Arsenal is feeling a lot better than most teams would following a nil-nil first-leg draw in a tournament semifinal.
That’s because Thursday’s scoreless visit to Liverpool saw the Gunners go down a man after just 24 minutes when Granit Xhaka whiffed on a volleyed clearance and connected with the abdomen of Diogo Jota, who would’ve been through on goal (video).
So with a derby ahead at the weekend before the second leg at home, 0-0 is fine with Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard is on level footing with Jurgen Klopp’s Reds after 90 minutes and will play the second leg in North London for the right to face Chelsea next month in the League Cup final.
[ MORE: Liverpool vs Arsenal final score, recap ]
“When you come to a stadium like this I said to them, you have to pick players that you are happy to come to war,” Arteta said, via Football.London. “You are going to have to fight, you’re going to have difficult moments, you’re going to suffer. It’s about how you approach those moments. If you rebuild yourself, if you are willing to help your team then good things happen. At the end you get rewarded and I think that’s what happened today.”
Arsenal, like Liverpool, was missing a variety of key pieces due to injuries, illness, and the Africa Cup of Nations.
And Xhaka’s red card joins Africa Cup of Nations-attending Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny in giving Arteta a huge headache going into Tottenham on Sunday to face Arsenal’s biggest rivals.
Who will play in the center of the park? Albert Sambi Lokonga was next to Xhaka on Thursday, but regardless of whether Arteta gets creative or goes to a back three, he believes the Gunners will be ready for Spurs.
“The extra motivation to play a derby brings the energy when you don’t have it,” Arteta said. “No excuses, we have to play it.”