Mikel Arteta admitted that Granit Xhaka did not help Arsenal’s already stretched midfield ranks by getting a red card against Liverpool.
The 29-year-old received his marching orders after only 25 minutes of Thursday’s 0-0 Carabao Cup draw at Anfield. Indeed, the Gunners then had to stay largely on the back foot for the rest of the contest.
However, the visitors dug in to keep a clean sheet. As such, they have set up an exciting semi-final second leg at the Emirates Stadium next Thursday.
Xhaka’s red card came after almost constant Liverpool pressure in the opening stages. Arsenal had shown some attacking threat, but Arteta pointed out after the match that going down to 10 men caused a change in formation.
Furthermore, the manager was not able to make like-for-like changes. Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are on Africa Cup of Nations duty, while Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard were not in the squad.
Arteta told Sky Sports: “To plan with the numbers that we already have, we don’t have any midfielders in the squad.
“So it becomes really complicated because whatever we are going to do, it is not going to be natural. We played with three midfield players, Gabriel Martinelli, [Albert] Sambi Lokonga and Bukayo Saka.
“They never played there in their lives, they never played in that formation.
“We believe that that could help them and still give us a threat in counter-attacking moments and they did it really well.”
Arteta praised his side’s “great fight, determination, attitude” and “brotherhood” as they kept a clean sheet.
He added: “We played the game that we had to play. It’s not our game, but we managed to play the game that we had to play.”
Arsenal showed much more defensive resolve than they did in their last game, the 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest.
Arteta pleased with Arsenal reaction
Asked about the difference in performance, Arteta said: “It’s really difficult to explain. You see the performance that we had against Manchester City. We probably deserved to match more than what we got in the game – again we played with 10 men.
Then we went to play Forest away, it was a completely different game.
“Today we got the level back, it’s an extremely young team and sometimes that inconsistency is going to happen.”