Nobody does “it’s the end of the world as we know it” rhetoric quite like we do. As Liverpool supporters, we are notoriously all or nothing – or at least the most visible and vocal of us are.
Thursday night’s result and performance has provoked a significant amount of ire, in many respects a surprising amount considering it was in a competition that not many cared about a few weeks back.
All Liverpool games matter, of course, but it works on a sliding scale. We tend to prioritise; we look at a cluster of games and do a form of footballing triage. Even if it is only in a subconscious manner, if we have four games to play within 11 days we will grade them in order of importance.
Rightly or wrongly, it is quite a few years now since the League Cup was deemed worthy of provoking heightened emotions and much in the way of angst. Even in the comeback win over Leicester in the quarter-final the entertainment gleaned lay more within slapping down pantomime Tory opponents than it was reaching the last four of the competition for the 18th time.
Against Arsenal, in the first leg of the semi-final, a game that was originally to be the second leg, Jurgen Klopp’s men could not muster the goals which were fully expected of them after Granit Xhaka was sent off midway through the first half.
This was Liverpool up against opponents they had beaten 4-0 in the Premier League just two months ago on the very same patch of rectangular Merseyside grass; this was a Liverpool with as strong a line-up as they could currently select, give or take a Curtis Jones or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for a James Milner.
Klopp went as big as he could with his starting line-up and expectations were high, if offset by the concept that if we were to prosper then plan A had to succeed as plan B looked a little tepid.
Looking at the 11 names on the Liverpool team-sheet, suddenly, the League Cup felt like serious business rather than the fun, throw away games of previous rounds when whacked out combinations of experience and inexperience had hypnotically pulled together to produce something beautiful and wild.
Provoked by a wave of Covid having swept through his squad, this was a change in tactics from Klopp. Nobody really needed resting, so why not go all in?
It was as if we had reached the semi-final of the League Cup without systematically putting our mind to the task. We had freestyled our way to within touching distance of Wembley and now had a simple two-legged encounter against opposition we have long had the measure of, all aided by the bonus of many players being able to take a free swing at the game given that they had previously been isolating.
Yet, even with ten men, Mikel Arteta still went with a formation that should have played into Liverpool’s hands. Unfortunately, we went from hustlers when up against 11 Arsenal players to labourers against ten. All very good at keep-ball, we combined this with being ineffectual in the final third.
A malaise that was contagious, one-by-one focus and momentum was lost until a late fruitless flurry during which Takumi Minamino undertook a quite horrendous miss.
What was tough to take about the Minamino miss was that he had arguably been Liverpool’s brightest attacking component. Again, when in a position to be the all-encompassing hero of the piece he stumbled over his lines. As ever with Minamino, it takes a lot to build up his confidence but a split-second to bring it crashing down.
While we were unwilling to help ourselves, there was always going to be a response from Arsenal to losing in the FA Cup at Nottingham Forest. They were also determined not to be rolled over by us in the same style that they were back in November.
A top-four chase aside, after their loss at the City Ground on Sunday, these two games represented Arsenal’s only hopes of winning something this season. How could we not expect them to put up a fight?
Fair play to Arsenal for their organisation and stubbornness on an evening when far too many Liverpool players indulged in an off night.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was awful, Andy Robertson was not much better, and Jordan Henderson’s detractors were given an open invitation to clear their throats once more when the spectre of him sharing a midfield with James Milner reared its ugly head again.
It’s 2022 and it’s a good three or four years since such a thing should have been consigned to the past, at least in terms of the two starting games together. There is always going to be a lack of expansion there.
Even Bobby Firmino and Diogo Jota were struggling to get their heads around the task at hand. At one point Jota was so surprised to see the ball come to him he directed a header away from goal, while Bobby played like it was still Boxing Day, wandering around the room offering out the cheese board when nobody had the inclination for cheese.
Despite it all, I still back us to go to north London and win next Thursday. Frustration was undeniably the name of the game at Anfield but the situation is by no means irredeemable.
They will have to fight for it though.