Arsenal vs. Liverpool score: Diogo Jota double fires Jurgen Klopp’s Reds to EFL Cup final vs. Chelsea

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LONDON — The Emirates Stadium does not usually crackle with anticipation. If it has had a default mood over the past 15 years, it has perhaps been the steady hum of disgruntlement, promises unfulfilled since Arsenal upscaled from Highbury. Not Thursday night, at least before a ball had been kicked.

There was belief in the air. Mikel Arteta and his band of 10 men had returned from Anfield with the tie still alive. The bonds of unity inspired that Arsenal’s young guns inspire were only tightened by the opprobrium directed at the club for their request to postpone the north London derby. There was energy to be harnessed here. For a time it seemed the Gunners were going to do so.

Almost as swiftly as it had emerged, it was stamped out. Diogo Jota scored the goals but it was those behind him who killed off this EFL Cup semifinal, methodically and carefully. No heavy metal football from Jurgen Klopp’s men — this was altogether more precise, more cold. If anything, it was rather boring, a tie that had been bubbling along nicely plunged into an ice bath.

Few could have seen such a tame ending at the outset of this game. As the Emirates bellowed them on, Arsenal went about their task with vigor. Mikel Arteta’s side came out with attitude, aggression and a clear blueprint: Unleash Gabriel Martinelli on Trent Alexander-Arnold every time the opportunity presented itself. It was a one-sided battle, the Brazilian beating his man at will with quick changes of pace and a delicate first touch. In such circumstances, Jordan Henderson would usually shuffle across to offer support, in doing so he would be freeing up the inside channel for Emile Smith Rowe, who surged menacingly forward.

An early foul a few yards from the box and Arsenal sensed it was their moment. Alexandre Lacazette stepped up to strike the free kick, feathering it in the direction of the top corner. Caoimhin Kelleher might have had it covered anyway as it crashed against the bar. Arsenal were getting into their virtuous cycle. Every dart upfield brought further belief from a crowd notably younger and more boisterous even if these charges were not actually resulting in shots. 

Even the dangerous moments brought no cause for concern. Joel Matip poked Fabinho’s header beyond Aaron Ramsdale but from an offside position. The Emirates delighted in Liverpool’s premature ecstasy, the lonely puff of red smoke from a solitary flare. Keep this up and the North Bank might just suck the ball into the net.

A thud and they were brought back down to reality. Roberto Firmino drew Gabriel upfield, a swift backheel unleashing Alexander-Arnold. Jota took the attack on, the first attacker this season to really test Takehiro Tomiyasu. Sent sprawling to the floor, he could only watch on as Jota ended a fearsome drive with the most tame of finishes, Ramsdale discombobulated as the ball rolled back in the direction he had come from.

What came next was no less impressive from Liverpool than Mohamed Salah at full force. Imagine a boot stamping on an EFL Cup semifinal — forever. Klopp’s side squeezed the life out of the Emirates Stadium. They might allow a flicker of hope, an Alexandre Lacazette flicked volley here, a Bukayo Saka cross there. All the better to really crush any Arsenal belief.

Every brief dalliance with danger from Arsenal was punished mercilessly with the sort of 30-pass move to nowhere in particular that would send any viewer straight to doomscrolling. “Half back passes to the center, back to the wing, back to the center. Center holds it. Holds it. Holds it …”

That familiar refrain of “come on Arsenal” — a chant riven with decades of exasperation — was struck up. The chances were Liverpool’s. Ibrahima Konate’s header from a corner hit the post before Ramsdale blocked Henderson’s effort on the rebound. Arsenal were alive in the tie, trapped in a catatonic state. Only Martinelli seemed unbowed by the task at hand, still testing Liverpool’s defense even as they threw two or more men at him. A stinging drive at Kelleher’s near post was well saved, a volley flashed over as Arsenal tried to dig themselves out of a two-goal hole.

That came as Jota burst in behind the Arsenal offside trap to chip over Ramsdale, VAR adjudging Gabriel’s to be playing the Liverpool forward on even if referee Lee Betts felt otherwise. It was twice the jubilation for the travelling supporters, whose cries now echoed around a ground that had seemed like a fortress 80 minutes earlier.

As is their wont, Arsenal heads went. Nine and a half hours after touching down in the United Kingdom following Ghana’s early exit from the Africa Cup of Nations, Thomas Partey ruled himself out of Sunday’s Premier League tie against Burnley with a pair of clumsy fouls. Granit Xhaka will also be missing after his red in the first leg. Thursday’s League Cup disappointment may yet bleed into the Premier League race for top four.

What had promised to be a night of high drama instead ended in farce, the desperate attempts of pitch invaders to avoid the clutches of security drawing altogether more interest than the denouement of this semi final. Liverpool had seen to that, a great spectacle wrenched from the Emirates Stadium.

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