Arsenal held Liverpool to a battling goalless draw despite Granit Xhaka’s early red card in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final.
With the tie finally getting under way seven days after its original date, following last week’s postponement, Xhaka managed to last just 24 minutes at Anfield before being sent off for a reckless last-man challenge on Diogo Jota.
But thanks to a brilliant defensive display, and a somewhat underwhelming Liverpool performance, Arsenal will have a real spring in their step ahead of the second leg at the Emirates Stadium in seven days.
Xhaka red card ‘a ridiculous challenge’
One long pass from Andy Robertson found the run of Jota, and as he tried to race into the box he was caught by Xhaka with a high boot to his chest. It was reckless, and Oliver had no choice but to send him off.
Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports Football:
“Xhaka did what Xhaka does. He makes an absolutely ridiculous challenge when Jota still has so much to do.
“The way he has taken him out and with the force he does it. There’s no doubt it’s a red card.”
- Jurgen Klopp named as strong a side as he feasibly could, with Roberto Firmino and Takumi Minamino coming into attack for the absent pair of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.
- Mikel Arteta handed a further start to Eddie Nketiah up front, while Cedric Soares played at right-back. Martin Odegaard missed out after testing positive for Covid.
Most inside Anfield would have expected an onslaught from the moment of Xhaka’s dismissal. But without Mo Salah and Sadio Mane there was a worrying lack of incision in Liverpool’s attacks. Opportunities created were few and far between, and Aaron Ramsdale was rarely tested in the Arsenal goal. Takumi Minamino and Roberto Firmino struggled to have much of an impact in their place.
One of the few clear chances after the red card probably fell to Arsenal on 72 minutes, as Alexandre Lacazette and Kieran Tierney combined before the latter found Bukayo Saka in the box, but he was denied by the quick thinking of Alisson – as he raced off his line to prevent him converting.
There was time for Liverpool to snatch the win on 90 minutes, but Minamino somehow conspired to blaze over the bar and into the Kop with the goal at his mercy.
Klopp: We didn’t do enough
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: “For obvious reasons we had to change the line-up tonight. I really liked the way we started in the game. I saw absolutely everything I wanted to see in the beginning – we were front-footed in the right moments, and started the game like we wanted to start.
“Then after the red card we were playing against a low block, and against the most finely-tuned teams it’s difficult. On top of that we made a few wrong decisions and looked rushed. It’s a typical situation, you go to try and win something and in a second it can turn into a situation where you can lose.
“But we couldn’t create enough for the situation we were in against 10 men. That’s clear enough. But again this is a cup competition. It’s a two-leg semi-final, it’s half-time. At 0-0 Arsenal might be in a slightly better position, but we don’t think this tie is over for us.”
Arteta: We showed fight
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “We certainly rebelled against the situation, which I expect from the players. I think they showed great fight, determination, attitude, brotherhood. You could see the emotion they were playing with. They never gave up.
“It’s extremely difficult to do it in this ground against this opponent. Credit to the boys. It’s just the first leg but to do what we’ve done today, I think they deserve a lot of credit for that.
“I don’t know if [the sending off] inspired them but we certainly took the fight. I said to them before the game that you have to have a certain attitude to play in this ground. In difficult moments, you have to act, but you can’t be overreacting because then it becomes really complicated. I think the boys did that extremely well in certain moments. We played the game that we had to play, which is not our game, but we managed to do it.”
Analysis: Carra surprised by Klopp’s slow response
Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports Football:
“I was convinced Jurgen Klopp would make a change [at half-time] and I can’t believe they came out with the same XI. Not that anything wasn’t working in the first half but Arsenal are down to 10 men and you’ve got a very workmanlike midfield. The first substitution was for James Milner on the hour. It had to be made at half-time.
“It’s probably the only thing I can question Jurgen Klopp about at times. Does he make substitutions early enough? And I just think when that sending off happens there’s a good 15 or 20 minutes before half-time to speak to your assistant – ‘how are we going to go about this in the second half?’ There’s a chance to get your team in and make that change, be more on the front foot and give the instructions to the players. But Liverpool still didn’t do enough in that last half an hour with the extra attacking players on. I just thought it was really strange they didn’t make that change.”
Analysis: Arsenal comfortable but deserve credit
Paul Merson on Sky Sports Football:
“There is so much credit for Arsenal coming out of this game, you have to say that. To play as long as they did with 10 men, and to restrict Liverpool to minimal chances, Arsenal were very comfortable. It was all about attitude.
“Liverpool made it easy for Arsenal, but credit where credit is due. I’ve been a critic of Arsenal’s defence over the years and how they can capitulate in certain games, but today they stood up, every single one of them.
“Arteta got them in at half-time, set them up, and they all worked. Everybody had to put a shift in and they all worked their socks off. The players and manager should be proud.”
Man of the Match: Ben White
“There’s so much fight in this team and it showed today,” White told Sky Sports. “We dug deep and got the result we needed.
“The boys did well today. It’s hard enough to come here with 11 men, to get one sent off straight away is not good, but it was a superb performance. We were confident coming here and we’ll give it our all in the next game.”
Carabao Cup schedule
- Second leg takes place at the Emirates Stadium next Thursday, January 20. Live on Sky Sports Football from 7pm; kick-off 7.45pm.
- The winners of this tie face Chelsea in the final at Wembley on Sunday, February 27
What’s next for Liverpool and Arsenal?
Ahead of next week’s second leg both sides are back in Premier League action on Sunday. Liverpool host Brentford in a 2pm kick-off, while Arsenal head to Tottenham for a huge north London derby, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm; Kick-off 4.30pm.