Rapidly reduced to 10 with the expulsion of Granit Xhaka, Arsenal held firm against a Liverpool (0-0) lacking in offensive inspiration, Thursday, at Anfield, for the semi-final first leg of the English League Cup.
While the verdict fell on Wednesday in the other semi-final, with the qualification of Chelsea which beat Tottenham twice (2-0, 1-0), everything remains open between Liverpool and Arsenal before the return to London, in a week. This meeting was initially to be the return match of the confrontation, but a conjunction of injuries, cases of Covid-19 and departures to the African Cup of Nations had allowed Liverpool to obtain a one-week postponement, subject to a reversal of matches.
Xhava sees red
Also deprived of several players, including Martin Odegaard, tested positive for Covid and last minute package, Arsenal intended to show that it was capable of resisting a team from the English Top 3. The Gunners however complicated the task from the 19 minute with the expulsion of Granit Xhaka, already guilty of having put Manchester City back in the saddle during the defeat (2-1), on January 1, by offering them the equalizer on penalty, while the team of Pep Guardiola had been suffering for 57 minutes.
This time, on a long ball from the Reds, the Swiss midfielder threw himself to intercept it without taking the information and his foot landed in the belly of Diogo Jota who was arriving behind him, prompting Michael Oliver to take out the red directly, without much protest of the Gunners. After striker Eddie Nketiah left to let Rob Holding in, the Londoners hunkered down even more, often playing together in their 25 last meters to close as many spaces as possible.
Minamino in difficulty
If the absences of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, who left for the CAN and were replaced by Roberto Firmino and Takumi Minamino, were felt, they are not enough not to explain the offensive difficulties of rough and stereotypical Reds. Hero of the previous round, by equalizing at the last minute against Leicester to send the two teams to the penalty shootout won by his team (3-3, 5-4 on pens), the Japanese symbolized the offensive clumsiness of the Reds , materialized by 0 shots on target in 15 attempts.
He has crossed his shot too much after a nice serve in the box from Andrew Robertson (68e), before sending the ball into the sky while the goal was open after a failed exit from Aaron Ramsdale in the 90 minute. Arsenal even came very close to an excellent operation when Alisson, back in goal, had to make a decisive exit in front of Bukayo Saka at the conclusion of a well-executed counter (72e).
However, it will still take a big performance from the Gunners at home to validate their ticket for the final, on 27 February, especially as Liverpool are in pursuit of the record of victories in the competition which they currently co-hold with Manchester City (8 ), eliminated in eighth.
Mathieu Idiart with AFP Journalist RMC Sport