Robbie Savage: How Arsenal turned the tables on Liverpool

In his regular BBC Sport column, Robbie Savage looks at Arsenal's thrilling FA Cup win over Liverpool.

This was a classic cup tie played at a high tempo and it was great to watch. Arsenal needed to produce a response after they were thrashed 5-1 by Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League last week, and they did exactly that.

Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker celebrates their FA Cup victory over Liverpool

The Gunners had to battle hard to reach the sixth round but they did so through a combination of defensive resilience, some bad misses by Liverpool and a terrible decision by referee Howard Webb, which denied the Reds their second penalty of the match.

If Daniel Sturridge had taken his early chances, the game would have been very different but Arsenal scoring first meant Arsene Wenger's line-up was well suited to their task.

What Arsenal did differently

Arsenal were torn apart by Liverpool when they played with a high defensive line in their previous meeting, so the first thing Wenger did was to protect his flanks.

Arsenal average positions against Liverpool
Arsenal average positions against Liverpool
Key to Arsenal average position graphic

Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson sat far deeper at Emirates Stadium than Monreal and Bacary Sagna did at Anfield to stop Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Sturridge picking up the ball out wide and running at the Arsenal centre-backs, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny

The return of Mathieu Flamini into midfield also made a big difference defensively because he sat in front of Mertesacker and Koscielny and gave them even more protection.

Flamini/Arteta touches against Liverpool in FA Cup
Flamini/Arteta touches against Liverpool in FA Cup
Flamini and Arteta vs Liverpool

Some Arsenal fans do not like seeing Mikel Arteta and Flamini play together in midfield because they feel neither player looks to get forward as much as Jack Wilshere when he is playing in that position, behind the three players who support their striker.

Arsenal with/without Arteta and Flamini together (Premier Lge)

Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini


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Shots per game



Shots against



Crosses per game


Neither Arteta nor Flamini looked to get forward much against Liverpool, and Arteta only made one touch near the opposition area all game. Flamini did not even do that.

But Arsenal's Premier League record this season with both Flamini and Arteta in the team does not back up the theory that it costs them going forward.

The Gunners are tighter at the back with both men in the team but they have also had more crosses and shots, and scored more goals, in the same amount of league games.

But the way Sunday's FA Cup tie went, with Arsenal scoring first, suited them too.

Having two deep-lying central midfielders who were happy to sit helped deal with Liverpool's attacks and stopped their defence from being overrun.

And they did not have to commit as many men forward, so were not left open to Liverpool's dangerous counter-attacks.

In fact, it was Liverpool who had to push more men forward, allowing Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain more space to use his pace and hurt them, which is what happened for Arsenal's second goal.

Liverpool still look dangerous

Despite Arsenal's improvement, I still think Liverpool should have won this tie.

In the first few minutes, when Liverpool opened Arsenal up twice but missed on each occasion, it looked like Sturridge's pace would keep getting him behind Koscielny and Mertesacker and cause Arsenal more problems.

We saw the other side of Liverpool's attack too, with Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho adding a threat from deep with some precise through-balls that should have been made to count.

Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard touches against Arsenal
Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard touches against Arsenal
Key to Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard touches against Arsenal

Gerrard, again mainly playing deep in his new quarterback role, made three passes that led to goal attempts and only Joe Allen, playing slightly further forward, made more for either team, with four.

Sterling popped up on the left and right flank to run at the Arsenal defence, and worked hard defensively too.

Liverpool could not have done much more to get something from the tie. We saw why they have scored so many goals in recent weeks but, this time, their finishing let them down.

The big decision goes Arsenal's way

How referee Howard Webb did not give Liverpool a second penalty when Oxlade-Chamberlain fouled Suarez, I do not know. He got a massive decision wrong.

People might say Suarez overreacted but it does not matter about that - it was a penalty.

In the end, though, both teams can take something away from the game.

This was an even more important result for Arsenal because of what happened to them at Anfield, and it should spur them on for the rest of the season - in the title race and their Champions League tie with Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

Liverpool have just the league to look at now, but the way they played in this defeat shows why they are favourites to take fourth place. I thought they were the better team.

Arsenal v Liverpool