The Main Event

After our insignificant warmup match on Monday which had no bearing on anything worth talking about, it was time for the final showdown in the highly-coveted Carabao Cup.

Okay, I can’t keep that charade up for long but I really find it hard to care about the Carabao Cup. For curiosity’s sake, I even had to look up what Carabao was (turns out it’s a Thai energy drink, which I’ve not even seen being sold in the UK) which only adds to how little I care about it. Still, we had a game to play and we at least won’t have to go back to Anfield any time soon. I’ve probably gone and hexed us now, so I look forward to playing them away in the 3rd round of the F.A. Cup.

The Match

Unsurprisingly, there was wholesale change to the team we fielded but I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in approach despite these changes. It only confirmed what we already suspected, that Arteta can shape teams and create an identity regardless of who’s playing.

I will admit that the identity was eerily similar to Monday night’s forgettable affair; dominated for chance creation, by far the busier of the two goalkeepers even before the shootout but the same signs of resilience and commitment were there. With this also came a slightly different approach to something that more closely resembled a 4-3-3, thanks in part to Bukayo Saka’s inclusion as he resumed his role as the team handyman by covering three positions on his own. It was also the first time in a while that we’ve seen Pépé start on the left flank, which could point to Arteta’s interest in some tinkering with the first team to try and squeeze some more creativity into a functional first team.

I don’t think he did badly there but given he had the opportunity to really run at some of Liverpool’s youngsters (and the more wily types like Van Dijk and sweeper keeper James Milner), he still didn’t exactly set the game alight. I don’t blame him if his confidence is shot to pieces because seeing a player like Willian come in and reduce your appearances to League Cup ties is a bit of a kick in the teeth but it’s looking increasingly difficult for him despite the strong end to last season.

For the most part, it was the Bernd Leno display, much to Jamie Carragher’s disapproval. While he certainly has a “flashier” style of goalkeeping to Emi “Smotherer of Balls” Martinez, I wouldn’t say that any of his saves were “ones for the cameras” contrary to some of the disparaging punditry but rather a by-product of getting absolutely peppered again. Judging by his post-match comments below, he might’ve been a tad concerned about some of he hearsay about his own position about the club following Emi’s form…

I never feared [losing the top spot] because the club always gave me the feeling that I was the No 1. I am the No 1, I was the No 1 and I will be the No 1. My job was to prove it every week and I think I did that tonight again.

Pretty unequivocal stuff. It’s a little bit easier to say things like that when you save 2 penalties after a string of good saves and a near-perfect score on SofaScore but it’s good to see some confidence now that we’re back to having an unknown entity as backup.

Going forward, we continue to struggle and until the transfer window closes, I don’t want to pass too much judgement on our problems. I was terrified to see Kolasinac playing because the thought of him getting injured and jeopardising a move doesn’t bear thinking about. The irony is, he had a reasonably tidy game by his standards but I hope the rumours about his move to Leverkusen for a fee of €11m~ is actually true.

The game may have served as a shop window for some who are on the verge of a loan move; I’m still unconvinced by Joe Willock’s place in the team this season as limited as our midfield options are and feel like he would benefit most from playing on a weekly basis. Reiss Nelson was also an unused substitute in a game that seemed perfect for him, so there may be another move on the cards there.

There were at least some saving graces; Saka continues to pull the strings in whatever role he plays, in whatever competition he plays in and all I know is I want to watch him week in, week out. Gabriel also continues to grow into the role and was more adventurous with his left foot as we try and ween ourselves off of our dependency on David Luiz for accurate long balls over the next year.

The Shootout

There was only one penalty that I was actually eager to see and that was Ainsley’s. We had to wait until the 4th take for that and I wasn’t entirely convinced by any of the takers before either.

Lacazette had barely featured in the match but was first to step up, which given his anguish on Monday over the missed chance, takes some guts. It probably won’t heal those wounds but I hope it went some ways in bumping his confidence back up and it’s always good to see players taking the front foot when it matters.

Soares was another complete unknown but having suffered at the hands of Portugal in penalty shootouts gone by, I figured he had a good reason to be up second and made no mistake.

If there was any doubt in my mind that Elneny is a bang-average footballer who wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship, you need look no further than that penalty. It sounds clichéd but I just knew he was going to miss when he stepped up and it was one of those which is about as easy as it gets for the goalkeeper. A nice height, central enough. Why Origi thought it was a good idea to copy, I don’t know…

Then it was time. Ever since I saw him do a pre-season Panenka, I’ve been curious about Ainsley and his penalties. They’re always slight different but his trademark nonchalant run-up is addictive. I’m now at the stage where I wouldn’t begrudge him taking over from Aubameyang because he seems to just have it all figured out.

Even low on confidence, I wasn’t worried about Pépé stepping up given his last penalties for us and it was just as clinical as usual.

Clinical is not the word I’d use to describe Joe Willock, or his penalty. I think it’s fair to say Adrian was the difference on the night – a keeper who’s always had a reputation as being “a bit suspect” – and Joe’s low, scuffed effort had just enough on it to squirm under. His reaction said it all and coupled with two decent saves from Leno, it was enough to see us through.

It doesn’t get any easier in the next round, as we face City but given the opposition manager, I’m sure Arteta will be desperate to get the better of him again.

I’m also now officially sick to death of this transfer window. As usual, teams around us are doing some great business. Liverpool are selling kids for £20m+ to other Premier League teams, Everton are going mad, Chelsea have gone mad and Arsenal are… stalling.

I really have no idea what’s going to happen and I’d consider failing on Aouar and/or Partey would be disastrous for our chances this season but for now, we have to just wait.

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