Arsenal 2: Oxlade-Chamberlain 16', Podolski 47'
Liverpool 1: Gerrard (pen) 59'
The only changes from Brendan Rodgers were expected ones, with Brad Jones continuing his FA Cup run in goal after starts against Oldham and Bournemouth, Daniel Agger making his long-awaited return in place of Kolo Toure, and Joe Allen coming into the eleven for Jordan Henderson, who had surgery on Thursday to repair his fractured wrist. Other than that, it was exactly as Rodgers promised, with a full-strength lineup, and one that mostly resembled the side that tore Arsenal apart at Anfield two weeks ago.
And there were shades of that demolition early on, with Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez creating clear chances for Daniel Sturridge to finish. Gerrard's long through-ball came first, with Sturridge scuffing a right-footed effort on the first touch, and Suarez's chip over the top played the front man through again, this time with another shot on the right foot finding only the side netting after Sturridge tried to round Lukasz Fabianksi.
Arsenal capitalized on Sturridge's profligacy in the 16th minute through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who easily converted the rebound from a blocked Yaya Sanogo shot to put the hosts 1-0 up. There was nothing for Brad Jones to do, and it was a familiar goal for Liverpool to concede--failed clearance, bundled around the box, opposition player unmarked and alone to score.
Raheem Sterling was Liverpool's most consistent threat from there as Howard Webb went card-happy, booking five players in the first half, and the lone threat for the visitors came in the final minutes before the break as Suarez had a volley saved by Fabianski after a long Joe Allen pass. The second half started brightly but almost immediately turned ugly; Suarez was denied again by Fabianski after wriggling free, and then Arsenal were 2-0 up after a breathless counter and a neat Lukas Podolski finish. Oh.
Liverpool finally got one back on 59 minutes through another Steven Gerrard penalty, which Suarez earned after getting clipped by Podolski. The Uruguayan should have won another minutes later, with Oxlade-Chamberlain bundling him over right in front of Webb, but the penalty was denied, and with another fluffed chance by Sturridge, it wasn't coming off for Liverpool. More chances were created to little effect, the best of which came from a set piece in the 86th minute. A wonderful Gerrard delivery found Daniel Agger, who beat his man and Fabianski to the ball but could only push his effort wide as he got punched by the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Then Daniel Sturridge tied Fabianski's shoes for him and the match was over.
For about fifteen minutes in the second half, I genuinely cared about Liverpool winning this one. They were better on the day, found themselves on the wrong end of a few calls, and should have at least been level. Outside of that, though, this went exactly as I wanted it to. That's not revisionist history. At the break:
Maybe just get a goal, do some threatening stuff late, feel disappointed but encouraged and etc.— Liverpool Offside (@LFCOffside) February 16, 2014
It was terrific, really. Liverpool--or more accurately, Daniel Sturridge--fluffed a number of chances that could have either given them the lead or leveled the tie, Lukasz Fabianski had a really solid day in denying a number of quasi-decent chances, and there was just enough disappointment with the result to believe that it can serve as adequate motivation for Swansea's visit to Anfield next weekend.
I didn't think any of the individuals were overwhelmingly spectacular, though Brad Jones, Daniel Agger, and Raheem Sterling each stood out at times. Luis Suarez got his chances but couldn't make anything come off, while Steven Gerrard was mostly good again, though he was very fortunate not to have been sent off. Sturridge got himself in goalscoring positions even if he had no finishing touch today, and Philippe Coutinho was decent overall, with early spells without any influence but a number of cutting passes throughout.
Nobody else was bad per se, with both fullbacks turning in competent displays, Martin Skrtel good enough on the whole, and Joe Allen getting back up to speed in the midfield. I thought Jordan Henderson's presence aided Allen; the Welshman was okay in the first half, but Henderson's energy picked Allen up as well.
In the end, as counter-intuitive as it might be, it proved a good loss insofar as any loss can be "good." No league points lost, a good overall performance, and good things to take from an away fixture at a difficult venue. Stay healthy, stay hungry, and take out whatever sort of lingering disappointment remains on Swansea.