These days, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Granit Xhaka does something reckless to cost Arsenal a match. For once, he did something rash and it didn’t cost Arsenal.
With some inspired defending and a bit of luck, Arsenal held on for a 0-0 draw with Liverpool in the first leg of the Carabao Cup on Thursday at Anfield. The tie felt more like a win after Xhaka was sent off in the 24th minute, forcing the Gunners to play a man down for more than an hour.
The return leg at the Emirates will be Jan. 20, a match Xhaka will miss because of his straight red card. He’ll also miss Sunday’s North London Derby against Tottenham.
With no away goals rule in play, Jurgen Klopp’s squad will rue the chance to take a lead into the second leg but only has itself to blame after managing just one shot on target all match, despite holding 77 percent possession.
Liverpool vs. Arsenal Highlights
Early in the match it looked like Liverpool might run away with another big victory; the Reds won 4-0 at Anfield in the Premier League in November. Cédric Soares was forced out with an injury suffered in the opening seconds, lasting just 10 minutes on the pitch, and the Gunners could barely clear their lines early.
Then came the expected: a Granit Xhaka red card.
The Swiss defensive midfielder with a reckless streak the size of Texas picked up the sixth red card of his Arsenal career in the 24th minute. Chasing back to catch Diogo Jota racing toward the Gunners goal, Xhaka inexplicably kicked the Portuguese winger in the chest. Had Xhaka simply taken a seat, the ball probably would have rolled harmlessly away from Jota. Instead, he picked up yet another red card.
Granit Xhaka Red Card vs. Liverpool
Xhaka picks up the 6th red card of his Arsenal career pic.twitter.com/pL3ktiEyTf— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 13, 2022
Xhaka’s six red cards have him close to the top 10 all time for red cards in Premier League history, though not all of those Arsenal reds were in Premier League play.
The red was Xhaka’s second of the season, having been sent off in the 35th minute of a 5-0 defeat at Manchester City in the third game of the Premier League campaign. Before that, he was sent off in a 1-0 loss to Burnley in December 2020. Xhaka was shown red cards twice in the 2016-17 season, but Arsenal managed to win both games, albeit against Swansea and Burnley, not the stiffest competition.
This time, at arguably the toughest place to play in England right now, Arsenal held firm. Unlike the defeat to Man City (that Xhaka red card came after the Gunners were already down 2-0), Mikel Arteta devised a plan to frustrate and deny the home side.
Though Liverpool amassed 17 shots on Thursday, just one forced a save from Ramsdale. More often than not, Klopp’s midfielders ripped long-range shots over the goal, allowing the Arsenal keeper to milk the clock by taking his time on the ensuing goal kick.
When Liverpool finally forced a good opportunity to score — in the 90th minute — Takumi Minamino blasted the ball over the crossbar with an open net.
Minamino misses a huge chance to win it for Liverpool pic.twitter.com/TtQAGjhQav— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 13, 2022
One could argue Arsenal had the best chance of the game — Bukayo Saka denied by Alisson in the 72nd minute — as Arteta’s tactics worked like a charm to come away with the 0-0 win.
Liverpool may lament not having stars like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané available — both away at AFCON 2022 — but Arsenal was also without some of its top players, including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Thomas Partey at AFCON and Emile Smith Rowe (groin), Martin Ødegaard (Covid-19) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (calf).
While most will still favor Liverpool to go through even after Thursday’s draw, the 0-0 result will bolster Arsenal’s belief, knowing they can survive a Granit Xhaka red card, because it probably wasn’t the last.