Can we take Liverpool to penalties every time?
Look at it whichever way you want, but Arsenal are through to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup after a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Liverpool was won on a penalty shootout….again.
It was the hosts who had the better chances throughout the game, registering 16 shots to the Gunners’ six, while their seven efforts on target were more than triple the visitors’ two.
Bernd Leno made a string of superb saves to keep the scores level, including a flying dive to tip Marko Grujić’s effort over the bar, and excellent reflexes to get low and parry Virgil van Dijk’s header away to safety.
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Do Arsenal really need more games when we’ve got our sights firmly on a return to the Champions League? Right now, who cares? We’re into the last eight!
Here’s what we learned from Thursday night’s clash at Anfield.
Joe Willock’s Enigmatic Engine
Does he actually tire?
The question over where Joe Willock is best suited to play, however, remains unanswered. He divides opinion with the majority for the obvious deficiencies in his game, but mah gawd, the man has an engine like no other.
Which makes his unsure role within the squad more frustrating. Is he a box-to-box midfielder? Is he a No. 6? Is he a No. 8? Well, tonight, he played much more advanced but on the right hand side of the front three.
Granted, he didn’t hug the touchline or stay solely in that role, but his willingness to press was evidently Mikel Arteta‘s reason to field him in that role. Acting as a tone-setter, he eases the strain on the midfield – this worked very well in the first half – but his final ball is still lacking when he does receive possession in advanced areas.
We’re no closer to knowing his best position after Thursday, but if he could turn some of his run into fun, he might be better off.
Eddie Nketiah Needs to Stop Coming Deep
It’s not of the same ilk, but part of the previous Arsene Wenger style was to have the forwards drop off and encourage deep midfield runs beyond the last line of defence. This is used more often in the current system with Alexandre Lacazette, where the wing-backs are granted the freedom to carve through the inside channels, but it doesn’t suit Nketiah.
He’s a poacher. Clean and simple. Inside that penalty box is where he thrives. Whether it’s the manager’s call or an over exuberance to get a feel of possession, he did this in the first half to no avail.
Playing on the shoulder and making diagonal runs across the centre-halves both in and outside the box is where he gets the most joy. When he does come short, it overloads the midfield and leaves the wide players with fewer options.
Similarly to Willock, you can’t knock Nketiah’s desire. Just like his Hale End partner, he runs himself into the ground each match, pressing from the front and giving the defenders as little time on the ball as he can.
Gabriel Magalhaes Will Anchor Arsenal for Years
Too soon? Don’t care. Gabriel Magalhaes really is superb.
Being a cautious person myself, I’m never too eager to jump on any bandwagon and criticise someone too soon, nor praise them too early. Yet, this lad looks like being a brilliant signing.
Leno will rightfully take the Man of the Match award, but if he wasn’t on the pitch – not literally, of course – then Gabriel would get the nod. He’s got the presence and physical attributes that are essential to flourish in top level English football, with bags of talent to ease his progression.
With the ball at his feet he shows no signs of nerves, whether this be in tight situations playing out from the back or via one of Sead Kolasinac‘s woeful attempted passes his way, he never looks overawed. Zipping passes through the press or neat little dinks down the line all night will have pleased Arteta a lot.
Yes, this is mere moments after another performance so obviously the hype is real, but in just three displays for Arsenal the signs are there of someone who is tailor-made, not only for the Premier League, but for this club. Did Salah even play?
Bernd Leno Was Magnificent – But it Doesn’t Silence the Doubters
There has been a surprising amount of furore from the fanbase about the decision to sell Emiliano Martinez. I, like so many others, was enamoured with the Argentinian during his short spell in the first team. A run where he barely ever put a foot wrong and… well, couldn’t actually have played any better.
At the end of the season I’d have picked him as my number one – based on form alone. However, there is no hiding past the fact that £20m was an excellent deal for an untested backup goalkeeper. Yes, he had that wonderful run in the team, but that was pretty much it for 11 years.
He’s gone now. Nothing we can do about it (even if he keeps playing blinders for Aston Villa). So, with that, some fans have been a touch unhappy with Leno. It wasn’t the most inspiring display at Anfield on Monday, but he was excellent on this occasion.
What it won’t do, is silence the doubters. Those who see the holes in his game do so not with his shot-stopping ability – he’s absolutely top drawer in that department – but instead his long distribution, commanding of his box and aerial stability from crosses. None of those came into play all too often on Thursday, but such qualms are nevertheless not our greatest concern.
Some concern? Sure. But at the moment we can’t overlook how many times he keeps us in matches. He was magnificent tonight. Let’s look at the positive side.
Nicolas Pepe Still Comes Up Short – But the Positional Change Made a Difference
I, nor anyone else who supports Arsenal, writes about Arsenal or even talks about Arsenal in everyday life wants to keep mentioning Nicolas Pepe. We’d all rather he was bloody marvelous, and so good in fact, that he’d be Mohamed Salah-esque in setting himself a sky-high bar to maintain.
But he isn’t. Not at the moment.
He didn’t have a particularly good game at Anfield, either. Too many occasions he lost possession, wasn’t clinical enough with it, or was overshadowed down the left flank by the industrious Bukayo Saka. When he’s got his man one-on-one, you get the impression unless he nutmegs him, he feels he hasn’t done his job. It isn’t a necessity to get past the covering defender each time. Sometimes, just getting around him will do. It comes across as trying too hard. That’s a lack of confidence.
However, there did appear to be a difference in his attitude tonight. One that likely links to him playing down the left side for – as far as I can remember – the first time at Arsenal.
Being a naturally (entirely) left-footed player, operating on the opposite flank is where he’s made his name with his desire to cut inside, but he actually appeared to enjoy himself more in his new role.
I don’t think he had a good game. Let’s get that straight. But he did harass more than we’ve seen of late and appeared to look more comfortable as the game wore on. Yet, this shouldn’t be a recurring theme. We need Pepe firing on all cylinders from the off. Because, as it is, he’s not getting into the first team.