What was instantly noticeable from the opening whistle was the intent from both sides in this 4th round Carabao Cup clash between Liverpool and Arsenal. Liverpool pressed high in their Premier League fixture but this time, Arteta’s men did the same.
The Gunners’ ability to release the ball was suddenly evident, with Liverpool still able to play their natural attacking game despite the changes and as a result, the match felt more even. Arsenal were flowing and apart from the odd stray pass, it was pleasing on the eye.
The first real chance was from the visitors, with a lovely ball over the top from Ceballos to find Pepe. The resulting pass found Willock who knocked it on to Nketiah, but the young forward’s hesitation meant the chance had gone.
The following exchanges were fairly even, but Liverpool were growing into the Carabao Cup game, without enjoying the type of one-sided dominance they had against Arsenal in the Premier League encounter. Minamino was penalised for clattering into Saka (15). Ceballos floated the ball into Cedric and the resulting ball was bundled in by Rob Holding, but it was disallowed for offside.
It had become a surprisingly open and entertaining affair and for Arsenal, this presented itself as an opportunity to reverse the defeat just days before. Meanwhile, Arteta prowled the technical area occasionally, orchestrating and shouting out instructions, how he looked like he wanted to put his boots on and get involved.
Klopp, by contrast in his Liverpool baseball cap and black quilted coat, almost casually instructed his troops, interspersed with intermittent head and beard rubbing. Arsenal were playing to feet with confidence and there was a greater sense of urgency in the way every loose ball was contested.
45 minutes in and Ceballos conceded a free-kick on the right side outside the area. Milner’s wicked delivery was cleared by Gabriel, Liverpool popped the ball back in and Jota’s header produced a top drawer save from Leno, which was followed up by Minamino who rattled the bar.
Those that have suddenly become anti-Leno including former Arsenal Captain Tony Adams would have to concede that Leno had produced the goods of a top-four keeper and seconds later, he punched the ball away from danger. I thought he was bad in the air?
Yes, he didn’t hold the first attempt and yes, he knocked it into Minamino’s path, but it was a split-second reaction to a well-directed header. He saved it, the rest is just unnecessary hair-splitting. 52 minutes and Leno rubbed the dissenters’ noses in it again with a great low save to his right side from Van Dijk. This was followed by a Jota shot (56) that was well wide of the mark but slowly Liverpool were warming to the task.
Klopp readied his subs to just take the game away from the Gunners and at this point, I hoped to see Lacazette just for something different. Lacazette’s ability to hold the ball up in games would certainly have helped the team in open play, but it would also be useful if it went to penalties which looked likely.
Leno saved again from Jota (62) and seconds after from a set-piece, where the German had to fly to his top left corner to deprive Grujic. Pepe delivered a stunning cross for Holding to out jump Williams and Gomez (69) which produced a decent save from Adrian.
As the game went on, I turned to the Wife, who is a reluctant Arsenal fan. I informed her of the unfair criticism recently levelled at the German after Arsenal sold Martinez and flippantly said that Leno would probably be the hero in this Anfield drama.
The Carabao game ended with Liverpool slightly shading it on chances, but Arsenal are fast becoming a domestic cup team with a desire for more. There was an interesting piece of banter between an unseen Arsenal player and James Milner, Liverpool’s first penalty taker and that continued after he scored, with his index finger in his lips, glaring in the player’s direction.
All was good for Arsenal until Elneny took a tired and unimaginative penalty and Adrian had little to do but fall on the ball but Leno, who had an exceptional game saved from Divock Origi and Harry Wilson leaving Joe Willock the task of finding the back of the net.
Adrian who had guessed the direction correctly for the majority of the pens against him went to his left and somehow, the ball went under him. It wasn’t a great penalty and no one knows that more than Willock but it ensured that Arsenal went into the quarter-finals with a delicious tie against Manchester City. It appears that you can’t keep Guardiola and Arteta apart these days when it comes to a domestic cup competition.
Liverpool weren’t as sharp in the Carabao Cup as they were in the previous Premier League encounter but that shouldn’t detract from the gritty performance by Arsenal. Yes, they had to defend, desperately at times, but they fought hard, and had they been clinical, they could have even won it by a goal. Arsenal have won three out of their four games against the Premier League champions in 8 weeks, which is a trend that we aren’t used to.
After the match, social media was knee-deep in tributes for the Ainsley Maitland-Niles penalty, which was delivered with ice-cold efficiency and drew a broad smile. If anything typifies Arteta’s Arsenal these days, it’s the confidence that he instils in his players and a never say die attitude that has already delivered two trophies. Don’t underestimate Arsenal or Arteta at the moment, with some last-minute additions this season could be a productive one.