Morning all. Perhaps a slightly provocative headline for today’s blog, but waking up this morning and just before I went to bed last night, that’s what went through my mind when I tried to give the overall game some kind of one sentence analysis. Arsenal progressed through to the next round of the Carabao Cup by beating Liverpool on penalties after a 0-0 draw couldn’t separate the sides.
And hey, let me just say this before you roll your eyes at my apparent negativity; I’m ok with ‘grubby’. I played in Ongar as an under-11s goalkeeper once and couldn’t perform to my optimum because the soaking rain and sodden pitch meant I spent 90% of the match holding my trousers up because of the mud that had attached itself to my garments. So I don’t mind ‘grubby’. I’ve been there, seen it, worn the goalie trousers.
But having seen Liverpool heavily rotate – although they did play their best defender in Van Dijk and their best attacker in Salah, as well as their new £45million striker – and Arsenal rotate a little but not a lot, I have to say I didn’t expect us to still give away as many chances as we did last night. This was never going to have the same narrative as Monday. We all know how much Klopp doesn’t bother with this competition, but I do feel like there was a little more respect played to us as opponents rather than the competition itself, when the two teams were announced.
The line up for us was a bit of a surprise because I thought we’d see heavier rotation. I thought Runarsson would start, as would Saliba, then probably even a Reiss Nelson thrown in there for good measure. But Arteta went for experience in Leno and Xhaka, whilst the likes of Gabriel, Holding, Kolasinac, Pepe and Saka had a feel of first teaminess to it I thought. These are all players – Nketiah too – who have had a bit of game time and compared to Liverpool’s side which did not, I thought we would be a little more dominant than perhaps we were.
Actually that’s not entirely fair, because in the first half I thought we edged it. Our retention of the ball was better, we managed to move Liverpool around a little more and certainly Nketiah should have scored when the ball worked his way to them early on in the game and inside the six yard box. What we’ve liked about Nketiah in the last couple of seaosns is that he is usually pretty good in those situations. In the last round of this competition he was able to squirm the ball into the net from inside the six yard box, so I just assumed he would be ice cold when the ball came to his feet. But he dallied, it all looked a little messy and the chance went.
And that it probably a microcosm of the game last night. It all felt a little ‘messy’, a bit ‘grubby’, slightly stifled and we didn’t quite click.
It wasn’t just Nketiah that was guilty of that though. I thought Pepe started really brightly, looked composed and was being found in behind a number of times last night. He didn’t quite get into the space that would have seen him bear down on the ‘keeper, but he was being found at least, which is more than what was happening in the last round. There seemed to me to be a definite desire from our players to hit that ball a little earlier and beat that Liverpool high line and had we had better players with better balls in behind, perhaps we’d have broken the deadlock at some stage.
Sadly it wasn’t to be and whilst I still think Pepe did well, he faded a little bit like most of the team did in the second half. Which is when we had to really knuckle down and grind out this result, because Liverpool saw that we weren’t quite as ‘on it’ in the second half and they certainly edged it in the second 45 minutes. So we have to say a ‘thank you’ and props go out to Leno, who was man of the match and pulled off a number of fine saves to keep that rarest of things for an Arsenal goalie; the fabled ‘clean sheet’. He made a string of saves throughout the game and ultimately was the hero for the penalty shootout too, so I for one am delighted that he got that. It also makes you think that getting him out there in this game was probably the best idea given that Runarsson has been in the country about a week. Would the Icelandic ‘keeper have faired better under the bombardment of shots? Not sure.
So I think Arteta got that decision right and ultimately we’re through to the next round so I guess you have to say he got the game plan right too. But I still worry about the volume of shots we are conceding and the lack of volume of chances we are creating. Whilst we won’t face a side like Liverpool every week, we must also appreciate that teams like Liverpool also give you more chances and like we found out with West Ham’s approach of sitting back and countering us, we need to find a solution for creating more chances. I would be stunned if Sheffield United played with such a high line that enabled us to pop balls in behind on Sunday, for example, so we need to come up with solutions to our current shot-shy problems.
A couple of other minor observations from last night’s game before I wrap up, because I’m not sure this game warrants too much in-depth analysis given the respective personnel; I really like Gabriel. Little fuss, plenty of composure, a big guy and won headers all night. He’s good playing out from positions under pressure and he was the best of our back line I thought. Whereas the rest of the back line last night I’m not so sure on. I know we still only have a small sample size but Cedric looks like a very limited right back. He has one trick in his locker and that is he wants to get the ball and get crosses in. It doesn’t matter if that’s in the final third or the halfway line, he’s putting balls in and Liverpool dealt with most of them all night. He strikes me as exactly what he is: a mid-table team full back. Do we really need that when we have Ainsley and Hector who can play there? I’m not sure.
I’m also not sure about Holding. Given the injury problems I can understand his inclusion, but why not give Saliba a go in that position? Holding is a limited player whose long distribution is poor and who is never going to win a foot race. Again, he feels like a mid table central defender, not so much and Arsenal central defender.
Then we come to Kolasinac, who looked the worse of the lot last night. If we really are about to get €10million for him then I’d be over the moon. He is limited technically and if we can move on and get him off the wage bill with money in then happy days.
But it is what it is, we are where we are, which is in to the next round of the cup in which we play Man City. They’re not making it easy for us, are they?
Right, probably enough of my waffle for one day, so I’ll fare thee well for another one and let’s see if we get some transfer news today.