Joe Willock takes Arsenal through in shootout drama with Liverpool

Arsenal players crowd Joe Willock as they celebrate him scoring the winning penalty in the shoot-out during the Carabao Cup Fourth Round match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on October 1, 2020 in Liverpool, England.

Mikel Arteta kept his domestic cup record intact as Arsenal proceeded to the last eight of the Carabao Cup on penalties, Joe Willock scoring the crucial kick in the sudden-death phase after Harry Wilson had seen his effort saved.

That was hard on Wilson, making his first start for Liverpool since returning from loan, though Divock Origi and Mohamed Elneny also saw shots saved in the earlier section, and Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno deserved something for his saves in normal times that took the contest to a shootout decider.

Liverpool and Arsenal must be tired of meeting each other, or perhaps they are just tired. Despite being altered beyond recognition from their game earlier in the week, these shadow squads did little more than shadow box for the 90 minutes of normal time.

Leno did well to keep the scores level until penalties could provide a conclusion but long before the end it appeared unlikely that either side would summon the energy or the urgency to produce a decisive moment from open play.

Arsenal might have taken an early lead when Eddie Nketiah found himself with a shooting chance on the six-yard line after eight minutes, though he hesitated a fraction too long and Adrian was able to extend an arm to flick the ball away from his feet.

Both sides made wholesale changes from the league game at Anfield on Monday, though the visitors had a slight edge in experience. They boasted the new England call-up Bukayo Saka at left wing-bac and it was a foul on the teenager that earned Takumi Minamino the first booking.

When Minamino brought down Nicolas Pepe after losing the ball on the half hour he was therefore living dangerously, though Kevin Friend contented himself with only a word of warning.

Mohamed Salah, one of the few survivors from three days ago, was probably Liverpool’s most dangerous attacker in an uneventful first half. 

For the most part Saka looked after him quite well when he stayed on the wing, it was his regular incursions infield that seemed most likely to cause Arsenal problems, though he clearly does not share the same sort of understanding with Diogo Jota and Minamino that he enjoys with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

All the drama in the first half was packed into its final minute. First Dani Ceballos got away with a rash tackle on Jota that must have been outside the area by a matter of millimetres, then when Arsenal failed to clear the free-kick a Jota header brought a one-handed save from Leno, with Minamino arriving at speed to volley the rebound against the bar. 

It was the clearest chance so far but a difficult one, with the ball at an awkward height and Minamino having no time to readjust his position.

While Liverpool had probably applied more pressure to their opponents’ goal than Arsenal had managed in terms of scoring opportunities neither side had looked particularly threatening.

Leno came to Arsenal’s rescue agains at the start of the second half when a corner fell to Virgil van Dijk and he stabbed a shot goalwards from a couple of yards out. 

There was no great power in the effort but it was heading for the bottom corner until the goalkeeper got down smartly to his right to push it away.

Jota hit a deflected shot wide and Marko Grujic headed the wrong side of the post then brought another save from Leno as Liverpool began to dominate, at which point Jurgen Klopp stuck to his original plan and brought off Sala and Van Dijk after an hour, removing the only two outfield players who had started in the last game.

The pattern did not change, Leno was still needed to keep out attempts by Jota and Grujic, and if anything Liverpool stepped up their pressing game with Divock Origi on the pitch, yet an excellent covering tackle by Neco Williams was necessary to prevent Saka scoring against the run of play.

Pepe and Nketiah also had chances before the end, and Joe Willock had a penalty appeal turned down in stoppage time, but by then a shootout was already looming.

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