The England international was one of the elder statesmen in a youthful Reds side which overcame his former club
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has hailed the character of Liverpool’s youngsters after the Reds booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup.
On a crazy night at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp’s side battled back to beat Arsenal on penalties, after a remarkable 5-5 draw which will live long in the memory.
Liverpool trailed 3-1 and 4-2, having fielded five teenagers in their starting line-up against Unai Emery’s men.
Neco Williams made his professional debut at right back while Caoimhin Kelleher, Sepp van den Berg, Harvey Elliott, Rhian Brewster and Curtis Jones all made their Anfield bows, with 16-year-old Elliott becoming the youngest soccer professional ever to represent the Reds in a competitive game at home.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was one of the side’s senior citizens and got on the scoresheet with a 25-yard strike against his former club. And afterwards the England midfielder paid tribute to the spirit and perseverance of his younger colleagues.
“I am really proud of how the boys turned out,” he told reporters. “And especially the young lads on their first starts and debuts.
“[Arsenal] had young players out as well but I think all of those young players are pretty involved in the first team and Europa League and stuff, so they had more experience. It goes to show what quality we have here.
“More than that, it was the character. It wasn’t a plain-sailing game against tough opposition – a big club in Arsenal. A lot of boys could have gone missing or the occasion could have got the better of them but they kept going.
“I saw Pep [Lijnders, the assistant manager] talking in his press conference about the character and what the boys are going to have to do to make that step up, and tonight showed it.
“It has been an education for all of us, even the more senior boys. When you make mistakes in big games like that and big moments at the start of their careers, it has been about how you respond to that. They responded really well.”
Liverpool had three teenage heroes in the shootout, with goalkeeper Kelleher saving from Dani Ceballos and both Brewster and Jones converting their penalties in front of the Kop – Jones, a second-half substitute, confident enough to take the final, decisive kick.
“Curtis has been a really confident lad and he’s been around us long enough to know that we trust his ability and he has been comfortable with that,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said.
“It was nice to see him put his name down to take a penalty and he was always going to do that. The same with Rhian – I know how confident he has been!
“To step up in front of the Kop like that, to convert all the penalties, especially with the young lads, shows a lot about the character. I am really happy with them.”
As for himself, Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted he was far from satisfied with his performance, but could reflect on another senior start – and another spectacular goal to add to his collection.
“At the minute they are not tap-ins, let’s put it that way!” he smiled. “It was a pretty good goal, so it was really hard to keep the celebrations in but that has been always something that I knew I would do against my former club. I always want to show a lot of respect for Arsenal and what they did for me and the times I had there.
“I didn’t want to celebrate but it was a tough one to hold in. I wanted to take my shirt off and go mad! It was nice to get one, I have been given a license to shoot from outside the box and the last few games I’ve managed to do that. Hopefully it continues.”
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He added: “I just tried to run a bit more and get in behind and tried to get my legs going a bit more. Quality-wise, I am not too happy with my performance to be honest. I wasn’t great on the round ball and not near my own personal level of where I want to be. But I put in a good shift and ran a lot.
“I watched the boys of a weekend and I know what it has been about here. You have got to be at a really high physical level to go and put in a performance like that. Fabinho did really well at the weekend so I need to keep pushing myself and maybe I will get a chance.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool will assess the fitness of Naby Keita after the Guinea midfielder was substituted after 55 minutes of Wednesday’s game. Klopp confirmed afterwards that the 24-year-old had been limping after slipping during the match, but initial hopes are that the problem has been not a serious one.