Liverpool are through to the final of the Carabao Cup, after an impressive 2-0 victory over Arsenal. The first leg had been goalless between these teams, but tonight’s second leg saw Liverpool find an extra gear to get the job done. Apart from the opening quarter of an hour, Jurgen Klopp’s side were in control at the Emirates. The Reds can look forward to a 27th February clash with Chelsea in the Wembley showpiece, as English football hands out its first piece of major silverware this season.
Arsenal came flying out of the traps in the opening moments, and Liverpool seemed to creak under the weight of the pressure. Some messy defending led to an invitingly central free kick for the Gunners early on. Alexandre Lacazette’s looping shot was difficult to stop, and Caoimhin Kelleher did brilliantly to tip it onto the bar.
The Liverpool defence took a while to settle, and frequently looked nervous when clearing their lines. Lacazette and Bukayo Saka in particular put the away side’s back line under immense pressure. Against the run of play, Liverpool appeared to take the lead. Fabinho headed a corner into the path of Joel Matip, who instinctively slotted the ball home. The goal was disallowed, but it was the first whisper of Liverpool warming to the task in this second leg tie.
When the goal came, it belonged to Jurgen Klopp’s side. Diogo Jota turned Takehiro Tomiyasu inside out, before a daisy cutter of a shot found its way past an outstretched Aaron Ramsdale. The finish was far from Jota’s best of the season, but the change of gear and fine touch to carve the chance was a testament to his impact on this Liverpool team.
The goal gave Liverpool comfort and suddenly the passes were coming a little easier, the touches more considered. It was Arsenal’s turn to labour, with their only presentable opportunity arriving when Fabinho robbed Gabriel Martinelli in the box with a superb sliding tackle.
After the half-time break, Arsenal had a wonderful chance to get on level terms. Albert Sambi Lokonga showed great vision with a chipped ball over the top for Lacazette, but the Frenchman ballooned his shot over the bar. Next, it was Liverpool’s turn to squander a gilt-edged opportunity. Jota marauded down the left wing before cutting inside and teeing up an easy chance for Kaide Gordon. The 17-year-old panicked, and snatched his shot over the bar. Liverpool really should have been out of sight, but it is to be hoped the youngster does not dwell too long on his miss after a promising display.
The Reds ably demonstrated their threat from corners once more, when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s set piece was headed onto the post by Ibrahima Konate. Jordan Henderson seized upon the rebound, drawing an excellent save from Ramsdale.
Arsenal tried in vain to battle back, including bringing on Thomas Partey who had returned to England just this morning after Ghana’s elimination from the African Cup of Nations. Eddie Nketiah was also introduced to try and revitalise their attack. But it was Liverpool who would put a full stop on the game, when Diogo Jota chested down a long pass and elegantly lifted it over the head of Ramsdale. There was a VAR check, but Jota’s perfectly-timed run meant there was no offside to give. It was another moment of brilliance from the Portugal international.
Partey’s return from international duty ended up being brief, as the midfielder was sent off for a reckless lunge on Fabinho. It was a bizarre and desperate moment that summed up Arsenal’s struggles to reach the final.
In a season where the Premier League title looks almost guaranteed to be heading to the Etihad, the cups take on an increased significance for the chasing pack. Klopp has not always been the biggest fan of this competition, but putting the League Cup in the Anfield trophy cabinet must be a priority with a league title looking beyond them. Chelsea will feel the same way, given the way their title challenge has eroded after a promising start. Wembley is set to play host to a final between two huge teams for whom the Carabao Cup could define the rest of their season.