Arsenal dead on their feet but alive in tie after epic defensive performance at Anfield

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When Granit Xhaka was sent off just 24 minutes into this clash with Liverpool, you feared the worst for Arsenal.

They have had plenty of miserable maulings at Anfield in the past and several of those have been with 11 men.

It seemed like the story was destined to be about Xhaka, who had come straight out of isolation following his positive test for Covid-19, and that certainly felt like the case when he was given a red card after catching Diogo Jota as the last man with a high tackle.

Instead, though, this was about Arsenal putting in a defensive performance that would have left Mikel Arteta immensely satisfied.

Liverpool managed just one shot on target during the 90 minutes, with that coming right at the death, and Arsenal kept them at bay superbly.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Gunners, of course, rode their luck at times, most notably when Takumi Minamino thrashed the ball over the bar in the 90th minute when the goal was gaping before him. The Japanese international was Liverpool’s biggest attacking threat all night, twice flashing crosses across goal that no one could convert.

Other than that, the hosts created very little and it is why Arsenal go into next week’s second leg in the driving seat.

Ben White was a rock at the heart of defence, playing with the composure and strength that made you understand why Arsenal paid £50million for him. Gabriel was excellent alongside him too, but Calum Chambers and Rob Holding deserve plenty of praise as well.

The pair were thrown on during the first 30 minutes, as Arsenal tried to recover from Cedric’s injury and Xhaka’s red card, and they stepped up to the plate. Chambers hadn’t played since October, but on this evidence he should get more chances.

Ahead of them, Arsenal’s forwards worked their socks off. Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka chased down every long ball until they could barely stand, while Alexandre Lacazette held up whatever long passes he could.

By the end of the game, they were dead on their feet - but Arsenal are alive in this Carabao Cup semi-final.

Xhaka red card adds to midfield crisis

Just when Arsenal thought their midfield crisis was easing, it has ramped up a gear. Xhaka is now suspended for Sunday’s north London derby and Arsenal are down to the bare bones again.

 (PA)
(PA)

Once again Albert Sambi Lokonga is now the only senior, fit central midfielder available and Arteta will have to look for solution.

Martin Odegaard testing positive for Covid has only added to his issues and Emile Smith Rowe is also struggling with a groin issue.

It surely is too much to ask 18-year-old Charlie Patino to step up and can Arteta really move White into midfield after this heroic display? Either way, Arteta has some decisions to make.

Steady Lokonga banishes Anfield demons

Lokonga’s last trip to Anfield, in November, was a nightmare - but the Belgian will be sleeping well after this visit.

That will partly be because he ran his socks off, but also because he put in a display that underlined his maturity.

The Belgian could have wilted after Xhaka was sent off, however he rose to the occasion and dug deep.

Lokonga didn’t have the chance to influence the game with the ball, but he broke up play and added to the blue wall Arsenal erected.

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