On a night when two giants of the European game, and a heady mix of youngsters and world superstars, served up one of the games of the season, it was left to a 20-year-old from Cork to make the telling contribution in the penalty shoot-out.
Caoimhín Kelleher, Liverpool’s third-choice goalkeeper, flung himself athletically to keep out Dani Ceballos’s spot kick and — after 18-year-old team mate Curtis Jones nervelessly converted the 10th, and last, kick of the shoot-out — Jurgen Klopp’s side was through to the last eight of the Carabao Cup.
“Obviously I’ve been doing a lot of work with the goalie coaches on penalties and stuff,” Kelleher said. “And we spoke before the shoot-out about where certain players would go. So we did our homework and I managed to go the right way.
“It was a bit of a crazy one. Five goals went past and I didn’t have time to blink really. Some strange goals as well so it was a bit of a strange night.
“It’s what dreams are made of really — winning a shoot-out in front of the Kop.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable. I’ve never had an experience like that in my life. It was an unreal feeling. I just can’t describe it.”
But what a night this was after Divock Origi, with his second eye-catching goal of the evening, scored a 94th minute bicycle kick 12 yards out after a cross from young defender Neco Williams to force the shoot-out.
It had looked like Joe Willock’s technically stunning 25 yard strike had finally settled this pulsating tie after he collected a ball just inside the Liverpool half, advanced and buried his 70th minute effort past Kelleher, But, as had been the case all night in a tie that had seen Unai Emery’s side twice lose the lead — as they had in the costly weekend league draw with Crystal Palace — there was a dramatic twist, and that Origi equaliser that set up the finale.
The result will not help the pressure that is growing steadily around Emery. But at least this game served as a timely reminder that there is still some life in this oft-maligned competition even if it comes in unexpected forms such as this gloriously chaotic tie.
The fact 22 changes were made by the combatants told its own story about the dramatic decline of the EFL Cup in the eyes of the Premier League elite but, still, as pure entertainment, what a success this tie would prove to be.
Credit Klopp, the bolder of the two managers, as he handed out debuts and extended minutes to youngsters like the avuncular neighbour dishing out Halloween candy to trick or treaters.
Harvey Elliott, at 16 the youngest ever Liverpool player to appear at Anfield, 18-year-old Williams, and Dutchman Sepp van den Berg, one year his junior, in defence, plus Rhian Brewster, the old man of the group at 19.
If this was a Liverpool team capable of going on to win the League Cup for a ninth time, it felt like half of them would not be allowed to have a glass of champagne to celebrate.
That youthful naivety would eventually be exposed but first, with five minutes on the clock, Klopp’s Kop kids would take the lead, thanks to a dreadful piece of defending by Arsenal veteran Shkodran Mustafi.
The German slid in, spooked by the lurking Brewster, to try and deal with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s dangerous cross and, leading with his wrong foot, succeeded only in turning the ball into his own net.
This was a real test for an Arsenal side currently low on confidence and self-belief and high on inner turmoil and psycho drama.
One of the players at the centre of that soap opera, Mesut Ozil, was handed just his third appearance of the season by Emery, an indication that while the Arsenal manager was happy to change his entire starting XI, most of his stand-ins were at the upper end of the experience level.
Not for Emery a bunch of precocious teenagers — although, if Oxlade-Chamberlain had been able to control Adam Lallana’s through ball and double Liverpool’s lead after 11 minutes, it would have been interesting to see how those veterans would have responded in the midst of the club’s problems.
Instead, with three goals in 17 minutes, Arsenal took control of what was becoming an increasingly entertaining tie, with Martinelli to the fore.
All goals exposed the inexperience peppered throughout the Liverpool line-up, particularly in defence, where the ball was given away cheaply and assignments routinely missed.
Martinelli started the move for the equaliser on 19 minutes, crossing just behind Lucas Torreira but, after Ainsley Maitland-Niles kept the move alive, to Ozil picked out Saka whose shot was well saved by Cork keeper Kelleher only for Torreira to tap in the rebound.
The move looked marginally offside, replays suggested it was, and VAR — had it been in use in this competition — would probably have ruled it out.
But Arsenal built on their stroke of fortune and nosed in front with Gabriel Martinelli claiming his first of the evening. Maitland-Niles twice took advantage of slack defending from Origi, crossed and, after Kelleher had palmed out the Brazilian’s original shot, Martinelli converted the rebound.
Elliott was to blame for Arsenal’s third, although it was the sort of mistake a 16-year-old is entitled to make as his ambitious, mis-hit pass was picked off by Ozil who fed Bukayo Saka whose cross was turned in ruthlessly by Martinelli from seven yards.
Liverpool’s youngsters looked rattled — but Arsenal’s shadow team has some of the frailties of its first-choice line-up. And, as the half drew to a close, Martinelli’s slight touch on Elliott was enough to award the home side a penalty which James Milner — the oldest head on the home side — finished emphatically.
Five first-half goals hinted at the promise of more to come after the restart and, thanks to a rare rash moment from Milner, Arsenal restored their two-goal edge on 54 minutes when the England man underhit a back-pass, Maitland-Niles pounced and, after over-running the ball, benefitted from a brilliant flick from Ozil which kept the ball in play and allowed his team-mate to make it 4-2.
The pace, and sheer exuberant entertainment would not let up. Cue three magnificently-struck goals in 13 minutes, Liverpool drawing level and Arsenal nosing ahead again.
First Oxlade-Chamberlain robbed Maitland-Niles of the ball 20 yards out and scored with a devastating right-foot hit before Liverpool sub Curtis Jones found Origi who took a skilful touch, spun and struck home the equaliser from the edge of the area, and Willock made it 5-4.
Kelleher 5; Williams 8, van den Berg 5, Gomez 6, Milner 7; Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Chirivella 81) Lallana 7, Keita 6 (Jones 55, 8); Elliott 7, Brewster 7, Origi 7. Subs: Adrian, Koumetio, Kane, Clarkson, Larouci.
Martinez 6; Bellerin 6, Mustafi 5, Holding 6, Kolasinac 5 (Tierney 82); Maitland-Niles 7, Torreira 7 (Dani Ceballos 71, 6), Willock 7, Saka 7; Ozil 9 (Guendouzi 65, 6); Martinelli 8.
A Marriner 6