I’m going to start by getting straight to the bad. It was a strange and frenzied night but given all that happened, I’d rather just get (most of) this out of the way now:
- Martinez. I’m surprised to be mentioning him because he’s impressed lately and otherwise been solid when given chances. There will be one or two goals from tonight that he’ll be disappointed with. He was also the difference when it came to the shootout.
- We’ve now blown THREE (3!) 2-goal leads in TWO (2!) games. Food for thought.
- We conceded 5 goals
- We conceded yet another penalty
- Two of Liverpool’s goals came shortly after ours (7 mins between our 3rd/their second and 4 mins between our 4th/their 3rd)
We’ve seen some of these before so I don’t need to remind you how painful it is to see them come back time and again. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but as I’ve said in recent times, our problems run much deeper than just one man.
Things started well. I liked our starting lineup, it had a healthy balance of youth and experience and I was keen to see how our midfield would fare with Mesut Özil back in the side. The same could be said for Liverpool.
I’ll admit – I feared the worst when the inevitable happened. Not even inevitable in the sense that he does it often, just inevitable that out of all of our players who could’ve scored an own goal tonight, it had to be him. With everything the club is going through at the moment, it just had to be an own goal from our next favourite scapegoat – it really did have all the makings of an early Halloween. It could just have easily been Holding in that position; it was the sort of ball that Mustafi knows he has to get to first and you’ll see own goals like that week in, week out in every corner of the world. It just so happened to be in the north-west of England this time.
What followed was not part of the script. Not letting their heads drop, we responded in the best way possible with a quick reply. Özil’s involvement in our build-up was noticeable and dearly missed. It was even nice just to see us string more than 2 passes together in the final third. An unlikely source but Torreira is developing a knack for scoring at Anfield. Maybe it’s a Uruguayan thing…
Another South American was lying in wait for a poacher’s finish of his own. People are sometimes quick to throw around terms like “tap-in merchant” but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it and Martinelli is proving time and again his ability to be in just the right place. After some good work on the by-line by Maitland-Niles, the ball fell kindly and he made no mistake with the finish, just as he did at the end of the night with his emphatic penalty. It was a shame he didn’t manage to grab his hat-trick – he had a sniff here and there but his contributions were again for all to see – on and off the ball.
His second in 10 minutes came from some fine work in capitalising on some lax Liverpool passing at the back; a deft touch/interception/pass/whateveryoucallthat from Özil found Saka racing down the left and Martinelli was already primed and ready. The quality of the pass was matched by the finish and it was another refreshing example that some of these players can actually play with real pace and quality. Concerns about Özil’s ability to hit the ground running after such an absence were nonexistent come half time, which raises some questions as to Emery’s decision-making when it comes to selecting his squads. It seems hard to believe at this point that any alleged lack of effort in training from Özil has had an effect on his ability to change games and create the kinds of chances he did this evening. Regardless of the standard of the opposition he was facing – perhaps not as grizzled and experienced as your average Premier League game, his contributions were apparent.
In a night of inevitabilities, we conceded a penalty just after scoring. I think it’s a harsh one – the contact is virtually non-existent and Elliot has simulated the rest but from the referees point of view, it’s easily given – not that VAR would’ve overturned it if it was available. I can let it slide given the benefit of a possible offside with out first goal, a classic throwback to the pre-VAR days when both sides were hampered by poor officiating, eh?
Another gift from Liverpool came about from an unlikely source in the usually steadfast James Milner but there was still work to do. Mainland-Niles’ athleticism made sure he was first the ball, and as it fell to Herr Mesut, you thought the chance had squirmed away. As ever, his unwavering finesse shone through and the elaborate one-two was finished off by our resident Bird Catcher.
Like clockwork, the inevitable happened yet again. Taking nothing away from the strike – it was a ferocious effort from Oxlade-Chamberlain and there were plenty of bodies in and around the box – Martinez could perhaps have done better. Moments later with scarcely time to relive his mistake, Liverpool were level again. Martinez should definitely have done better in this instance and his turf-beating reaction suggested as much but the speed at which Origi turned and shot seemed to have left the Argentinian wrong-footed. Still, pegged back to 4-4.
Having too much of a nice thing was apparently on Emery’s mind, as Özil was taken off just after the hour. Perhaps a closer like-for-like swap of Gendouzi for the recently booked Willock may have been more prudent but I’m beyond the point of caring to try and rationalise the inner machinations of Emery’s mind. In spite of my confusion at the time, the tie was the perfect setting for someone of Guendouzi’s relentless energy. I was soon eating my words when Joe Willock curled in.. what can only be described as an absolute blooter. Another nod to his ability to deliver end product in the final third where so many of our youth players have come up short in the past. After a dip in form of late, it was important for him to get a goal to ward off some of the mounting pressure. Regardless of what is going on at the club, some of these youngsters really are ones to watch for the future and I can’t help but feel they’ve been hung out to dry at times.
The game slowed. We time-wasted a bit and you wondered if we might just eke it out. Wishful thinking. And then.. by the shin of Divock Origi, it was dragged into one of the English’s favourite pastimes – a penalty shootout. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
The EFL Cup. Is it a trophy I particularly care about? No. Am I more inclined to say this after we’ve just been knocked out? Maybe. Do most Arsenal fans care about it? Not really. Do we still have problems? Yes. Did I love seeing our youth and Ozil put 5 past Liverpool – at Anfield? Abso-fuckin-lutely. When it all boils down to it though, it was a story we’ve heard before.
In the end, the result didn’t even matter for me. It would’ve been nice to see a bit more from these youngsters on a regular basis but there’s always the Europa League group stages for that.
The real takeaway from tonight was that I’d almost forgotten what it was like to create chances, score goals. The good stuff. It might not even spill over into some brighter League performances, but for now at least, I’m a reasonably happy fan again, even staring down the barrel of defeat. I’ll take that over a sackless, unimaginative and tepid performance any day of the week.