After crashing out of the FA Cup on Sunday, the League Cup remains Arsenal’s last realistic chance at silverware this season. A stunning 5-1 rout of Sunderland in the previous round had earned Arsenal a two-legged semi-final against Liverpool.
The game was originally supposed to take place the previous Thursday at the Emirates Stadium, however, after a large COVID situation at Liverpool, the games were switched and moved back a week to accommodate Liverpool’s inability to field a full-team.
In this time, Arsenal suffered a crisis of their own. When the lineups were announced last night, it revealed that Martin Ødegaard had tested positive for COVID and that Takehiro Tomiyasu and Emile Smith Rowe were both injured – Thomas Partey was also unavailable due to his involvement at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON).
Things started to go wrong for Arsenal early on; in the 11th minute, Cédric Soares was withdrawn due to a muscle injury, meaning that Calum Chambers was asked to deputies at fullback.
Liverpool began to try, in earnest, to attack Arsenal with everything they had, but seemed to lack a killer edge.
Things then went from bad to worse for the visitors after Granit Xhaka, predictably, managed to get himself sent off. This precipitated a change in personnel.
Mikel Arteta had resisted the urge to go with a back 5 to start with, but now, he had no choice. He replaced Eddie Nketiah with Rob Holding, switching Holding into the heart of the defence with Benjamin White and Gabriel Magalhães, while Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka moved into midfield to partner Albert Sambi Lokonga and provide him with more cover.
But it seems that the age-old adage of “it’s more difficult to play against 10-men” seemed to ring true. Try as they might, Liverpool simply couldn’t break Arsenal’s low-block down. Whether it be the absences of Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mané or just poor finishing, but Liverpool were unable to break Arsenal down.
This carried over into the 2nd half, where Liverpool couldn’t get past the defence. Countless chances created, but no one on the end of the chances to take them. Arsenal, for their part, knew that they couldn’t attack. Any movement forward would surely result in a devastating counter-attack, though Bukayo Saka did come close on one occasion.
The final heart-in-the-mouth moment was Takumi Minamino blazing over from close-range with an open-goal. Arguably the biggest let-off of Arsenal’s season thus far.
The final whistle blew out as Arsenal came out with an improbable draw.
The praise has to go to Mikel Arteta and the defence, who both managed the game beautifully.
To go in with a depleted squad and then be forced into an early change and then have a player sent off and still emerge with a draw, is remarkable. The Arsenal of old would surely have crumbled long before then, but this young side seems to have a steely resilience about them that Liverpool could not crush.
Benjamin White was perhaps at his very best too. The defender shepherded the defence, put his body on the line and did everything in his power to keep the opposition out. It was a consummate performance from top to bottom.
Credit must also go to Calum Chambers. So often on the fringes of the squad, Chambers spran into action when called upon last night and he rose to the challenge magnificently, keeping Andy Robertson under wraps all night.
It’s not as good as a win, but it’s not far off. Arsenal now take the game back to the Emirates Stadium next week with a more manageable scoreline than predicted and everything to play for, with the prospect of playing Chelsea in the final looming.
Attention now turns to the North London Derby, as Arsenal now have no Granit Xhaka and a myriad of injury and COVID-19 issues to worry about.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
17.) Cédric Soares (Chambers 11′)
4.) Benjamin White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka 🔴
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
7.) Bukayo Saka (Tavares 81′)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Holding 28′)
1.) Bernd Leno
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
20.) Nuno Tavares
87.) Charlie Patino
65.) Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand
82.) Omari Hutchinson
56.) Mika Bireth
66.) Trent Alexander-Arnold (Williams 76’)
32.) Joël Matip (Gomes 76’)
4.) Virgil van Dijk
26.) Andy Robertson
3.) Fabinho (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75’)
14.) Jordan Henderson (c)
7.) Milner (Jones 61’)
20.) Diogo Jota
18.) Takumi Minamino
9.) Roberto Firmino
62.) Caoimhín Kelleher
5.) Ibrahima Konaté
12.) Joel Gomez
76.) Neco Williams
21.) Konstantinos Tsimikas
17.) Curtis Jones
80.) Tyler Morton
15.) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
49.) Kaide Gordon