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Frustration for Klopp as Reds fail to break 10-man Gunners after Xhaka’s first red card

FROM 40 false positives to a big negative for Jurgen Klopp.

Liverpool’s Carabao Cup semi-final against Arsenal proved anything but simple.

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Ten-man Arsenal held Liverpool at bay in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final1 credit
Granit Xhaka was sent off after 24 minutes but the match ended in a 0-0 deadlock

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Granit Xhaka was sent off after 24 minutes but the match ended in a 0-0 deadlock1 credit

Despite playing 10 men for 66 minutes at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp’s side failed to find a way past a stubborn Arsenal men’s side who lost Granit Xhaka with a straight red after a stupid challenge on Diogo Jota.

And you have to give Arsenal huge credit for defending superbly and fighting like hell to frustrate Klopp’s side.

With Ben White and first-half substitute Calum Chambers both exceptional in defence, Arsenal showed real guts away from home with their backs to the wall, something we haven’t always seen in recent years.

Mikel Arteta’s side now appear to have a slight advantage ahead of next Thursday’s semi-final at the Emirates as they seek to secure a London Derby in the final against Chelsea.

It was supposed to be the second leg until those 40 false positive tests at Liverpool forced last week’s first leg to be postponed.

The hosts were contesting their first National Cup semi-final for five years and they named a strong squad despite the absence of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane in Afcon.

Liverpool huffed and puffed but couldn't find a way past Arsenal's stubborn defense

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Liverpool huffed and puffed but couldn’t find a way past Arsenal’s stubborn defenseCredit: AP
Arsenal themselves had a chance or two to score but were also denied

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Arsenal themselves had a chance or two to score but were also deniedCredit: AFP

This included a departure for Alisson who was playing his first EFL Cup game since joining Liverpool from Roma in 2018.

Still, the Brazilian had a quiet evening and despite having a one-man advantage, Liverpool failed to make it a busy night for Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale.

Yet Liverpool’s lack of quality in the final third came to a head in the 90th minute when Taki Minamino exploded with an open goal.

And the night would certainly have been easier for Arteta had Xhaka avoided his fifth dismissal for Arsenal.

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Arsenal suffered an early injury blow with Cedric Soares limping

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Arsenal suffered an early injury blow with Cedric Soares limpingCredit: AFP
There are also fears for Bukayo Saka after being sent off late

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There are also fears for Bukayo Saka after being sent off lateCredit: Getty

He actually pulled off the feat of effectively handling two red cards with a challenge as his slot was in Jota when he was also the last man.

The Swiss midfielder will now miss the North London derby against Spurs on Sunday as well as Thursday’s return leg at home to Liverpool in the Emirates.

Xhaka was shown a direct red against Manchester City in August for a challenge against Joao Cancelo, but he believes he starts games “closer to a red card” than other players.

Xhaka is probably right – but it’s his fault rather than the referee’s.

And the game would have been much easier for Arsenal if Xhaka hadn’t lost the plot as he tried to cut off a long cross from Andy Robertson.

Jurgen Klopp will have been frustrated by his side's inability to score

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Jurgen Klopp will have been frustrated by his side’s inability to scoreCredit: Reuters
There is everything to play for in the Emirates with Mikel Arteta's 10 men keeping a clean sheet

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There’s everything to play for in the Emirates with Mikel Arteta’s 10 men keeping a clean sheetCredit: AFP

The Ramsdale keeper was about to dash off his line but hesitated, although it wasn’t the first time he’d lacked composure during the evening.

Xhaka got into a tight spot, panicked and gave the silly challenge and referee Michael Oliver didn’t hesitate to show a straight red.

Centre-back Gabriel barely helped his team as he had pushed midway through Liverpool trying to shut down Bobby Firmino but didn’t get close enough to the Brazilian striker to cut off the move.

Once Robertson delivered his long punt, Gabriel was caught desperately out of position, with Xhaka having to cover for his teammate.

Arsenal had made a substitution in the 11th minute when Chambers replaced the injured Cedric Soares.

Arsenal will definitely miss Xhaka's presence in midfield next week

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Arsenal will definitely miss Xhaka’s presence in midfield next week1 credit
Arsenal's midfield crisis has deepened further with Xhaka now suspended

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Arsenal’s midfield crisis has deepened further with Xhaka now suspended1 credit

Thus, the match was not even 30 minutes old and Arteta was forced into a second substitution for tactical reasons with Eddie Nketiah replaced by defender Rob Holding.

Even on a night like this, Bukayo Saka looks like a real star for Arsenal with his fine technique and reading of the game.

Alexandre Lacazette, who started the game as No10 until Nketiah was replaced, made plenty of runs.

MARK HALSEY’S VERDICT

ON Xhaka’s red card

GRANIT XHAKA facilitated the sending off of Michael Oliver after his challenge on Diogo Jota.

The Arsenal midfielder tried to stretch to reach Andy Roberton’s long ball but only managed to crash into the Liverpool striker.

It’s unclear whether Oliver shows the red card for a serious foul or denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity (DOGSO).

With Xhaka’s boot connecting to Jota’s chest, you could tell the challenge puts the player’s safety at risk.

However, if it were DOGSO, there is an element of doubt as to the likelihood of Jota keeping or regaining control of the ball as his first touch bounces off his chest at pace.

Either way, Xhaka forced Oliver to make a decision that went against him.

Liverpool failed to open Arsenal until halfway through the second half, but Minamino fired a shot that went for a goal kick even though Ramsdale seemed to have put their finger on it.

And Arsenal took 70 minutes to test Alisson with the Brazilian blocking a strike from Saka who then substituted after being given tablets and water by a club doctor.

And despite Liverpool pressing Minamino missing that keeper, Arsenal remained organized at the back and gave very little.

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And in many ways that draw was even more heartening than some of the results Arsenal have achieved this season in their unlikely Champions League bid.

Having been kicked out of the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest, they still have a half-decent chance of finishing the season with a trophy.

For Tottenham fans, the only bright spot from their midweek – which saw them eliminated by Chelsea – will be that Arsenal players who covered so much ground could be knocked out on Sunday.