Arsenal have unearthed the secret to beating Liverpool this season. Take them out on penalties.
Mikel Arteta’s side followed up their Community Shield victory with another spot kick triumph, Bernd Leno’s saves from Divock Origi and Harry Wilson enabling Joe Willock to secure a quarter-final place.
Jurgen Klopp declared last year’s Anfield Carabao Cup tie with Arsenal as one of the most enjoyable of his reign.
He is unlikely to consider this one so memorable as the fixture which normally guarantees goals failed to deliver until sudden death.
We must have been spoiled with the ten in the corresponding round between the clubs last season. Leno inevitably earned most plaudits, excelling before his defining saves in the shoot-out.
Arteta will take further encouragement from new signing Gabriel’s distinguished presence in defence, even if he was only facing a third of Liverpool’s usual strikeforce.
Arteta has quite the winning habit in the domestic cups, especially when you take into account his earlier work at Manchester City. The promise of more silverware swells enthusiasm for his rebuilding work.
Familiarity often breeds contempt in football. It is the penalty kicks against Arteta that Liverpool will now be sick of, the coach also part of the City backroom team that twice beat Klopp’s side in this manner at Wembley.
If the gulf between the sides on Monday seemed vast, there was little between the significantly changed line-ups and a shoot-out looked likely from the early stages, albeit Leno was prompted into sustained action at the start of the second half when repelling the efforts of Diogo Jota and Marko Grujic. Takumi Minamino had earlier struck the crossbar.
In truth, although this was Liverpool and Arsenal meeting again in name, given the personnel changes, that was stretching the description. There were nine alterations for Klopp, eight for Arteta, and the impact on overall quality told.
As has been the case throughout this competition, the teamsheets also said as much about imminent transfers as matchwinners. This week’s Anfield guessing game involved Xherdan Shaqiri, who was outstanding against Lincoln City in the previous round but surplus to requirements amid the possibility of a sale this time.
That was a disappointment given his tendency to sprinkle a little magic dust before disappearing every six months, but it is quite the dilemma weighing up the best line-up when such cash is at stake.
“It is the time of the year where sometimes the manager has some information and has to react,” explained Klopp.
Arsenal beat Liverpool 5-4 on penalties!
— GOAL (@goal) October 1, 2020
The surprise inclusion of Wilson, meanwhile, suggested there are no takers yet for the Welshman so far in this window, or at least not at Liverpool’s asking price. He played in central midfield.
A shortage of centre-backs ensured Virgil van Dijk started again, although Arsenal’s pacey three of Pepe, Eddie Nketiah, and England new boy Bukayo Saka meant the Liverpool defender had to exert himself more than the casual jogging required in the last round. Klopp knew the challenge ahead after eight minutes.
Arsenal should have taken the lead when Pepe had the beating of Neco Williams on Liverpool’s right, crossing for Nkethiah who pondered while goalkeeper Adrian shoved the ball from his foot. Despite the ease with which the visitor found space, hopes for an open encounter were short-lived, even with the unexpected presence of Mohamed Salah in the home side.
Liverpool had to wait until the last minute of the first half to test Leno, Jota involved when forcing the keeper to shove aside the striker’s header. Minamino shot against the crossbar rather than into the empty net.
Leno made a smarter save to deny Van Dijk earlier in the second half, palming away the defender’s poked attempt after James Milner’s corner.
The pressure was increasing, with Jota an increasingly lively presence and Marko Grujic – who looks like he would be a capable Premier League recruit for someone – also testing the Arsenal number one from 20 yards.
“We could have been a bit more clinical but Bernd Leno made a really good game,” said Klopp.
“I told him after the game I was not too happy about that!”
The best was still to come from when Leno stood firm against Jota’s 63rd minute volley, although when Adrian’s saved Rob Holding’s close range header he ensured both keepers would be confident for the shoot-out.
Adrian saved Mohamed Elneny’s attempt but Leno made the deepest impression and Arteta’s domestic cup domination goes on.