Press "Enter" to skip to content

Arsenal dig in to deny Liverpool in first leg despite Granit Xhaka red card

Arsenal dig in to deny Liverpool in first leg despite Granit Xhaka red card

Mikel Arteta needed a show of character from Arsenal at a ground where they have displayed little in recent years. He appeared to require a miracle too when Granit Xhaka’s latest red card gave Liverpool 66 minutes plus five minutes of stoppage time to seize control of the Carabao Cup semi-final. He received both, and more, as Arsenal produced a tireless display to stifle Jürgen Klopp’s team at Anfield.

There is a long way to go in this semi-final but the reaction to the final whistle demonstrated where the advantage lies, and who departed the first leg with greater belief. Arsenal’s exhausted players exchanged high-fives while their fans celebrated a goalless draw in the Anfield Road stand. Liverpool lacked inspiration and penetration throughout, and must rediscover both to progress to a final meeting with Chelsea on 27 February.

The two managers selected arguably their strongest available teams, although the squad available to Klopp was undoubtedly stronger than the one at Arteta’s disposal as Covid, injuries and the Africa Cup of Nations had a greater impact on Arsenal’s depth. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s first appearance in the competition for five years underlined the seriousness of the Liverpool manager’s approach to the semi-final. A hip injury suffered in the first minute by Cédric Soares, who was deputising at right back for the injured Takehiro Tomiyasu and forced off 10 minutes later, reflected the Arsenal manager’s misfortune. But it would not end there.

Arsenal made a vibrant start and were committed to attacking in numbers when an opportunity arose on the counterattack. That policy had to be abandoned, however, when Xhaka was shown a straight red card for denying Diogo Jota a clear goalscoring opportunity, while volleying him in the ribs for good measure.

The pattern of the tie turned in an instant. One moment Arsenal were on the front foot with Bukayo Saka breaking down the right and crossing low towards Eddie Nketiah, who failed to connect at full stretch, plus Alexandre Lacazette, who was also unable to apply a finishing touch. The next, they were carved open at the back by Andy Robertson’s long diagonal ball towards Jota. The Portugal international was ghosting in on Xhaka’s blindside and set to go clean through on Aaron Ramsdale’s goal when the Arsenal midfielder made an honest, if desperate, attempt to hook clear. He connected with the Liverpool forward’s chest instead and referee Michael Oliver immediately brandished the fifth red card of Xhaka’s Arsenal career.

Granit Xhaka fouls Liverpool’s Diogo Jota, for which the Arsenal midfielder was shown a straight red card

As the Switzerland international sloped off, after arguing his lost cause with Oliver for a lengthy period, Arteta consulted his backroom staff over their emergency measures. The result was Rob Holding for the unfortunate Nketiah and a switch to a five-man defence. That understandable move left the visitors with a fragile-looking midfield three of Saka, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Gabriel Martinelli, but the trio dug in to help frustrate Liverpool for the remainder of the first half.

Klopp’s team had dominated possession from the start but their clearer openings before the break came against the 11 men of Arsenal. Ramsdale was fortunate when Jordan Henderson charged down his attempted clearance and the rebound spun wide of the open goal. The goalkeeper smothered the Liverpool captain’s second bite on the by-line.Ben White almost put through his own goal when steering a dangerous cross from Takumi Minamino away from the lurking Roberto Firmino and just wide of the far post. Robertson’s right-footed shot was then deflected wide by Lokonga. Against 10 men, however, the hosts initially found it a struggle to find a way through.

To Arsenal’s credit they did not simply retreat into preservation mode before next week’s second leg at the Emirates. Saka looked to attack Liverpool’s left flank whenever he received possession while Kieran Tierney pressed forward as a wing back on the opposite flank. But their duties were mostly confined, unsurprisingly, to shutting down Liverpool’s attacking options.

Minamino went close early in the second half with a miscued cross that sailed over Ramsdale and just wide of the far post, though chances remained at a premium. It was another 20 minutes before Liverpool, and Minamino, troubled Ramsdale again, the Japan international shooting wide from a tight angle after being released by Robertson’s slick pass. By the 70th minute, neither team had produced a shot on target.

The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

The team with a valid excuse erased their blank two minutes later. Tierney found time and space on the left to pick out Saka’s run into the Liverpool penalty area with an inviting cross. The Arsenal winger, who would add to Arteta’s injury worries with an apparent hamstring problem, took an awkward first touch before attempted to lift his second over the advancing Alisson. The Liverpool goalkeeper produced an important block at close range, to the obvious despair of Saka and the Arsenal bench.

But the greater frustration belonged to Liverpool. Klopp made a triple substitution in an attempt to freshen his side and introduced both Curtis Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to inject much-needed creativity into midfield. The effect was minimal. Two substitutes combined to create Liverpool’s best opening of the night in the 90th minute when Neco Williams found Oxlade-Chamberlain. His cross was taken out of Ramsdale’s hands by a header from Lokonga. The miscued clearance dropped to Minamino in front of an open goal. He had to score. He sliced high into the Kop instead.

This post was originally published on this site

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *