No Salah, no Mane and didn't it show? Liverpool struggle without Afcon stars as 10-man Arsenal blunt Klopp's Reds

Minamino Liverpool 2022
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The first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final finished goalless after Klopp's side were unable to take advantage of Granit Xhaka's red card at Anfield

If you were wondering how Liverpool would cope without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, then here was your answer.

Not particularly well.

The Carabao Cup semi-final remains in the balance. Arsenal will head into next week’s second leg at the Emirates confident, after hanging on with 10 men for a goalless draw that will have felt like a victory to Mikel Arteta and his side.

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Few fancied the Gunners before a ball was kicked, and even fewer would have given them a prayer when Granit Xhaka was sent off just 24 minutes into the contest. 

Xhaka was shown a straight red card, the fifth of his Arsenal career, after recklessly bringing down Diogo Jota. He may say he’s a leader, but he left his teammates high and dry here. He owes them an apology, particularly Eddie Nketiah, who was substituted as part of Arteta’s tactical reshuffle.

A needless red card cost Arsenal dearly against Manchester City recently, but against a Liverpool side shorn of bite and creativity without their two most dangerous players, Arteta’s men were able to cope.  

The home side toiled, slow and predictable in possession and unable to create chances as a result. Their midfield, in particular Jordan Henderson and James Milner, struggled badly, their full-backs were covered off well, while the forwards, Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Takumi Minamino, packed little punch. 

Liverpool were unrecognisable. It was Arsenal, in Bukayo Saka, who had the game’s most dangerous attacker, and had it not been for two pieces of alertness, one from Joel Matip and one from Alisson Becker, the visitors may well have had a lead to take back with them to north London.

For Jurgen Klopp, there were more questions than answers. Liverpool gave up the luxury of home advantage in the second leg after the postponement of last week’s scheduled clash at the Emirates, and they have given Arsenal - a depleted Arsenal, let’s not forget - even more encouragement with their performance here. 

They had more than 75 per cent of the ball and yet failed to register a single effort on target until stoppage time. Their crossing was poor, their set-pieces worse. They made too many basic errors, sloppy passes and heavy touches. Henderson, Milner, Firmino, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, they were all guilty. 

Minamino, the hero of the quarter-final against Leicester, failed to repeat the trick here. He waited 90 minutes for a proper chance, but when it came, with Aaron Ramsdale nowhere and the goal gaping, he found only the Kop.

It summed up Liverpool’s night. In truth, they didn’t deserve anything more than they got. They looked, and felt, like a team missing the players they simply cannot be without. Not a huge surprise, maybe, but worrying nonetheless.

After all, Salah and Mane aren’t coming back any time soon, and it seems unlikely that Liverpool will dip into the transfer market, as much as many fans would like them to. 

Only Curtis Jones, who replaced Milner before the hour mark, added any real quality, and even then not enough. Either he or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must surely start at the Emirates, where Liverpool need more drive, more tempo, and a much better showing.

“We’re going to Wembley,” sang the Arsenal fans as the clock ticked down here. They believe they did the hard bit here. 

Liverpool, meanwhile, will have to hope that someone, anyone, can step into the shoes of the Egyptian King and the Senegalese star in the coming days and weeks.

Nobody did so here, and it stood out a mile. 

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