The Warmdown: 10-man Arsenal hold Liverpool to goalless draw at Anfield
Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal tackles Curtis Jones of Liverpool during the Carabao Cup Semi Final First Leg match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on January 13, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)

Last night, Mikel Arteta's Arsenal managed to leave Anfield with their heads held high, as with 10 men for the majority of the game, they held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw. 

It has been a long time since The Gunners last put in an impressive performance when facing Jurgen Klopp's side. In more recent years, it has been one of the most difficult places to visit, as their 4-0 demolition earlier this season can illustrate. 

But this is a different Arsenal side - one with bite, determination and a truly impressive team ethic. Holding The Reds to a goalless draw means that they head to The Emirates next week in a solid position.

Granted, no game against the red half of Merseyside is ever easy, but the display last night with a man down will only fill the Gunners with confidence as they look to progress into the final of the EFL Cup.

It took only 24 minutes for the visitors to find themselves at a numerical disadvantage, as a long ball over the top towards Diogo Jota found Granit Xhaka flailing, making what was a desperate and unfortunately characteristic lunge towards the ball, striking the Portuguese forward in the chest as he bared down on the Arsenal goal. 

It didn't take long for referee Michael Oliver to brandish the red card, leaving Gunners fans with their heads in their hands in response to these all too familiar set of circumstances. 

You would have been forgiven for thinking that once Xhaka was shown his fifth red card in Arsenal colours, it would have been a walk in the park for Liverpool to stick a couple of goals past Aaron Ramsdale and head into the second leg with a clear advantage. But that could not have been further from the truth. 

A couple of smart tactical changes and substitutions made by Arteta and his backroom staff reinforced the visitor's back line, as they appropriately set up with a 'backs to the wall' approach for the remainder of the game. 

With five at the back shielded by an industrious, improvised midfield of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Albert-Sambi Lokonga, the young Gunners resisted whatever the hosts had to throw at them for the best part of 70 minutes. 

If you had offered any Arsenal fan a 0-0 draw prior to kickoff, they would have bitten your hand off, as a trip to Anfield is one of the only fixtures that a team can confidently head in to expecting to lose. To not come out of this tie on the losing side for me, is nothing short of a late Christmas miracle. 

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
  • Notable performances

It wouldn't be wrong to simply say that the whole team deserve a mention as notable performers, as every single player sporting Arsenal colours left everything out on the pitch last night, but there were a couple of truly outstanding displays that really do warrant a line or two of their own. 

First of all is captain Alexandre Lacazette - who personified the footballing cliche of leading from the front. The Frenchman worked tirelessly, chasing down every loose ball, hounding the Liverpool backline, ensuring they had little time to think when building from the back.

The 30-year-old has stepped up in a huge way since ex-captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been exiled from the squad on disciplinary grounds, showing that he is as much of a leader as his predecessor with the armband. 

Constantly encouraging the younger players and leading by example, should the striker leave in the summer when his contract runs out, there is no doubt he will be sorely missed in the dressing room. 

There was another huge performance from Benjamin White in the heart of the Gunners defensive unit. Looking composed, tough and resilient, he was in the epicentre of the host's constant pressure throughout the game. 

At only 24, White has cemented his place in the Arsenal backline for years to come, showing true grit, leadership and a steely determination to leave every game with his head held high. As recognised by the television coverage, he was a shoo-in for the man of the match award. 

The last player I want to mention is Martinelli. I really am running out of words to describe this young man. Paired with his undoubtable attacking nouse and guile is an incredible will power. He does not stop running - so much so that I'm fairly sure he jogged home last night, rather than taking the team bus. 

As another player who has stepped into the fold in the absence of Aubameyang, Martinelli has shone in all competitions that he has had the chance to play in. Visibly exhausted at the end of the game, Gunners fans are filled with nothing but pride that this Brazilian dynamo is one of their own. 

  • What next?

The fixtures do not get any easier for The Arsenal, as on Sunday they head to Tottenham for the North London Derby. There have been worse times to take the trip to Spurs, as they look defensively shaky under the new stewardship of Antonio Conte, but as we all know, form goes straight out the window for these sorts of games. 

It really could be a season defining fixture, as Spurs sit poised ready to leapfrog Arsenal into the Champions League places, but if the Gunners can come away with a win against their bitter rivals, they will be in a fantastic position to capitalise and really push for a top four finish. 

After the NLD is the second leg of the semi-final against Liverpool, but this time it will be in front of a bumper-crowd at The Emirates, which is proving to become a fortress in recent months.

A difficult tie nonetheless, if Arteta's men can head into the tie with the wind in their sails, there is no reason why they can't be the ones to progress into the final to face Chelsea at Wembley. 

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