Diogo Jota brace fires Liverpool past Arsenal and into Carabao Cup final to face Chelsea
A match that finally took place, but there was no actual contest. Arsenal , it could be argued, still didn’t really play.
Liverpool reached a fifth cup final of Jurgen Klopp ’s time, and the first in this competition in six years, by comfortably beating Mikel Arteta ’s side 2-0 in the League Cup semi-final second leg. This one wasn’t about false positives but false advertising. It just wasn’t the game that was billed, and certainly didn’t live up the enjoyable chaos that the competition’s semi-finals often offer.
Arteta’s side clearly have so much promise but also some way to go, as they lost another big game. Liverpool, and especially Diogo Jota , were just too good for them. There was almost an inevitability about that given all the ructions of the last week and how the north London derby was postponed. Arsenal could point to a stretched squad and how Thomas Partey came on just hours after arriving back from the African Cup of Nations, only to be sent off in the aimless final minutes.
That ended up being indicative in another way, as it summed up how Arsenal were always stretching to try and bridge the gap to Liverpool, but Klopp’s side were too good.
A side without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane just showed Arsenal how it’s done, giving a semi-final occasionally clouded by an acrimonious atmosphere a muted finish.
Perhaps the only question from the entire game was whether Jota intended the finish that effectively settled the contest, or mishit it. It is someway irrelevant to the game, given the end result was a goal either way, but it was a rare moment when Aaron Ramsdale looked culpable.
It’s possible he was unsighted, as Jota weaved his way towards the Arsenal box until he had a mass of bodies diving in from all angles.
Jota went for the finish, hitting a shot low to the right that almost trickled in. Ramsdale had been completely wrong-footed.
Such a slow shot similarly took some of the pace out of the game. Arsenal’s early surge evaporated amid Liverpool celebrations, leaving a fairly tepid first half. There were periods in that spell when it actually looked like one of those European ties, and reminded everyone how far this young Arsenal still have to go to really get back to Champions League level.
The closest they got to Caoimhin Kelleher’s goal was Alex Lacazette’s superb free-kick off the bar, as Liverpool thereafter completely held them at bay. If not yet fully back to his best, Virgil van Dijk was meeting most of Arsenal’s best attacks that even got that far. Liverpool just always had that space, and sense of comfort.
Some of this was down to Arsenal’s lack of substance in midfield. It was too easy for Liverpool to take command there, suppressing a lot of moves at source.
You can see why Arteta wants to bring in Arthur, and add a bit of ballast as well as composure. Partey’s red card was almost symbolic in that regard.
Back in the team so soon, he went in too late at the end, and was given a second yellow. It summed up how there was always a gap.
Arteta had to roll the dice and decided to go that bit longer. Arsenal began to stretch the game and finally stretch Liverpool’s backline.
It led to Lacazette being gifted perhaps the chance of the game, only to blaze over when put through –but also a lot of space in behind.
This was where the risk lay. The 17-year-old Kadie Gordon was presented with a chance perhaps as inviting as Lacazette’s, only to send the ball over.
That was set up by Jota, who remains the main reason they haven’t yet missed Salah or Mane.
There was no question about his overall contribution, or his second goal.
Having given Ben White problems all game, the Portuguese forward was just waiting for one more opportunity to be put through as Arsenal pressed forward.
It came in the 79th minute, from another exquisite piece of Trent Alexander-Arnold play. Jota still had a bit to do as he was so close to the line and with little margin for error. He duly held off White brilliantly, showing his strength before delicately lifting the ball over Ramsdale.
It was a neat finish, from an almost flawless Liverpool win.
The same couldn’t be said of Arsenal. This young team won’t lift a trophy this season, but there is potentially something new for Klopp. He can claim a first English cup, and perhaps Liverpool’s ninth League Cup.
They will go back above Manchester City in the competition’s records if they beat Chelsea – but that is going to be a lot tougher than this. This was barely the game people had been waiting for.