By: Shane Brennan
Liverpool locked horns with Arsenal on Thursday evening in the first leg of The League Cup semi-final at Anfield. Both teams went with their strongest possible line up as Wembley was on the horizon.
Anfield rippled with excitement as Liverpool got into their stride, and in the 12th minute Liverpool’s pressing game got a little bit too much for Arsenal when skipper Jordan Henderson charged down, Aaron Ramsdale, fortunately from an Arsenal point of view the shot stopper managed to recover quickly and shuffle the ball out of play.
From the resulting corner after a series of passes, the ball found its way to Takumi Minamino who delivered a tempting ball into the Arsenal box, which left Arsenal defender Ben White stretching every sinew of his body to take the ball away from Roberto Firmino as Arsenal clung on.
Then Henderson combined with Andy Robertson as the Scotsman ran at The Gunners defence as they were in sixes and sevens, but this time it was Albert Sambi Lokonga to the rescue for The Gunners, as Arsenal just about withstood the latest wave of attack from The Mighty Reds.
Then in the 19th minute Alexandre Lacazette had a half chance for Arsenal,which came about from a slack piece of play between Fabinho and Henderson Fabinho played the ball to the Liverpool skipper, but he was left with very little space to turn, which left Lacazette free to have a pot shot at goal, thankfully the Frenchman could only put the ball high and wide over the top of Alisson Beckers crossbar. In the 24th minute the tie was to take a significant turn in Liverpool’s favour when Andy Robertson lashed the ball forward in Diogo Jotas direction, the ball bounced perfectly for the Portuguese superstar to leave him clean through on goal.
This in turn left Arsenals Granit Xhaka with very little choice but to foul Jota, and referee Michael Oliver had very little hesitation in giving the Switzerland man his marching orders, and it was now up to Liverpool to take advantage of their numerical superiority.
From that point on in the first half Liverpool had nearly all the possession, but it wasn’t really bringing about any joy. In the 41st minute Joel Matip was forced to divert the ball over his own crossbar as Bukayo Sakas cross caused considerable confusion, as Arsenal hung on in there. The game was level at 0-0 at half time, as the first half failed to produce a shot on target from either side.
Liverpool started the second half with much needed zip and zest in their play as Minamino drove at Calum Chambers, Minamino got the better of his man and delivered a good cross into the area, but sadly the ball just went wide of Ramsdales right hand post. Just before the hour mark in a game of very few chances Saka flew in on Matip, Saka was adjudged to have won the ball, and from that incident another half chance came Arsenals way when Gabriel Magalhaes tried to play in Saka, but Alisson was alert in what was a rare moment of flickering excitement within the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Liverpool very nearly made the breakthrough in the 67th minute, when Robertson put League Cup scoring hero Minamino through on goal, but for once Minamino could not oblige as his shot sped past the right hand post as, Liverpool continued to be frustrated by a determined Arsenal side.
Then in the 72nd minute Arsenal almost grabbed the lead out of nothing, when Kieran Tierney picked out a perfect ball for Saka. Mercifully Alisson came racing out of his goal to stop the young English man getting his shot away. With 11 minutes to go substitute Curtis Jones picked out Jordan Henderson who blazed high and handsome over the crossbar, as hope began to fade of Liverpool making a break through.
In the 88th minute Neco Williams put a good cross into the box which Firmino tried to get to, but just like much of Liverpool’s night their luck just wasn’t in and the ball rebounded kindly off the Brazilian into Ramsdales hands. With just under a minute to go at the end of the game Alex Oxlade -Chamberlain dug out a fine cross from which Ramsdale could only flap at, The ball fell to Minamino with an empty net but the super Japanese International could not take advantage either as he could only put the ball over the bar with the net gaping. Curtis Jones then went on to fire Liverpool’s first shot on target in the 92nd minute, which Ramsdale dealt with comfortably.
Then Jones crossed the ball in from which Virgil van Dijk rose high, Ramsdale couldn’t get his hands on the ball, which in turn fell to Williams who fired a shot goal wards, but Ben White was there to clear the danger for Arsenal. Unfortunately that was to be that for Liverpool on the night, as Arsenals ten men held out for what was a great draw for them. Up next for Liverpool is the visit of Brentford to Anfield on Sunday.