LIVERPOOL, England – In the end, both teams probably got the result their seasons demanded.
It took 90 minutes goalless and a penalty shot, but Arsenal secured their place in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup at Liverpool’s expense. Joe Willock’s penalty shot – the Gunners’ sixth – just crossed the line under Adrian to give Mikel Arteta’s side another win over the champions thanks to penalties after the Community Shield went the same way in August.
The way Arsenal players celebrated – running around the corner and jumping all over Willock – was proof enough that they are very interested in winning this competition for the first time since 1993. It’s not that Liverpool don’t. do, just let them have bigger fish to fry.
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Winners in 2012 and runners-up in 2016, there was a time when the League Cup in its many different forms was a focal point of their campaign, but not now. Not after winning the Champions League and Premier League in consecutive years.
Arsenal under Arteta are at a different stage in their development and lifting this trophy at Wembley in March will represent a significant achievement after winning the FA Cup in August. Title contenders often learn to win in cups and Arsenal have been formidable in such competitions under Arteta.
For Liverpool, however, taking home only the League Cup this season would be considered a disappointment when compared to what has happened before.
“This game tonight counts as you would not believe”, reads the banner above the notes of Klopp’s program. “We want to win with everything we have”.
Lower down, however, came the warning.
“It’s not about considering some competitions as a priority over others. It’s about managing the situation, the circumstances and the squad. The situation and the circumstances cannot be ignored.”
Liverpool’s predicament is that they will face a fit trip to Aston Villa in three days as they try to maintain their perfect Premier League start, and although Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah have been awarded, both have been replaced after a Now. Van Dijk began walking away before the board had even gone up, suggesting that his retirement had been pre-arranged.
Arsenal will also play a match against Sheffield United in the Emirates on Sunday. But Arteta – who also made changes after their 3-1 league defeat to Liverpool on Monday – is looking to get his side back into the top four and bring back the Champions League.
Liverpool, meanwhile, only have eyes for the Premier League trophy and Klopp will know that if the last three seasons are anything to go by, he’ll need close to 100 points. There is no room for error, even just a couple of weeks into the season.
It would have been different if Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno hadn’t been in top form at Anfield. Beaten three times on the same ground on Monday, he seemed determined to make sure the same thing didn’t happen again.
He made a nice save from Marko Grujic twice, Diogo Jota and Van Dijk in normal times before making two saves in the Divock Origi and Harry Wilson shoo-out. The parade to deny Wilson, on his first departure for Liverpool since January 2017, was particularly impressive and it was understandable that he walked off the pitch with a huge smile.
The first half was as exciting as the atmosphere inside a deserted Anfield. That was until Neco Williams – abused by some Liverpool fans online for his last round performance against Lincoln – threw a delicious ball towards the back post. It was the only real quality during 45 minutes of shadow boxing and gave Jota a chance to go on goal. He was saved by a diving Leno and just as everyone inside the stadium was expecting Takumi Minamino to finish a simple chance from the rebound, his volley crashed under the crossbar.
Then came Leno’s masterclass to keep Arsenal in the game. Arteta has inherited a goalkeeper who can not only help the Spanish project of passing out from behind but is also quite helpful with his hands.
Perhaps it was fate that a 5-5 game last season would be goalless this time, though Klopp later admitted that his team should have been “a little more clinical”.
He won’t be too disappointed when the Carabao Cup quarter-finals and semi-finals are both crammed into the hectic Christmas schedule. His players will have their feet on the ground when Arsenal face Manchester City for the past eight years in late December. Klopp is not the type to admit he is happy after a defeat and even if it was not the result Liverpool wanted, he will look back on May and accept that it was what he needed.