Liverpool’s German-born Cameroonian defender Joel Matip (L) vies with Arsenal’s Brazilian striker Gabriel Martinelli (R) during the English League Cup semi-final first leg football match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on January 13, 2022. Paul ELLIS / AFP
Arsenal held out for over an hour a man down to leave their League Cup semi-final with Liverpool delicately poised after the first leg ended 0-0 at Anfield on Thursday.
The Gunners looked set to pay for another moment of madness from former captain Granit Xhaka when he was sent off for chopping down Diogo Jota after just 24 minutes.
However, Liverpool badly missed the firepower of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane as they laboured to even create chances against the 10 men.
Chelsea already await the winners at Wembley next month after the first leg, originally scheduled to be played at the Emirates last week, was called off due to a coronavirus outbreak among the Liverpool squad.
The Reds were missing Salah and Mane due to their international duties at the Africa Cup of Nations.
However, Liverpool otherwise had a clean bill of health and Jurgen Klopp named the strongest side available to him.
The home side had the better of a cagey opening quarter with Ben White’s miscued clearance from Takumi Minamino’s cross that skewed just wide the closest either side came before the red card.
Xhaka has remained a key player for Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta despite his disciplinary issues.
But he will miss Sunday’s north London derby against Tottenham and the second leg next Thursday after being sent off for the second time this season.
Jota was played through on goal by Andy Robertson’s pinpoint long ball and the Portuguese was brutally brought down by Xhaka’s lunge.
Arteta responded by sacrificing Eddie Nketiah for an extra centre-back in Rob Holding and the visitors’ back five held up well despite Liverpool dominating possession.
Minamino’s mishit cross that sailed inches wide was the closest Klopp’s men came to making the breakthrough before the German turned to his bench for the final half hour.
The Japanese had all of Liverpool’s best chances as he dragged his shot wide from a narrow angle midway through the second half.
Moments later a rare Arsenal foray forward nearly resulted in the winner as Kieran Tierney picked out Bukayo Saka, but he could not beat Alisson Becker from close range.
There was further concern for Arteta when Saka limped off in the final stages.
And all his side’s good work was nearly undone at the death as Aaron Ramsdale flapped at a cross, but Minamino sliced high and wide with the goal gaping to leave it all to play for in the second leg at the Emirates on January 20.