Liverpool (0) 0 Arsenal (0) 0
Carabao Cup Semi-Final (First Leg)
Anfield Stadium, Anfield Road, Anfield, Liverpool L4 0TH
Thursday, 13th January 2022. Kick-off time: 7.45pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Cédric Soares, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Albert Sambi Lokonga, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel Martinelli; Eddie Nketiah.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Rob Holding, Nuno Tavares, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Mika Biereth, Salah-Eddine Oulad M’Hand, Omari Hutchinson, Charlie Patino.
Red Cards: Granit Xhaka
Yellow Cards: Gabriel Magalhães
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 22%
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistant Referees: Simon Bennett, Stuart Burt
Fourth Official: Craig Pawson
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Darren England; AVAR Timothy Wood
After the disappointments of last Sunday’s FA Cup third round match against Nottingham Forest, tonight’s semi-final first leg at Anfield is one game that we simply cannot be allowed to fail, as this competition is our only chance of silverware this season. With missing players due to AFCON, COVID-19, injuries and suspensions, it will be interesting to see how our team fare tonight in such a hothouse atmosphere.
Arsenal kicked off the proceedings tonight and we were attacking the Kop end in the first half. A good cross by Cédric Soares tried to find Eddie Nketiah, but he collided with Alisson, the Liverpool goalkeeper and as such, the home side were awarded the first free-kick of the match. Liverpool were trying to pin us back into our own half, but we managed to hold our own under some fierce pressure. After just ten minutes, Cédric Soares was replaced by Calum Chambers as he had an injury to his right-hand side, which meant that he was unable to continue. We were fortunate not to concede a couple of goals when a mistake by Aaron Ramsdale was charged down by Jordan Henderson that fortunately went nowhere, and then a half-hearted attempt by Andy Robertson went narrowly wide. Although the home supporters are creating a certain noise level, our supporters are doing their best to be heard, as well, shouting and pushing the boys on as best they can in this cacophony of sound. After nineteen minutes, Alexandre Lacazette tried his luck thirty yards from goal after a mistake from Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson but he was unable to get the ball on target and it went well high and wide. After twenty-four minutes, we were down to ten men when Granit Xhaka was dismissed by referee Michael Oliver when he denied Diego Jota a goalscoring chance when he was bearing down on our goal attempting to collect a high ball. In order to reshuffle the pack, Eddie Nketiah was replaced by Rob Holding just before the half hour mark, and using the advantage of the extra man, Liverpool sensed a weakness in Arsenal’s ranks and piled pressure on us relentlessly. Every man played their part in trying to keep the home side back as balls were flying into our penalty area from every possible angle, and somehow our defenders manged to clear their lines. Four minutes before half time, a flurry of activity from our attackers led to both a corner and a free-kick (for a foul on Bukayo Saka) that went nowhere, sadly. Michael Oliver blew the half-time whistle after two minutes’ injury time, and amazingly, not only did the first period end goalless, but neither team registered a shot on goal. An incredible statistic.
Liverpool started the second half in earnest, and almost immediately they pushed us back into our own half, and Takumi Minamino almost caught Aaron Ramsdale off guard, but fortunately our goalkeeper managed to backpedal and recover in time. We caught the home side unawares once or twice with some good “smash’n’grab” play, which although didn’t achieve its aim, it still made Liverpool uneasy. Aaron Ramsdale made some spectacular saves to keep us in the game on several occasions, and although we defended superbly well under the circumstances, our forwards were getting no brevity at the other end. Our best bet to score tonight could be from set pieces, but the way the match is going tonight, anything can happen. Our defensive wall when Liverpool came forward is made up of five blue shirts, and with twenty minutes of the match remaining, it’s a system that works well. Bukayo Saka was desperately unlucky not to score when he was in a one-on-one situation with Alisson, but he was unable to control the ball, and the goalkeeper retrieved it easily. Entering the last quarter of an hour of the match, the game started to spark into life again with some real end-to-end play from tired legs. With eleven minutes of the match remaining, an injured and fatigued Bukayo Saka was replaced by Nuno Tavares, and our backs-to-the-wall performance continued as the clock wore down. The home side pinned us back in our own half, but our excellent organisation at the back, combined with sheer determination denied our opponents time and time again. With a minute of normal time remaining, Aaron Ramsdale snatched at the ball, and as it fell loose, and with an open goal at his mercy, Takumi Minamino blasted the ball high and into the Kop. In the five minutes injury time, the pressure continued from Liverpool, and the harder they tried, the more we put our bodies in the way of them. As the final whistle blew, our courageous ten men can look at this match tonight as a job well done.
Incredible result by our men at Anfield tonight; we played with ten men after Granit Xhaka was sent off after just twenty-four minutes, and we held Liiverpool, despite being under extreme pressure for large periods of the match. Every man played their part, every man played with heart and desire, none more so than Ben White, who seemed to be everywhere this evening, thwarting the Liverpool strikers seemingly at will. Also, just how great were our supporters tonight? They were constantly singing throughout the game, at times outsinging the Liverpool supporters! This result is as good as a win, no doubt about that, and it makes next Thursday’s match at the Emirates a nail-biter. Oh, and before that we have the little matter of the North London derby as well! Exciting times.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Tottenham Hotspur at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday, 16th January at 4.30pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.