Sometimes, the best side doesn't win. Sometimes, the striker who has won so many matches seemingly on his own appears to have completely forgotten how to score. Sometimes, the referee, one who at times seems more concerned with his own strange celebrity than in his competence as an official, might reasonably be said to have decided the game. For Liverpool's manager, it's the latter that left him most bitterly disappointed.
"The first one, obviously Luis gets clipped and it's a clear penalty, but I thought the second one was even clearer," said Brendan Rodgers at his post-match press conference. "Howard [Webb] is in a great position, and I'm not sure if it's because it's so quickly after the first one, but Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain] can go nowhere, Luis [Suarez] gets a touch around him, and it looks a blatant penalty, so we're bitterly disappointed."
For all that the referee's decision to ignore the most clear cut penalty shout of the night might seem to make Webb fair game for Liverpool's manager and incensed fans, the truth of the matter is that the game never should have gotten to the point where he needed to make that call to give Liverpool the chance to earn at least a replay. Because Liverpool were, on the whole, the better side. And Daniel Sturridge passed up numerous chances to score.
If Sturridge hadn't all of a sudden forgotten how to finish, Howard Webb would never have mattered and Liverpool might have walked away with a victory as dominating as the 5-1 recorded at Anfield the week before. If Liverpool, who had 57% of the possession, had been able to convert from open play on a night when they had seven shots on target and 15 overall to Arsenal's three on target and seven overall, the referee wouldn't have mattered.
Yet in all that there are positives for Liverpool to take from the night's disappointing result. Daniel Sturridge, given his goalscoring heroics since arriving at the club, would be unlikely to fail to score at least a couple of goals if again handed similar opportunities to the ones he spurned on Sunday. And Liverpool were, for all that Arsenal walked away victorious and now face a home quarter-final against Everton, the better side.
"We were unlucky and I'm disappointed," Martin Skrtel told his official website. "I think we played really well and maybe we could say we were even better, but the result is all that counts. We created some really good chances to score, and in the second half at times we dominated the game, but unfortunately we could not convert and this is the result. Now we must concentrate on the Premier League and hopefully we can do something really special there."
A seemingly winnable quarter-final at Anfield against Everton would have been a grand occasion and brought Liverpool a step closer to silverware, but sometimes there are larger concerns. In this case, of course, that larger concern is the league. And so, with Liverpool the better side and the league the bigger concern, it's hard to feel too distraught over Sunday's loss—and even to feel too incensed over Howard Webb's minor role in it.
It's never good to lose, but at least on this occasion it isn't heartbreaking. On another night, perhaps even on nine nights out of ten, Liverpool would at least managed a replay from their FA Cup tie against Arsenal. On this night, they didn't. So it goes. If they can play as they did on Sunday the rest of the way in the league, they won't lose many more, and it's that rather than disappointment the manager, players, and fans should be holding on to.