Mikel Arteta hailed Arsenal’s “spirit, fight and brotherhood” after they held Liverpool in their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg despite playing with 10 men for well over an hour.
Arsenal produced a stirring rearguard action to keep the tie scoreless after Granit Xhaka’s dismissal and give themselves a slight advantage for next week’s return fixture at the Emirates, affording their off-colour hosts few chances. Takumi Minamino missed the best of them, firing over at the death, but Liverpool did not manage a shot on target until stoppage time and would have been flattered to win.
“I’m really proud of what we did today in an extremely difficult stadium, against a great opponent and playing 70 minutes with 10 men,” Arteta said. “When you come to a stadium like this, I said to them you have to pick players who are happy to go to war. You are going to have difficult moments when you suffer.
“If you are willing to help your team, willing to accept that in some moments you are not going to play the game you want, then good things are going to happen. When you play with that spirit, fight and brotherhood around the team, in the end you get rewarded. That is what happened today.”
Arteta did not offer a firm opinion about Xhaka’s 24th minute red card, brandished swiftly by Michael Oliver after the midfielder had illegally halted Diogo Jota’s run on goal.
“I haven’t seen it back but if they checked it, it probably was a red card,” he said. The centre-back Ben White, named man of the match after a dominant display, was more sceptical. “I don’t know, he’s looking at the ball and he doesn’t know where the man is,” White said. Xhaka has now been sent off five times since joining Arsenal in 2016.
Although a second leg at home should suit Arsenal, Arteta rejected any idea they are favourites. “We play half-time, even probably less than that and we need another game,” he said. “We have to consider it is positive but we are going to need everyone back and we are going to need a great atmosphere at the Emirates.”
Arsenal were already missing nine players before travelling to Merseyside, also losing Cédric Soares and Bukayo Saka to injury during the game. With Xhaka suspended they are down to the bare bones for Sunday’s derby at Spurs and Arteta said the extent of Saka’s issue was unclear.
Jürgen Klopp was left to lament a Liverpool performance that stuttered after Xhaka’s departure, with Arsenal’s change to a five-man defence suffocating their attempts to force the issue. “It looked like we were under pressure,” he said. “That makes no sense but that is human. You go out there for winning. It’s difficult against a well-drilled formation. We didn’t create enough, we didn’t do lots of things good enough. But in the end it’s 0-0, half-time, let’s go.”