Even with Salah back, Jota shows depth of attacking options

February 11, 2022 GMT
Liverpool's Diogo Jota, center, celebrates with his teammate Fabinho, left, after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Liverpool's Diogo Jota, center, celebrates with his teammate Fabinho, left, after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Liverpool's Diogo Jota, center, celebrates with his teammate Fabinho, left, after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Liverpool's Diogo Jota, center, celebrates with his teammate Fabinho, left, after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Liverpool's Diogo Jota, center, celebrates with his teammate Fabinho, left, after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

LONDON (AP) — Diogo Jota is squeezing every moment out of his understudy role in the Liverpool attack.

Even with Egypt striker Mohamed Salah back available after a month away at the African Cup of Nations, Jota still started and scored both goals in a 2-0 victory over Leicester on Thursday.

“We have more options now and it’s good for the team,” Jota said after taking his tally for the season to 17. “We have a lot of games and everyone will be important at some point.”

The second was scored with Salah on the field for the final 30 minutes in a win that keeps second-place Liverpool nine points behind Manchester City with a game in hand. Liverpool is also chasing titles still in the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup.

“He is really helpful for us,” Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said of Jota. “He was not a bargain, we did not get him for free. But it was obvious the potential was there, the work rate he puts in.

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“If you have that there is always space for improvement. We really thought he would be an outstanding player.”

The Portugal international has now scored in 18 different league games since joining in 2020 for around $50 million from Wolverhampton,

The first against Leicester came in the 24th minute with a close-range strike after Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel parried Virgil Van Dijk’s header. The second from Jota in the 87th was a smart shot on the turn under Schmeichel.

“The second goal is a brilliant goal, I love the counter-press,” Klopp said. “But the first goal is really when you are in a goal-scoring moment, when you are there. That is exactly what is happening for Diogo at the moment.”

Liverpool still have a tough task catching City with 15 games to go.

“I don’t think they smell our breath already,” Klopp said. “It was not the best game we ever played but we were good enough to win. We had the clear, bigger chances. We were deserved winners and that’s all what you want.”

ARSENAL FINALLY WINS

After 46 days, Arsenal was finally victorious again.

Gabriel poked in a goal in the 25th to clinch a 1-0 victory at Wolverhampton, although the Gunners had to hang on for a first win since Dec. 26 with 10 men after another needless sending off. Gabriel Martinelli was sent off for two yellow cards within seconds of each other — Arsenal’s fourth dismissal in its last six games.

This one came with 21 minutes left after Marintelli first pushed Daniel Podence to stop a quick throw-in but referee Michael Oliver played advantage. Martinelli then chased the ball down only to barge into Chiquinho from behind and was immediately shown two yellow cards.

“I want explanations about VAR and what happened tonight,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “They are conversations that are going to happen very soon.

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“Everyone says it is the most disciplined group they have seen in the last 10 to 15 years, but we are still getting red cards. I’ve never seen that (Martinelli’s red). I’ve been 18 years in this country and I’ve never seen something like it.”

Wolves could not take advantage, though, and lost ground on Arsenal, which climbed to fifth to improve its chances of a top-four finish and a return to the Champions League.

The goal came when Wolves failed to clear Martinelli’s corner and Ben White headed back across goal toward Alexandre Lacazette, who collided with goalkeeper Jose Sa but did enough to deflect the ball toward Gabriel, who scored his third goal of the campaign from five yards.

“It means a lot because we really wanted to win this game,” Lacazette said. “We know set pieces are important and I’m happy we could score today. I wanted to be first to the ball and I think I was. It was stressful in this type of game but that is football. I’m really proud, everyone at the back did their job.”

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