Bernd Leno saved two penalties as Arsenal beat Liverpool 5-4 in a tense shootout to book their place in the quarter-finals of the 2020-21 Carabao Cup, after a goalless draw ensued in normal time at Anfield.
The Gunners suffered a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the same opponents at the same venue in the Premier League just three days ago. But they held their nerve to return the favour on this occasion, with their German shot-stopper emerging as the hero.
There was nothing to separate the sides at the break after an even opening half. The home team struggled to find their rhythm against a well-organised Arsenal defence, while Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe looked a constant threat on the break. Takumi Minamino spurned the half’s best chance to open the scoring, hitting the bar from close range after Bernd Leno parried Diogo Jota’s header.
Liverpool upped the tempo in the second half and attacked the Arsenal goal with renewed vigour, only to come up against an inspired Leno. The German pulled off a series of smart saves to keep the Reds at bay, while Arsenal themselves could only manage one clear-cut chance. The game finished goalless at the full-time whistle and went straight to penalties.
After a series of five successful spot-kicks, Mohamed Elneny’s miss seemed to have handed Liverpool the advantage, only for Divock Origi to see his effort saved by Leno to restore parity.
Arsenal’s keeper then put his side in pole position to progress by keeping out Harry Wilson’s effort, before Joe Willock’s fortunate penalty sent Arsenal through.
Here are five major talking points from Arsenal’s shootout win over Liverpool that sees them get through to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup.
#1 Second string gets a chance to shine
Cup competitions, especially the early stages, are often used by Premier League managers to give fringe players, youngsters, and first-team players returning from injury chances.
Add to that the congested nature of the 2020-21 season, and both Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta opted to ring in the changes following their Premier League encounter.
The home side featured a re-jigged backline, with only Virgil van Dijk retaining his starting berth alongside Adrian in goal. Neco Williams, Rhys Williams and James Milner made up the rest of the defence.
The midfield was similarly freshened up by Curtis Jones and Marko Grujic. The likes of Jota, Minamino and Harry Wilson, who is returning to Anfield having suffered relegation on loan at Bournemouth last season, accompanied Mo Salah in attack.
Arsenal featured a similarly shuffled pack, with Sead Kolasinac, Gabriel, and Cedric starting at the back. Talented youngsters Joe Willock and Saka were also recalled alongside Pepe and Eddie Nketiah.
#2 Tactical shift for Arsenal
Since taking the reins at Arsenal, one of the most notable changes Mikel Arteta has made has been a three-at-the-back formation in order to shore up his side’s shaky defence.
This switch has proved to be quite successful, and has brought about wins against the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, and Chelsea (which won them the FA Cup) in the recent past.
However, anticipating a much-changed Liverpool side, Arteta saw this Carabao Cup encounter as a chance to try out a more conventional four-at-the-back formation.
Cedric and Kolasinac took up the full-back positions, while Rob Holding was partnered by summer signing Gabriel in the heart of defence. Despite the reshuffle, Arsenal were resolute in defence and successfully negated Liverpool’s attacking threat throughout the game.