Diogo Jota made all the difference, but Thomas Partey was dreadful on return, as Liverpool beat Arsenal 2-0 to clinch a Carabao Cup final berth.
Arsenal started the game brightly, with Gabriel Martinelli looking lively. Alexandre Lacazette came close to scoring in the early exchanges, only for his free-kick to hit the crossbar. But Liverpool broke the deadlock against the run of play, as Diogo Jota cleverly veered infield before producing a mishit shot that outfoxed Aaron Ramsdale.
The match was an evenly-contested affair after that, but Alexandre Lacazette should have levelled things up early in the second half when found in acres of space by Albert Sambi Lokonga. Liverpool also came close to scoring, as Kaide Gordon missed a close-range effort, while Ibrahima Konate’s header smashed the woodwork.
With Liverpool in the ascendancy, the second goal duly arrived in the 77th minute. Jota and Trent Alexander-Arnold combined to send the former through on goal before he chipped the ball over an onrushing Ramsdale and into the goal. That goal was enough to send Liverpool through to the Carabao Cup final, but there was still time for some late drama.
Thomas Partey, back early from the Africa Cup of Nations, somehow got himself sent off despite being on the pitch for just 15 minutes, earning a second booking for a late challenge on Fabinho. With that, Arsenal bowed out of the Carabao Cup, while Liverpool will meet Chelsea, who beat Tottenham Hotspur last week, in next month’s final. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over both sets of players.
Aaron Ramsdale: 5/10
Ramsdale does not usually leave much to be desired, but Thursday’s outing was one such instance. Diogo Jota’s mishit shot outfoxed the Englishman, and he did not come off his line quickly enough to stop the second goal. But this can be chalked off as a rare blip.
Takehiro Tomiyasu: 5/10
Back in the starting lineup after being passed fit, Tomiyasu endured a nightmarish evening as Jota ran rings around him. The Liverpool attacker easily evaded him in the build-up to the opener, and he struggled to foray forward due to the Portuguese international’s threat.
Ben White: 6/10
White was a solid customer, for the most part, completing three clearances and making three interceptions. The Englishman also won three duels while looking to play out from the back precisely. But he could have done better to close Jota down for his first goal.
Gabriel Magalhaes: 5/10
Like his central defensive partner, Gabriel did not always get swayed by Firmino’s movements. But when it mattered the most, he slipped up and played Jota onside for his second goal. All the good was left undone by that one moment.
Kieran Tierney: 6/10
With most of Arsenal’s moves flowing down the left flank, Tierney saw plenty of the ball. But while he was a constant outlet in the final third, his output was sorely lacking on the night. The Scot was largely solid in the defensive phases, completing three interceptions and winning four duels.
Albert Sambi Lokonga: 6.5/10
Albert Sambi Lokonga was the only available central midfielder heading into the game, which meant he almost had too much to do on Thursday. But the youngster gave a good account of himself, defensive smartly while also playing some delightful passes, one of which should have been converted by Alexandre Lacazette. He needs more such performances to become a regular.
Bukayo Saka: 6/10
Passed fit to start, Saka looked to make things happen but could not influence the proceedings as much as he would have liked. With Gabriel Martinelli seeing more of the ball, the Englishman did not get a chance to make a difference either.
Martin Odegaard: 6/10
Odegaard had to reprise a box-to-box midfield role instead of being deployed in his usual no. 10 position. This change affected his performance considerably, with the Norwegian struggling to carve out the openings despite seeing plenty of the ball. He still retained a 90 per cent passing rate, but he needed to show more incisiveness with his forward passes.
Emile Smith Rowe: 5/10
Smith Rowe was deemed to have recovered sufficiently to start against Liverpool, but he seemed to be lacking the sharpness to make things happen on Thursday. The youngster never influenced the proceedings and needs to regain full fitness.
Gabriel Martinelli: 7/10
Martinelli was, by far, the best performer for Arsenal on Thursday, with all of the Gunners’ best moments coming from his flank. But at the same time, the young Brazilian was wasteful with some of his touches, losing possession a staggering 23 times.
Alexandre Lacazette: 5/10
That Lacazette miss the perfect illustration of why a striker signing is so important this window.
— arseblog (@arseblog) January 20, 2022
Lacazette nearly scored early in the first half with a dipping free-kick, and he nearly scored with an effort from the edge of the box early in the second period. While Caoimhin Kelleher denied him superbly in the first instance, his finishing was dreadful in the latter. Other than that, he struggled to get into the game but dropped deep to bring his teammates into the game.
