Arsenal (0) 0 Liverpool (1) 2
Carabao Cup Semi-Final (Second Leg)
(First Leg result: Liverpool 0, Arsenal 0)
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 20th January 2022. Kick-off time: 7.45pm
(4-1-4-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Albert Sambi Lokonga; Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Martinelli; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Thomas Partey, Rob Holding, Nuno Tavares, Eddie Nketiah, Ryan Alebiosu, Karl Hein, Mika Biereth, Salah-Eddine Oulad M’Hand, Charlie Patino.
Red Cards: Thomas Partey
Yellow Cards: Alexandre Lacazette, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Thomas Partey
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 46%
Referee: Martin Atkinson
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Darren England
For this critical match against Liverpool, we will be without Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pépé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (due to AFCON commitments), whilst several other squad members will need to be assessed over injuries or COVID-19 concerns before the game. However, their collective absences from the squad mean that some of our “Young Guns” will get an opportunity to be on the substitutes’ bench this evening, which is heartening to see. Granit Xhaka is also unavailable due to suspension, of course, and let’s hope that despite all this, and the unusual 4-1-4-1 formation, Lady Luck will be kind to us here.
The visitors kicked off the match here tonight, and with the Emirates crowd in great voice, we took the match to the visitors straight away. Within minutes, a free-kick awarded to us on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area led to Alexandre Lacazette’s beautiful curling shot bouncing off the crossbar with goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher getting the smallest of touches on the way. We have started the match with both purpose and desire, with the early exchanges taking place within the Liverpool half. Totally against the run of play, Joel Matip got the ball in our net from a corner, but thankfully VAR deemed it to be offside. The 4-1-4-1 formation is pinning the visitors back, and as such they cannot find any rhythm to their play, and it seems that our midfield four are dominating proceedings so far. However, completely out of the blue, a diagonal ball across the pitch found Diego Jota deep in our half, and he cut inside and scored a rather soft goal with his right foot to open the scoring for Liverpool. It is to be remembered that no away goals count tonight, so if the tie is level at full-time, we head to extra-time and possibly penalties too, and nobody really wants that stressful scenario. After the shock of the early goal, the match started to settle down and although we had a penalty appeal denied when Gabriel Martinelli went down in the visitors’ penalty area after a tackle by Fabinho, there started to be gaps appearing in our play which is not good. Bukayo Saka was unlucky not to score when his shot was blocked by Joel Matip, and at this point in the match, we are finding things difficult, although it has to be said that we are not playing badly, but we lack the zip and fire of the opening stages of the game. Alexandre Lacazette received a yellow card for a late tackle on Curtis Jones, and despite the one minute addition of injury time, we finished the first half one goal down.
We kicked off proceedings for the second half, and quite bluntly, we have forty-five minutes to turn our season around as far as cup competitions are concerned. Three minutes after the restart, Alexandre Lacazette received a great ball from Albert Sambi Lokonga, but his effort went flying over the bar. As in the first half, we started off very well, pressing Liverpool back into their own half; however we got caught cold when Diego Jota beat Ben White out on the left, and passed the ball to Kaide Gordon, who thankfully blasted it over the bar from close range. This led to a period of Liverpool pressure, and eleven minutes after the restart, Takehiro Tomiyasu received a yellow card for a silly challenge on Diego Jota. Thankfully, the resulting free-kick from Andy Robertson went nowhere, and we nearly conceded a second goal when Ibrahima Konate’s header hit the post, but Aaron Ramsdale saved the follow-up shot from Jordan Henderson. On the hour, a Gabriel Martinelli corner which was punched away by Caoimhin Kelleher eventually found Emile Smith-Rowe, whose half-volley shot travelled way over the visitor’s bar. Both teams are making use of “smash’n’grab” tactics which is catching the defenders of either team cold. We don’t seem to be able to find a way through the Liverpool midfield, who are standing solid despite our constant efforts. Gabriel Martinelli had a superb effort saved by Caoimhin Kelleher, but the corner that followed went nowhere. Mikel Arteta made a double substitution with eighteen minutes left of the match; Eddie Nketiah and Thomas Partey replaced Alexandre Lacazette and a fatigued Emile Smith-Rowe. Almost immediately the two lads with fresh legs showed desire and pace, but again we got caight cold and Andy Robertson’s shot flashed across Aaron Ramsdale’s goal; a minute or so later our hearts were broken when Diogo Jota ran onto a long ball, getting to the ball ahead of the advancing Aaron Ramsdale and chipping the ball into the net. Initial thoughts were that he was offside, but VAR confirmed that he was not, and so we were two down with twelve minutes of the match remaining. Thomas Partey received our third yellow card of the match with a couple of minutes to go, and unbelievably two minutes later, he received a second yellow card for a late challenge on Fabinho and he was dismissed by referee Martin Atkinson. In the five minutes’ injury time played, it was merely a game of containment for Liverpool, and so it was journey’s end for us, sadly.
So very disappointing. After all the good work of a week ago at Anfield, tonight’s result was a complete and utter kick in the teeth. We now desperately need to get into the top four to be able to make signings in the summer that will allow us to get to the next step of development, but in the meantime, Mikel Arteta has to try to sign players in the next ten days to help push for the top four position, as I am not sure that we can stand another season without European competition. But first things first; the next step is is for us to defeat Burnley on Sunday afternoon, and over the next few days, Mikel Arteta and his backroom team have to pick them up for that match. After all, if we don’t win at Turf Moor, then top four will seem like a million miles away.
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: Burnley at the Emirates on Sunday, 23rd January at 2.00pm (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.