Result: Liverpool 0-0 Arsenal (Arsenal win 5-4 on penalties)
Competition: Carabao Cup
Date: 1 October 2020
Starting lineup: Leno, Cedric, Holding, Gabriel, Kolasinac, Ceballos, Willock, Xhaka, Pepe, Nketiah, Saka
Subs: Runarsson, David Luiz, Tierney, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Nelson, Lacazette
Arsenal progressed to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup beating Liverpool 5-4 on penalties after a drab 0-0 draw at Anfield.
Joe Willock scored the winner from the spot after Bernd Leno denied Divock Origi and Harry Wilson.
The Gunners started and ended the game brightly but were kept in the game by man-of-the-match Leno who made a series of fine stops either side of the break.
It’s the second time we’ve beaten Klopp’s men in a shootout this season after securing the Community Shield at Wembley by the same scoreline.
Mikel Arteta made eight changes from the side that lost to Liverpool on Monday. Despite most people expecting Runarsson to make his debut, we stuck with Leno in goal, while Holding and Xhaka also retained their places. Given reports of an impending move to Bayer Leverkusen, it was something of a surprise to see Kolasinac starting the game on the left of defence. He was joined in the backline by the returning Gabriel. Cedric, back from injury, and Saka were on the flanks. Ceballos and Xhaka made for an experienced midfield pairing and Willock, Pepe and Nketiah were given the responsibility of leading the attack. There was no place on the bench for Mesut Ozil or Matteo Guendouzi. Or Aubameyang.
Having been under the cosh throughout the opening 45 minutes on Monday, this game had a very different feel from the off. Arsenal started brightly, working the ball nicely between the lines and generally looked the more confident and lively side.
On 8 minutes a lovely pass by Xhaka freed Pepe on the left wing, the Ivorian darted inside, cut back to Willock and Nketiah really should have scored. Instead, he got the ball stuck under his feet, Adrian pounced and Cedric made a hash of his effort when the rebound fell to him. In retrospect, it was probably our best chance of the half.
We looked ‘interesting’ in possession – a well-worked training ground free-kick routine caught the eye – but too often we lacked composure in the final third. A few crisp passes built momentum which was quickly lost by a misjudged pass or poor touch.
In fairness, Liverpool don’t make it easy and while they weren’t pressing with the same guile as earlier in the week, you need to be at your best to pick the lock. Especially with Van Dijk marshalling things in the centre of defence.
Our main tactic seemed to involve overloading the left flank and targeting youngster Nico Williams. That meant Kolasinac, Saka and Pepe all getting involved high up the pitch. The latter was the target of several lofted balls; a tactic that might have worked better with more quality from engineers Ceballos and Xhaka.
Slowly but surely, Liverpool grew in confidence and we grew sloppier trying to play out from the back. Kolasinac nearly got us into trouble on one occasion and Ceballos came close to conceding a penalty on Jota when he hauled down the Portuguese on the edge of the box after faffing about with a Cedric throw-in. That aside, we looked pretty organised at the back.
Only a fine stop by Leno – who denied Jota’s header at full stretch – and a bad finish by Minamino – who hit the bar when the rebound fell to him – stopped us from falling behind just before the break.
Liverpool continued to have the better of things and three times came close to scoring before the hour mark. On 53 minutes, Leno made another fine save, this time getting down low to claw away a Van Dijk close-range prod. Three minutes later Jota threatened with an effort from 18-yards that flicked off Holding for a corner. Grujic forced Leno into more action with a low drive.
By this point, we were really struggling to keep the ball for any period of time so it was a real relief to see Salah and Van Dijk replaced by Gomez and Origi.
It didn’t make much difference. Twice more Leno was called into action. First, he denied Jota, who had beaten Kolasinac for pace to burst through the middle, then, from the resulting corner, he tipped away a Grujic header.
In a rare attack, Holding, up for a corner, came close with a header of his own. The centre-back climbed well to meet a Pepe cross but couldn’t beat Adrian. Nketiah also tried his luck with a header but his connection with a Willock cross was timid. The striker was subbed fro Lacazette with 10 minutes remaining.
Pepe endured a particularly frustrating evening. Quite often he found himself in decent positions but almost every time he got on the ball he failed to make any real headway. Being kind, he looked short of confidence. Being harsh, he was pants.
In stoppage time, we had a big claim for a penalty when Milner, falling to the ground, touched the ball in the area. Our players appealed, too vociferously in Cedric’s case because he was booked, but Kevin Friend ignored the desperate cries and waved play on.
As was the case in the Community Shield, the game went to penalties.
Milner. Goal. Lacazette. Goal. Wijnaldum. Goal. Cedric. Goal. Minamino. Goal. Elneny. Saved by Adrian. Origi. Saved by Leno. Maitland-Niles. Goal. Jones. Goal. Pepe. Goal. Wilson. Saved by Leno. Willock. Goal. Just.
So Arsenal win 5-4 on penalties and progress to the quarter-finals. The draw for that takes place later this evening.