Takumi Minamino squandered a golden chance for Liverpool as 10-man Arsenal defended resolutely to draw 0-0 draw in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final.
The Anfield fixture had initially been scheduled as the second leg, but last week’s match was postponed due to a number of coronavirus cases within Liverpool’s squad.
Arsenal were thrashed 4-0 in their previous trip to the ground in November but a depleted Gunners side ensured the second leg will start on level terms following a stoic display, which was complicated by Granit Xhaka’s 24th-minute red card.
Missing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane due to the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool toiled in front of a packed Arsenal defence and when a golden chance did finally come, Minamino fluffed his lines.
Already shorn of the injured Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard, who had tested positive for COVID-19, Arsenal were dealt another blow when Cedric Soares limped off in the 11th minute.
The visitors would surely have been behind if not for Ben White’s intervention, with the defender just managing to deny Roberto Firmino a tap-in.
Though they weathered an early storm, Arsenal’s task was made harder when Xhaka received his marching orders for a desperate, high swipe at Diogo Jota just outside the Gunners’ area
Minamino, Liverpool’s hero from the quarter-final win over Leicester City, almost caught out Aaron Ramsdale early in the second half with a long-range cross-shot that dropped just wide.
Alisson had to be alert to thwart Bukayo Saka at the other end in a rare Arsenal attack, but Minamino should have won it late on.
Ramsdale flapped at a cross and left his goal gaping, yet Minamino’s first-time effort flew high over the crossbar.
What does it mean? Reds attack blunted
Liverpool are not the only team dealing with the loss of key players due to AFCON – Arsenal were missing midfielder Thomas Partey – but without Salah and Mane, Jurgen Klopp’s side lacked the cutting edge to turn their dominance into goals, whose only shot on target came in stoppage time.
Mikel Arteta will have been thrilled with the grit his depleted team showed throughout, and will now be looking to make home advantage count in the second leg, though he will be without Xhaka, while Saka joined Cedric in trudging off with an injury issue late on.
White takes charge
With Arsenal going to a back five following Xhaka’s dismissal, White proved a commanding figure at the back, having by that point already denied Liverpool a certain opener.
The England international made three tackles, three blocks and as many interceptions, all team-highs, while he also contributed five clearances, including one just in front of the line in injury time.
New year, same old Xhaka
Oh, Granit, it was all so predictable. The Arsenal midfielder was beaten for pace by Jota, who latched onto Andrew Robertson’s brilliant diagonal, and in a desperate bid to deny the Liverpool forward a one-v-one with Ramsdale, he lashed out and caught the Portugal international in the stomach.
Xhaka, who had just nine touches in his 24 minutes on the pitch, has now been sent off five times in all competitions since his Arsenal debut in 2016-17. That number may seem surprisingly low, given his tendency to dive in rashly, but it is still more than any other Premier League player.
Key Opta Facts
– Liverpool have kept four consecutive clean sheets against Arsenal in all competitions for the first time since a run of six ending in February 2000.
– Arsenal are winless in their last seven semi-final first legs in the EFL Cup (D4 L3), with four of the last five such matches ending level (L1). However, the Gunners successfully progressed to the final in three of their last four semi-final League Cup appearances before this term.
– This was the fifth time that Liverpool and Arsenal registered a 0-0 draw when facing each other in the EFL Cup, more than any other fixture in the competition’s history.
– Arsenal have avoided defeat in four of their last eight away games in which they have been shown a red card in all competitions.
– Since Arteta’s first game in charge in December 2019, Arsenal have received 13 red cards in all competitions, five more than any other Premier League side in this period.
Both teams are back in Premier League action on Sunday, with Liverpool hosting Brentford and Arsenal taking on north London rivals Tottenham prior to next week’s second leg.