Liverpool failed to provide Anfield semi-final magic in underwhelming display against Arsenal

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Anfield and semi-finals? Drama would be right up there. A fizzing atmosphere and a frenzied Liverpool performance would be high on your list, too.

There have been five such occasions during Jurgen Klopp’s reign, the most notable being the Champions League blitzings of Roma (5-2 in 2018) and Barcelona (4-0 in 2019) and the Europa League skewering of Villarreal (3-0 in 2016).

Perhaps not so easily recalled, though, are the League Cup dust-ups with Stoke (2016) and Southampton (2017). The reason? Both of them finished in 1-0 defeats. They escaped against Stoke, thanks to a penalty shootout, but there was no such good fortune the following year.

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Liverpool failed to provide their usual semi-final magic at Anfield against Arsenal on Thrusday

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And that fixture – when they failed to score over 180 minutes – came to mind against Arsenal. What should have been Anfield’s biggest night of the campaign turned into one of the most perplexing this stadium has seen for quite some time, as Liverpool recorded their first home blank since last April.

One passage of play, early in the second half, provided the evidence as to why you could make such an appraisal. First came a pass from Virgil van Dijk that was so off target, it rolled out of play and prompted him to raise a hand in apology.

Next came a shot from Joel Matip – we will be kind and refer to it as “ambitious” – that cleared the bar by such a distance that any rugby kicker would have been certain of getting two points for a conversion.

To complete the comedy of errors, Andrew Robertson under hit a ball to Trent Alexander-Arnold that was so lacking pace you would have had him down the weekend golfer who couldn’t read the speed of a putt. All of this, remember, came against 10 men.

The Reds were held to a 0-0 draw by the north Londoners, who played with 10 men for spells

Jurgen Klopp’s side lacked the zip and dynamism typically associated with the German

No wonder Klopp was so bewildered by what he saw that he stood with his mouth open. Occasionally he bellowed to try and rouse his team but everywhere he looked there were shortcomings and uncertainty.

The number of corners that Alexander-Arnold and Robertson put in that failed to beat the first man were staggering. There was no creativity in midfield, no zip or dynamism in attack. Klopp said before the game he was “desperate” to win this fixture but his team’s actions didn’t back up his words.

It would be easy to pin this on the absence of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who had scored 33 of Liverpool’s 79 goals so far this season, but that would be too simplistic. The strides Liverpool have made are not just down to two men and there was sufficient quality at Klopp’s disposal.

Still, a penny for Salah’s thoughts. He would have been watching in Cameroon and, having insisted he was not looking for “crazy money” to sign a new deal in an interview with GQ, being absent here has only strengthened his hand in negotiations.

A penny for Mohamed Salah’s thoughts, who would have been watching on from Cameroon

Liverpool, simply, are not as formidable without him. Put it another way: had the chance fallen to him that came Taki Minamino’s way in the 90th minute, the hosts would be travelling to London next week with an advantage.

Arsenal worked so relentlessly after Granit Xhaka’s dismissal – why did one of the club’s coaching staff offer the Swiss a handshake when he walked off? – that Aaron Ramsdale barely made a save and it was no wonder the away end was buoyant, celebrating as if they had one foot in the final.

There were a number of excellent performances, not least from Ben White, who was commanding and held it all together superbly. Arteta, in an attempt to keep his team focused, covered yards on the touchline, screeching and hollering for them to keep their shape. They did that superbly.

Liverpool may yet end up at Wembley but, to face Chelsea, they will have to do it the hard way. It is, of course, something they have become accustomed to doing under Klopp. Surely they won’t play this bad again – will they? 

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