Mikel Arteta has applauded Arsenal for their “fight, determination, attitude and brotherhood” following a goalless draw in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final at Anfield.
With 24 minutes on the clock, the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Granit Xhaka made a lunging last-man challenge on Diogo Jota. With Liverpool bombarding Aaron Ramsdale’s goal in the aftermath, Arsenal looked to be on their way to a decisive defeat.
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'We still have things to improve' - Arteta keeping feet firmly on ground
Instead, Arteta’s side managed to hold out for over 70 minutes, including injury time, and grind out a stalemate despite Liverpool taking 17 shots to their three. Having brought on Rob Holding for Eddie Nketiah in response to Xhaka’s sending off, Arteta took great satisfaction in the performance of his makeshift back five and, indeed, the rest of the team.
Speaking after the match, Arteta said: “We certainly revelled against the situation, which I expect from the players. I think they showed real fight, determination, attitude and brotherhood.
“You could see the emotion they were playing with. They never gave up, it’s extremely difficult against this opponent and, credit to the boys, it’s just the first leg but, to do what we’ve done today, I think they deserve a lot of praise for that.”
When it was put to him that going down to 10 men seemed to inspire Arsenal, he said: “I don’t know if it inspired them, but we certainly took the fight [to Liverpool]. I said before the game, when you come here you have to have a certain attitude… in really difficult moments you have to act, you cannot be reacting because then it becomes really complicated.
“I think the boys did that extremely well in certain moments. We played the game that we had to play, which is not our game, but we managed to play the game that we had to.”
Asked whether he agreed with referee Michael Oliver’s decision to show Xhaka a red, Arteta was noncommittal. “I haven’t seen it back, but they checked it so it probably was the right call,” he said.
Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, was happy to concede that Liverpool were not at their best on an evening when they squandered numerous chances to win the game. “I thought we really started well in the game, direct, and it really was how we wanted to start actually,” he said.
“It was a really nice ball from Robbo [Andy Robertson] on the counter-attack, but I would have preferred to have scored a goal rather than them getting a red card… when you play against such a low block, that is anyway in football one of the most difficult things to do and I’m not surprised that we struggled against that tonight.”
With Xhaka now suspended for the north London derby on Sunday, joining Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard on the sidelines while fellow midfielders Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are at the Africa Cup of Nations, Arteta faces a selection headache.
“We have the motivation, to play a derby brings that energy when you don’t have it,” he said, when asked about the trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “No excuses, it is what it is.”
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