Liverpool closed us well initially but couldn't chase us for the whole match. Arsenal on the other hand showed more commitment, speed and work-rate than they did against the Hammers but aligned this with the usual quality of passing. Bendtner didn't have the greatest of games, he worked very hard, did some good stuff but essentially I think he tries too hard to impress in these matches and doesn't always make the obvious pass when an obscure shot is on. That said he won the match for us eventually and he always looks enthusiastic.
Nasri's return was very similar to Rosicky's, in that I'd just forgotten what a totally class act he was. Indeed his was the first shot to whistle past the post. I was also amazed how he lasted the full 90 minutes, given his lack of games and long-term absence. I would have been tempted to take him off at half time and play him on Saturday, because he was that good. Ramsey also showed his quality, but he seemed to fade a touch and featured in fits and starts for the second half. That said even though he lost possession in dangerous places on occasion his skill on the ball and quality of pass belies his age. He's not that far off a first-team place now and can only learn more by playing, which he will in good time.
Merida was impressive on the left but tired a lot towards the end. It was Fran Merida who opened our scoring with a stunning goal when we lost the ball on the right. It was a messy passage of play and when the ball came to him he appeared to let it run past him without looking up at the goal. He took an early shot which went like a rocket towards the near post and skimmed off it past the keeper. Brilliant goal, but Fran had a lot more to his game than just the one shot and generally impressed until he tired.
Probably a deserved lead but Liverpool were not far behind us in the quality stakes, it just seemed that our possession was more effective and our pressure more consistent. Especially when Eduardo was on the ball, there were times when his pace and strength were outstanding. This however was a team effort which required a holding player and last season's youth team right back fitted the bill. Step forward Carl Eastwood whose debut was seriously good. In the main he covered well for others, broke up play well, won plenty of ball and looked ok going forward. This was a big step up and although he made a few mistakes he got away with them and deserved the ovation he received on his departure.
Liverpool's goal was the goal of the game and a fabulous dipping volley over our keeper's head from Emiliano Insua whom Nick chased in vain. No fault of Fabianski that they scored because he had a decent game, making all the crosses he came for. As for the shots he had to save, well mostly the Scousers shot straight at him, which made life a tad easier. Liverpool had their moments and we looked iffy at the back every now and then almost in a parody of the first eleven. Senderos and Silvestre did ok in the main but they both needed to employ their brains to overcome their lack of pace, which they employed well tonight. It's what's in front of our defence that gives so many chances to our opponents.
Kerrea Gilbert has no hope of making it at Arsenal but that said he put in a steady performance at right back for a while against the likes of Babel. Although he annoyed me by sometimes falling back deeper than our centre-backs, which is never good. His performance may well attract the attentions of a Championship team however, which is probably his mark. Our other full back Kieran Gibbs started slow and improved throughout, the boy has class and plenty of it, all he needs is another run in the team and he'll be pressing Gael even harder. One area where he already exceeds Gael is the quality of his crossing.
Vela for me blew hot and cold and although he was involved in some very good moves he didn't have the perfect supply line of a Fabregas. Quality moves are not enough for a striker, there needs to be more and against Skrtel and company he didn't quite produce it. We used three subs: Randall to replace Eastwood. Watt to replace Bendtner and finally Coquelin to replace Merida. All played a part, although Coquelin's was somewhat brief. Once again however I'd say Watt shone the brightest, he just has something, whereas I don't see Randall ever making it with us, good as he might be.
Both sides had their moments in the second half and either could have scored the winner but in the end we had more of the game and showed just a tad more quality in our play. Sweeping move is the standard phrase for what preceded Bendtner's winner and who am I to alter tradition? Merida supplied the ammo and Nick held off Skrtel to smash it into the roof of the net. He deserved the goal, as did we. 2-1 which was the final score.
Liverpool chucked on Benayoun and Aquilini late on but they left it too late. They did have a penalty appeal and the ball did hit the arm of Senderos but only a crap ref gifting Gerrard in front of the Kop would have been mad enough to give it. In the end Eduardo and Nasri saw out the 4 minutes of added time in the corner. So quarter final it is then.