Arsenal turned in a stoic defensive display at Anfield

Arsenal turned in a stoic defensive display at Anfield

Mikel Arteta lauded the spirit of his Arsenal side after the Gunners battled to a goalless draw against Liverpool at Anfield.

Granit Xhaka was sent off midway through the first half in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final on Thursday, having lunged in high on Diogo Jota.

It is the fifth time Xhaka has been sent off since he made his Arsenal debut in 2016-17, more than any other Premier League player in that time.

Yet without key men Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who are with Senegal and Egypt respectively at the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool faltered in front of goal and failed to make their numerical advantage count.

Curtis Jones’ stoppage-time effort was the Reds’ only shot on target, with that attempt coming after Aaron Ramsdale had gifted Takumi Minamino (who had six attempts in total) a golden chance, only for the Japan forward to blaze it high over a gaping goal.

Based on Opta’s expected goals (xG) model, Minamino’s chance was the second best opportunity of the match – an xG value of 0.384 (a 38.4 per cent likelihood of scoring) – though Bukayo Saka had the best sighting of goal when his close-range effort (0.402 xG) was smothered by Alisson.

Arsenal, who were without regulars Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Thomas Partey, now head into next week’s second leg on level pegging, with a place in the final against Chelsea on the line at Emirates Stadium.

“They showed great fight, determination, attitude, brotherhood,” Arteta told Sky Sports.

“You could see the determination with which they were playing, they never gave up, it’s extremely difficult in this situation against this opponent. Great credit to the boys.

“I don’t know if it [the sending off] inspired them, but they certainly took the fight and I said to them before the game that you have to have a certain attitude to play in this ground, in difficult moments you have to act, you cannot be reactive because then it gets really complicated and I think the boys adapted really well in certain moments.

“We played the game that we had to play, not the game we wanted to play but the game we had to.”

Arsenal performed well against Manchester City on New Year’s Day, only to go down to Rodri’s late winner in a game in which the Gunners were again reduced to 10 men – Gabriel Magalhaes sent off on that occasion. Since Arteta took charge in December 2019, his side have received 13 red cards in all competitions, five more than any other Premier League side in this period. 

The Gunners then slumped out of the FA Cup on Sunday, losing to Championship side Nottingham Forest 1-0, but Arteta suggested inconsistency was merely a symptom of a largely inexperienced side.

He said: “It’s really difficult to explain, you see the performance against City where we probably deserved more, we played with 10 men then we play Forest and it was completely different.

“Today we got the level back and did what we had to do. It’s an extremely young team, sometimes that inconsistency is going to happen.”

Arsenal have now avoided defeat in four of their last eight away games in which they have been shown a red card in all competitions, though injuries to Bukayo Saka and Cedric Soares further complicated matters ahead of Sunday’s north London derby clash with Tottenham.

“The motivation to play a derby brings the energy when you don’t have it, no excuses we’re going to play the game now in the best possible way,” Arteta added.