Thomas Partey: 5/10
Back early from the Africa Cup of Nations following Ghana’s ouster, Partey was introduced with 15 minutes left. But the Ghanaian midfielder somehow managed to get himself sent off with two bookable offences in the space of three minutes. He should know better.
Eddie Nketiah: N/A
Nketiah barely saw the ball in the final 15 minutes, as Liverpool looked to see the game out.
Caoimhin Kelleher: 7/10
Back into the starting lineup, Kelleher did not have much to do apart from making two saves. But the youngster did seem to tip Alexandre Lacazette’s free-kick onto the crossbar, meaning his clean sheet was well earned.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: 8/10
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s game has evolved from being very creative in the final third to influencing the game in deeper areas too. The assist for Jota vs Arsenal & the assist for Salah vs Chelsea were both phenomenal defence-splitting passes. He’s a cheat code from right-back. pic.twitter.com/X74hFe1V8i
— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) January 20, 2022
Like many of his teammates (as you will see as you read further), Alexander-Arnold was much-improved compared to last week’s performance. The Englishman’s defensive output continues to get polished, and he also provided the assists for both the goals that Diogo Jota scored. The pass for the second strike was particularly delightful.
Joel Matip: 6/10
It was an odd outing for Matip wherein he was not completely reliable. The experienced defender was also denied a goal when his tap-in was ruled out as he was offside. But he did complete four clearances and won three duels before being taken off.
Virgil van Dijk: 7/10
Apart from one moment when Alexandre Lacazette slipped off him early in the first half, van Dijk barely put a foot wrong, containing the Arsenal skipper smartly. As ever, he was imperious in the air, winning all three of the aerial duels he contested.
Andrew Robertson: 7/10
Robertson was a solid customer, for the most part, containing Bukayo Saka smartly while posing a threat on his forays down the left flank. But his output was sub-par on Thursday, with the Scot losing possession 18 times. However, his defensive performance was remarkable, as he won six duels while completing three clearances, interceptions and tackles each.
Jordan Henderson: 7/10
Henderson was much-improved compared to the dreadful performance in the first leg. The Liverpool captain completed all but three of his attempted passes and strayed clear of playing first-time long balls. He was also solid defensively, winning five duels in the match.
Fabinho cementing his place as one of the great players to play for Liverpool FC. pic.twitter.com/w7lOmJULTS
— DaveOCKOP (@DaveOCKOP) January 20, 2022
Fabinho took some time to find his feet, but he was colossal once he did so. The Brazilian held the fort superbly in the middle of the park, cutting out moves that Arsenal looked to create while initiating his own team’s plays. Some of his tackles were brilliant, including one inside the Liverpool box on Gabriel Martinelli.
Curtis Jones: 7/10
Jones produced a solid performance, helping out the defence when required while also pushing Liverpool forward at every opportunity. The youngster played two key passes while retaining a passing rate of 91 per cent. At the same time, he also made three clearances and won four duels. It was a job well done.
Kaide Gordon: 6/10
Favoured ahead of cup specialist Takumi Minamino, Gordon was a bundle of energy but did not see the ball as much as he would have liked. The teenage prodigy had a good chance to score his second Liverpool goal, but he blasted his effort off target. He will hope to do better next time.
Roberto Firmino: 7/10
Firmino’s typical movement off the ball was a feature of his game, and he often dropped as deep as his own half to create space. But some of his touches were wasteful, and he could not get a scoring opportunity, which is something he would like to address.
Diogo Jota: 9/10
Diogo Jota’s five games vs. Arsenal as a Liverpool player:
— B/R Football (@brfootball) January 20, 2022
What a season it is turning out to be for Jota. Yet again, the Portuguese international made a meaningful impact on a game. Clinical is the perfect word to describe his performance, as Jota scored two goals from as many shots to seal the deal for Liverpool. His star continues to ascend.
Ibrahima Konate: 6/10
Introduced in place of Joel Matip at half-time, Konate was barely called into action in the second period. The Frenchman popped up on the other end in an attempt to convert a chance, but his header rattled the woodwork instead.
Takumi Minamino: 6/10
On for Gordon, Minamino, the Player to Watch in our preview, was lively in the final half an hour. But the Japanese international could not continue his scoring form in the Carabao Cup, with Ben White denying him a goal with a solid block.
James Milner: N/A
Milner replaced Henderson in the 75th minute and saw the game out without much of a fuss.
Neco Williams: N/A
A late introduction, Williams barely saw the ball in the game’s dying embers.