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The good, the bad – and is the midfield or attack the bigger problem?

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Following Liverpool’s drab 0-0 draw at home to Arsenal on Thursday, three Reds supporters dissect a poor night at the office.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men failed to beat a Gunners side who were down to 10 men for more than two-thirds of proceedings at Anfield, with Granit Xhaka sent-off before the break.

A lack of urgency, creativity and quality was on show at Anfield, leaving Liverpool with work to do in the second leg of their League Cup semi-final tie.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by Matt Ladson (@mattladson) and Dan Clubbe (@dan_clubbe) to discuss a grim match and decide whether midfield or attack is the main issue in January.

 

The good…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's Curtis Jones sees his shot saved during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAN: Very little. There can be no doubt that this was an opportunity missed, and while credit should go to Arsenal for their defensive efforts, they were rarely tested to the maximum.

Bizarrely, it would’ve been more beneficial had Diogo Jota scored and Granit Xhaka stayed on the pitch.

Promising cameos from Curtis Jones and Neco Williams were the biggest positives to take from the performance and Alisson was also outstanding yet again.

That one-on-one save from Bukayo Saka has become almost the norm from the big Brazilian, but it’s superb goalkeeping.

HENRY: This was one of those games where you’re clutching at straws looking for any positives at all.

I thought Joel Matip was good at bringing the ball out from the back, but it’s never good when he’s your main creative force.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino (L) and Arsenal's Calum Chambers during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As Dan says, Alisson‘s save to deny Saka was huge – his ability to make himself big is Peter Schmeichel-esque, if you’ll forgive me the Man United comparison!

Jones added something from the bench, which was also a positive. He needs to be trusted more now.

MATT: Incredible that we’re talking about Alisson‘s one save as one of the highlights of the match isn’t it.

Like Dan says, Jones’ cameo – and Williams to a lesser extent – were positive, but all that does is underline how strange the original team selection was and how slow the subs were to be made…

 

The bad…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (L) and Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAN: Quite a lot. Worryingly, this was almost typical of Liverpool after a short break: disjointed, lacklustre and short on ideas.

It is a problem Jurgen Klopp seems unable to rectify.

Obviously, the Takumi Minamino miss will make the headlines, but in truth, this side should’ve carved out more than one big chance against 10 men.

Albeit a howler, pinning too much blame on the Japanese would be unfair.

It can’t go unsaid just how below-par Trent Alexander-Arnold was, too. He’s so integral to our build-up play and it seemed that without his usual precision the entire operation faltered.

MATT: On Minamino, yes, a miss happens, but he is just not good enough quality for this football club and that’s clear.

We’re talking about somebody who couldn’t even nail down a place in the Southampton team on loan there. He pops up with the odd goal in the League Cup, but he’s far from good enough overall.

HENRY: Where to start!

Liverpool have been worryingly flat for a few weeks now, clearly not helped by COVID and injuries, and this was the worst performance of the season, in my opinion.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

They actually got worse against 10 men and I totally agree with Dan that the Reds would have been better off if Xhaka had stayed on. The red card changed Arsenal‘s approach.

Still, you simply have to break down 10 men and the lack of creativity in midfield was painful to watch, with Jordan Henderson and James Milner horribly out of sorts at the moment. They cannot keep starting together.

Fabinho is in poor form by his high standards, too, which shouldn’t be ignored, and Alexander-Arnold had an absolute stinker of a night.

Roberto Firmino and Jota need big months without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane around, but they offered far too little.

MATT: I can’t believe neither of you have mentioned that midfield selection! It’s utterly depressing to see that in any game, let alone a semi-final, at home, and for so long after the opponent was down to 10 men. It should ring alarm bells for everyone at the club.

We haven’t played well since the derby now, which is over six weeks ago.

 

And the bigger concern this month: midfield or attack?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's Takumi Minamino during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAN: On this evidence, it would have to be the midfield.

The attack was blunted by a hard-working Arsenal defence, but there was little to no creativity from deeper areas – something that is all too apparent in the absence of Thiago.

Most will pinpoint missing Salah and Mane as the reason behind any adverse results in the coming weeks, but should the midfield perform like this, none of those tasked with filling their boots stand a chance.

Having taken a mini leap of faith with Harvey Elliott early in the season, it looks more and more as though his return could be vital.

HENRY: I agree with Dan – it’s the midfield.

Of course, Liverpool aren’t going to be as potent in attack without Salah and Mane, but things feel really problematic in the middle of the park.

Thiago has taken some unfair stick during his time at Anfield, but he makes the Reds purr and they look so one-dimensional without him.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Henderson and Milner have been wonderful servants and the former can still be an effective squad figure for a few years, but they are way off the pace currently. If they keep starting alongside one another, nothing will improve.

These last few matches really have showed why at least one new midfielder is needed this summer, especially as Thiago and Naby Keita can’t stay fit.

Jones and Elliott represent the future, but someone in and around their peak years is needed to add some much-needed life to the midfield.

MATT: Midfield for me also. The media obsession to focus on no Salah and Mane was too easy a narrative, but we’ve played League Cup games without them two before and looked capable of at least having a shot on target!

The midfield is the concern, because Jota and Firmino will get goals if they actually get chances.

I don’t know what Oxlade-Chamberlain has done or not done to now find himself behind Milner for a game like this.

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