Result: Liverpool 0-0 Arsenal
Competition: Carabao Cup semi-final first leg
Date: 13 January 2021
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Cedric, White, Gabriel, Tierney, Sambi, Xhaka, Saka, Lacazette, Martinelli, Nketiah
Subs: Leno, Holding, Mari, Chambers, Tavares, Patino, Salah-Eddine, Hutchinson, Biereth
The Carabao Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Liverpool is finely poised heading into next week’s second leg after Arsenal secured a creditable 0-0 draw at Anfield despite having Granit Xhaka sent off in the first half.
The Switzerland international was given his marching orders on 24 minutes for a foul on Diogo Jota but his teammates produced a fantastic defensive effort that left the home side frustrated and somewhat bewildered.
While Mikel Arteta was happy to welcome Granit Xhaka back into the fold following his second bout of Covid, the manager was clearly frustrated to learn Martin Odegaard had tested positive. That Emile Smith Rowe and Takehiro Tomiyasu were also missing with the same issues that saw them miss the defeat to Forest, was an added blow layered on top of the absence of our AFCON quartet. All the same, we just about mustered a starting XI of familiar names with four of the usual back five starting and Saka, Martinelli, Lacazette and Nketiah ahead of Sambi and Granit. The bench was a mixed bag of fringe defenders and kids.
Liverpool had the majority of possession in the opening 10 minutes but we didn’t have to deal with too much aside from a couple of corners and a dangerous cross from Robertson that Ramsdale claimed at his near post.
After Cedric went off with a hip problem to be replaced by Calum Chambers, things grew more tetchy. Ramsdale made a hash of a clearance that rattled off Minamino and Ben White nearly diverted a cross by the Japan international into his own net.
Aside from a decent burst forward by Saka on 22 minutes, we really struggled to create anything in the final third against Van Dijk and Matip.
Already up against it, the last thing we needed to do was something stupid. Unfortunately, when Xhaka is on the pitch you can’t ever count against that happening. And so it came to pass.
Desperately tracking back in an attempt to cut out a Robertson long ball aimed at Jota, the Swiss clattered into the striker on the edge of the box and was immediately red-carded by referee Michael Oliver for denying a goal-scoring opportunity. VAR took a look and was never going to overturn the decision. He’ll now miss the north London derby and the second leg in a week’s time.
As the midfielder trudged off, Arteta deliberated over what to do next. In the end, he sent on Holding for Nketiah and set up with a back five. The aim was clear; to sit deep and try and hold out for 65 minutes. The sight of Tierney hoofing the ball up the pitch to nobody in particular underlined just how difficult that was going to be.
Naturally, the home side enjoyed almost total control of the ball but with the 10 percent of possession we did in the 15 minutes before the break, Saka did his best to cause mischief. We might have done better with a couple of his crosses.
Weirdly, by the time the whistle went, it was the home fans who sounded frustrated. Perhaps it was the constant mocking from the travelling Gooners who just decided to enjoy themselves by cheering every won tackle and every ball that ended up in Ramsdale’s gloves.
Both sides looked lively when the game restarted. Minamino had Ramsdale worried with an overhit cross that floated over the keeper’s head and just wide, Matip fired over with a wild effort from range and Van Dijk had to be alert to close down Saka who’d been played in by Lacazette.
Our number 7 continued to probe and another teasing dribble forced Robertson into a tug that earned the Scot a yellow. He went on to leave Matip in a heap after winning a fifty-fifty challenge before hurtling after a loose ball.
Minamino continued to look the home side’s most dangerous player and on 68 minutes he came close to breaking the deadlock when, played in by Jones, he flashed a shot across Ramsdale’s goal. Hearts were in mouths as the ball flashed past the post.
Three minutes later it was Liverpool on the ropes. Collecting a Tierney cross at the back post, Saka came desperately close to getting off a shot before Allison pounced.
By this point, the England international had run himself into the ground. It looked like he was going to go off when he started holding his stomach but with the aid of a couple of paracetamol, he was somehow able to continue. Well, for a bit. He eventually went off on 80 minutes to be replaced by Nuno Tavares.
We continued to keep the home side at arm’s length by staying compact, blocking crosses early and allowing them to shoot from range. When the home side finally created a clear-cut chance in the final minute, Minamino blazed over from six yards with the goal gaping.
Five minutes of stoppage time sparked a new sense of urgency from the Reds. As the Anfield crowd roared, Ramsdale and White made vital interventions to keep hold of a very creditable clean sheet.