Xhaka Red Card The Highlight Of Goalless Carabao Cup Semi-Final First-Leg

Arsenal defended resolutely to leave it all to play for at the Emirates Stadium
21:51, 13 Jan 2022

Granit Xhaka’s first-half red card was the highlight of the goalless Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield, leaving it all to play for at the Emirates Stadium in a week’s time. The hosts will rue the missed opportunity to take advantage with an extra player as their quality in front of goal was non-existent, having squandered several big chances.

Jurgen Klopp will have been left frustrated at his players for not being ruthless with an extra man for more than 60 minutes in the game, and he may be concerned at his attacking options over the next few weeks while Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are away at the African Cup of Nations with Egypt and Senegal respectively. The usual interchanging centre-forwards Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino were deployed together but both appeared lost without the magic that the African duo normally provide. From an Arsenal point of view, the game went brilliantly considering for much of the game they were a man down. They were forced to be more defensive to deal with the threat that Liverpool possessed but they defended brilliantly and it just highlights how much the team is improving under Mikel Arteta. And when his players were able to counter-attack, they did look dangerous.

Arsenal looked very shaky in the opening stages. Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale had a clearance blocked by Jordan Henderson that almost led to a goal-scoring opportunity. Liverpool were the ones applying all the pressure in the first quarter of the game, although Arsenal did occasionally look threatening when they evaded the press. But the Gunners were reduced to 10 men before the half-hour mark as Xhaka received a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Jota. Arteta was worried about his midfield options ahead of the game and that problem was worsened less than 30 minutes into the match.

After Cedric was forced off early due to picking up an injury, Calum Chambers replaced him and Arteta was forced to make a second change after Xhaka’s dismissal, with Eddie Nketiah making way for defender Rob Holding. For all the pressure Liverpool applied, there was a clear lack of quality in the final third as they did not register a single shot on target in the first-half. It felt as though they were struggling without Salah and Mane.

Bukayo Saka was a bright spark for Arsenal down the right side. If ever they were going to get a chance in the game, it was going to come through him. In most cases, his dancing feet got the better of Andy Robertson as he weaved his way past the Scotsman on many occasions. Jota was rather quiet as he struggled to lead the line in the absence of his two forward teammates. But credit should go to Arteta for how he organised his side after losing Xhaka. His defence were constantly threatened by Liverpool and they defended resolutely as a unit. Liverpool had a glorious chance to break the deadlock in the closing stages as Ramsdale misjudged a cross, leaving his goal open. Takumi Minamo looked destined to rifle the ball into the back of the net, but to sum up the Reds’ night in the final third, he blazed his effort over the bar.

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