I'll be honest, when I started to hear rumours that the likes of Sanogo were going to play, I started to get myself a little wound up and ultimately expecting that we'd watch another game as part of another Arsenal collapse. Then you find out the teams (shortly after Giroud spilled his heart to the world) and Jenkinson is in. Time for a deep breath, after all, I lost the plot a little when I heard rumours we were resting players ahead of Bayern (A). This came after defeat in the NLD. It was another classic Wenger gamble.
You'd have hoped we would have learned our lessons from last week but within the first 4 minutes we were carved open twice. Not the encouraging start we were after. Then we got our shape right. I always love it when Wenger gets tactical because he's rather good when he gets away from 'if we play to our strengths, we'll win' mentality. Both Podolski and Ox were narrow and the former seemed to have a licence to roam. It helped engage our wingers, which was crucial when we had a striker making his debut in the FA Cup. We had seen off the early pressure and got ourselves a precious lead. We calmed and we started to control the game. So a nice narrow shape with plenty of bodies to stop Liverpool's high tempo game. If last Saturday taught us anything it was that we can ill afford to lose possession high up the field. When this is coupled with a lack of numbers it really does spell disaster. It plays against the only weakness the likes of Mertesacker has. You can have all the positional sense you like but if you are caught on the counter with half the pitch to go, then you are essentially doomed. Today though, we played deep and if Liverpool did get in Fabinksi was off his line in a flash. So not only were tactics applied but also some lessons learned. Which has been a rarity with Arsenal in recent years.
Thirteen months ago, Lukasz Fabinski got his chance to stake his claim for the #1 jersey. He came in away to Bayern after Szczęsny had been dropping gaff after gaff, but he offered us stability in the face of adversity. Today was a reminder that he does have his strengths and he is learning. The question would remain whether he could do it on a consistent basis because there is a thin line between success and failure. Just look at Agger's header late on. If that goes in, we point the finger straight at him and could have cost us the game. However, no ifs or buts, today he was MOTM. Since March last year our keepers handling has been absolutely fantastic. I know Gerry Peyton has taken his fair share of stick over the years and rightly so given our inconsistency between the sticks but clearly his work is paying off. I'm in a position where I nearly trust the keepers as much as I did when David Seaman used to come and claim crosses. Fabianski was fast off his line, his handling was exemplary and his reflexes were sharp as a tack. Fair play to him, considering he wouldn't be what you'd class as match fit. The sad point is that Fabianski will be moving on in the months to come. When coupled with Viviano being on loan, that'll leave only Szczęsny as our only recognised first team goalkeeper. It's been quite a week for the Flappy household.
I wrote on Friday about how Poldi cannot play centre forward and today reinforces my opinion. Having him on the left hand side offers so much to our attacking play. His run and finish that went on to be the difference embodies everything that Podolski brings to the side. Goals at this stage of the season are invaluable. I have no issue with Podolski on the left, mainly due to the fact I welcome players who are prepared to unleash some fury on the opposition goal. The test will now be if Wenger believes in him. I don't expect him to start against Bayern, despite the fact he scored our only goal against them at The Emirates last season. However, the bigger decisions come in the weeks to come against Sunderland and Stoke. I just hope Podolski doesn't find himself back on the bench again but it wouldn't surprise me if we didn't see Lukas until the weekend of the 8th March.
Arteta & Flamini
I swear I am sick of the term double pivot and how this partnership doesn't work. Well, today, it did. In fact it was key to victory. It crowed the channels and suffocated Liverpool at times. Their partnership also allowed the attackers to do what they are paid to do. It also changed our style of play from last week. Jack tries to play and gets flustered. Flamini just does the basics but gets even at the same time. Look at Gerrard shoving Jack to the ground last week. Fast forward one week and the England Skipper is seeking retribution in a sly manner, but he was rattled. A job well done and I expect we'll see this duo on a more regular basis. Pending Ramsey's return to the side I'd play them together as often as possible start and keep Jack on the bench.
Overall, yesterday was a massive success. The collapse is on ice and our season keeps on ticking over. We now find ourselves 90 minutes away from Wembley. Just the thought of being involved in big games like Semi-Finals and Finals is massively exciting. We all crave silverware and the FA Cup gives us our best opportunity to end the 'drought'. We are in the business end of the season and we cannot fade away. I appreciate we are massive underdogs against Bayern but it's by no means a foregone conclusion. Bayern will be wary of us and they are a side that go through the motions on a regular basis. For us, the first goal is crucial. It's more than a goal, it offers belief and a route to victory. Let's hope we can get the start we desire on Wednesday and then maybe, we'll be taken seriously again.