penalty all day, which Gerrard easily dispatched into the corner.

Now, we had a game. One stupid foul at the worst possible time and area transformed the visitors from a dejected and beaten lot into a ferocious attacking outfit. Maybe this is reactionary, but Podolski just isn't worth it.

It didn't take long for them to tear back into us, either. Philippe Coutinho destroyed our defense for the millionth time this season with a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of Sturridge. Fabianski was off his line decisively to smother at his feet though. What a moment that was - if he got that wrong, it's a penalty and red card and we're on our way out of the competition.

Arsene started to make some good changes though - Podolski was hauled off for Santi Cazorla, giving them a threat to worry about on the counter. He should have put the game to bed too when a weird clearance came out to him on the edge of the area, with no defender in the same postal code. His composure failed him though, opting to volley a horrid effort into the Van Allen Belt instead of taking a touch first.

It may have cost us had we had a lesser referee on the day. There was one moment where Suarez did Suarez things, flinging himself to the ground under a perfectly fair shoulder charge by Oxlade-Chamberlain. I swear, it is hard to read this guff about that being a stonewall penalty without wanting to scream at them all to read the fucking Laws sometime. I may get slaughtered for this and that's fine, but Howard Webb didn't put a foot wrong one time in that game. Not one. 

Anyway, the Boss then took off Oxlade-Chamberlain for Kieran Gibbs, allowing us to move the defensively-suspect Nacho Monreal further up the field. That largely settled us, and as nervous as we all were over the next ten minutes, they didn't get any chances worthy of the name.

Well, until Fabianski made one mistake.

They won a free kick in our half, which was sent in to the mixer by Gerrard. Fabianski was slow coming out, and Daniel Agger beat him to the ball. Thankfully for us, his header was high and wide...what a gutting moment that would have been had that gone in, and how unfair it would have been to our brave and excellent keeper. 

We were left with a nerve-shredding last few minutes, but Liverpool were a bit nervy themselves and weren't able to take advantage. The final whistle, that beautiful and glorious sound, soon came to deliver us into the quarterfinals.

I don't think anyone associated with the team would say that this was a perfect performance. Plainly put, Liverpool should have run us out of there - on our own damn patch - inside of the first ten minutes. AGAIN. However, they left the door open a crack and to our credit we kicked it down like a SWAT team. We gave ourselves an opportunity to implode, and chose this time to decline the option. It's nice to see.

Needless to say, if we open the Bayern match like we did this one, they will rack up an embarrassing scoreline. There is no doubt about that. Honestly, all I hope from that tie is that we get out of it with some modicum of dignity, to the extent that we don't bottle these next three extremely-winnable games in the league. We'll worry about that next week, though. Enjoy this day, Gooners. This one was a classic and we came out on the right end of it, deserved or not.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 9, Monreal 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 7, Arteta 7, Flamini 7, Podolski 5 (Cazorla 6),  Ozil 8, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Gibbs 7), Sanogo 7 (Giroud N/A)

Man of the Match: Poor Ox. On any other day, he'd have been as obvious a choice for MOTM as any there's been this season. However, without the inspired play of Lukasz Fabianski to keep us in the match until the jitters went away, we'd be lamenting an exit from yet another competition.