When he was signed in 2020, Diogo Jota seemed like a solid player. He had stood out at times with Wolves, especially in helping them come up from the Championship, but there was little in his resume that showed he was ready to lead the line for a title-contending team on a daily basis. Perhaps with time, he’d grow into that role. Yet, almost immediately he hit the ground running, popping up to score, to link play and more than ably hold his own in what had been a very set Liverpool front three. Fast forward to the present day and it’s hard to imagine where Liverpool would be without him.
The early part of the second leg against Arsenal seemed ominous. Arsenal took the game right at Liverpool and, especially on the flanks, were dangerous. An early free-kick produced a wonderful save from Kelleher and, for the first 15 minutes, Arsenal were playing the sort of direct attacking game that Liverpool often employ themselves. Thankfully, the Reds grew into the game and began to blunt the Arsenal attack. A few early chances came and went before that man Jota popped up at the end of great interplay between Firmino and TAA to scuff a shot for the lead.
Jota’s goal really demoralized both Arsenal and the fans who must have felt that the game was going according to plan until that point. Yet, now Liverpool had the lead and could really start to dictate play. From there it became the usual Liverpool match, with chances coming in and again, missing Salah and Mané, would they be able to convert them? Trent and Robbo, finding more and more space, continued to ping in crosses and before too long, Jota finished a brilliant pass with an audacious chip over Ramsdale. An extremely tight VAR decision muted the celebration briefly but in the end, justice was done.
What Liverpool will be most happy about, aside from the win obviously, is that they did see the game out. Despite some shaky moments, a clean sheet was kept and Liverpool withstood their opponent’s punches long enough to grow into the game themselves. It was in some ways reminiscent of the title squad of 2 years ago, where even if not at their best and most ruthless in attack, they were able to find the chances and stand them up. Much of Liverpool’s trouble this term has been throwing away points from winning positions. If this trend is finally curbed, the second half of the season could be a really fun ride.
Arsenal for their part seemed like a squad that was lacking match fitness. They had hoped to strike early and then have Liverpool chase them but after the initial 15 minutes of pressure, the game slipped away from them quickly. With so many players just returning from injury or COVID or amazingly AFCON, it’s no surprise that their fast start ultimately burnt out. Thomas Partey epitomized this. His first yellow card was harsh against him but the second one was a wild tackle, especially for someone so recently cautioned. Perhaps he just really wanted
to get back to his place, having woken up on one continent and then played on another in the span of 7 hours.
Now things seem all set up for what should be a classic final against Chelsea. Getting to any final is cause for celebration and it is especially sweet to have done it despite the depleted roster. The hope is that by February 27th, a restored full team can express themselves and take some hard-fought silverware home to Merseyside.