Boy, did Arsenal battle tonight. The 10-man Gunners ran themselves ragged, fought for every ball, and gave every last ounce they had to earn a 0-0 draw against Liverpool. It was tenacious, it was gutsy, it was [insert whatever adjective you’d like]. It was one heckuva performance from The Arsenal.
I don’t want to get into the Granit Xhaka red card too much because it will distract from the Herculean performance the team put in after he was sent off. But I’ll say this: I don’t think Michael Oliver had to give that red card, and I don’t think every player in the Premier League sees red for that challenge. Unfortunately, Xhaka has a somewhat deserved, somewhat unfair reputation, and he is judged differently than most other players. He puts himself in positions where the referee can send him off, and more often than not, he gets sent off. By the way, I’m still waiting for some of those “I’ve seen them given” calls - be it red card or penalty - to go in Arsenal’s favor. The ledger has to even out at some point, right?
But the story of the match was the fight put up by a patchwork, nowhere near fully first-choice Arsenal side against the absolute best side that Jurgen Klopp could put on the field. And down to 10-men for nearly 70 minutes, to boot! Liverpool did not manage a shot on target and hardly troubled Aaron Ramsdale’s goal all night.
Takumi Minamino missed an excellent chance at an open goal late on, but the xG of that chance was roughly the same as the one Bukayo Saka had for Arsenal earlier in the half. Each side had one big chance in the match, which is a pretty damning indictment of the side that spent the majority of the time up a man.
The Arsenal defensive effort had a great deal to do with that, mind you. Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes were massive, with White having easily his best performance for the club so far. Kieran Tierney was solid. Calum Chambers was impressive coming off the bench early and with no warmup for the injured Cedric (Chambers should be the go-to backup right back, without question). Sambi Lokonga had a quietly solid match, doing the little things right while not standing out for anything massively good or catastrophically bad.
Liverpool had 78% of the possession, but the Arsenal attackers still managed to stand out. Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli each put in heroic efforts, working themselves to the point of collapsing from exhaustion at the end of the match. And Bukayo Saka was magnificent. He managed to be a threat despite having two and three defenders around him seemingly at all times and little support in the attacking third. He’s a special, special player.
I am a bit concerned about the toll the incredible shift put in today will take on Arsenal’s legs for the North London Derby on Sunday. The Gunners left it all out there and will need to rest up quickly for what will likely be the most important Premier League match of the season when it comes to the race for 4th place and Champions League football.
But tonight’s backbone-showing and heart-revealing performance and well-earned draw has me convinced this group of players can manage just about anything on their day. Bring on Spurs on Sunday. And then let’s beat Liverpool at the Emirates next Thursday to get to the final.