Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 6/10
The first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Arsenal was initially scheduled to take place last week at the Emirates Stadium, and the rematch was supposed to be this Thursday at Anfield. As it happened, due to a postponement of the first match requested by Liverpool after a number of positive COVID-19 tests within their squad, the Anfield clash on Thursday will now be the first leg, and the rematch takes place at the Emirates next week.
Controversies were quick to appear around the postponement, and they blew through the roof when manager Jurgen Klopp revealed that only one player, Trent Alexander-Arnold, was actually positive to the virus. The rest were ‘false positives’.
Putting such matters aside, Liverpool are currently negotiating with the representatives of Mohamed Salah over a new contract, with the current one having entered its last 18 months. Salah says he’s not asking for ‘crazy stuff’ and the club have been informed about his demands; it’s in their hands now, but he would prefer to stay put.
The Merseysiders reached this stage of the competition by knocking out Norwich in the third round, Preston North End in the round of 16, and Leicester City on penalties in the quarterfinals.
Their last-six run consists of a 3-1 home win over Newcastle, a 2-2 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur, the draw against Leicester in the quarterfinals which ended 3-3 after 90 minutes, a 1-0 Premier League defeat to the Foxes at the King Power Stadium, a 2-2 draw away to Chelsea, and a 4-1 win over Shrewsbury Town at home in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday.
Klopp fielded a rather rotated lineup in that match, and after Daniel Udoh shocked Anfield by giving the League One side an early lead, 17-year-old Kaide Gordon opened his professional scoring record with the equalizer, before Fabinho turned it around from the spot. Roberto Firmino, who entered the fray in the second half, scored Liverpool’s third in a cheeky way before Fabinho slammed the fourth in from close range. Liverpool will face Cardiff City in the next round of the FA Cup, though they first face Brentford in the Premier League at home this weekend.
In the Champions League, Klopp’s team are set to take on Inter Milan in the round of 16th, with the first leg taking place in Italy on February 16th, and the second at Anfield on March 8th.
Meanwhile, they are third in the Premier League table, 11 points behind leaders Manchester City (though with a game in hand), and they obviously need a lot of luck to be in with a chance of overtaking the defending champions by the end of the season.
Midfielders Harvey Elliott (ankle) and Thiago Alcantara (hip) are close to returning to contention but they aren’t quite there yet, so neither of them will be playing against Arsenal on Thursday. Naby Keita, also a midfielder, is away at the African Cup of Nations with Guinea, as are Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Mo Salah (Egypt).
The players who had positive COVID tests, including Alexander-Arnold, have all tested negative since and they’re fine, as is left-back Andy Robertson who took a knock in the win over Shrewsbury Town.
It will be interesting to see which 11 players Klopp goes with for this match. It would arguably be unfair to Caoimhin Kelleher to make way for Alisson Becker, having performed very well in the cup so far, but the boss might want to send out his best team in the hope of winning the trophy for the first time since 2012. Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate played against Shrewsbury, but Joel Matip is now likely to step in and allow at least one of them to take a break. Joe Gomez is also an option. There is probably no need to risk Robertson despite the Scotland captain being fit, and Kostas Tsimikas might be chosen to start in his place.
In the absence of Salah and Mane upfront, Firmino and Diogo Jota are likely to start with Takumi Minamino in support. Gordon is likely to be named in the squad as well.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta had little to say about the first match being postponed in his pre-match press conference. He also refused to discuss the numerous transfer rumours going around at the moment. The name most talked-about at this point is Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic.
However, the club have confirmed that 20-year-old striker Folarin Balogun has joined Middlesbrough on loan for the rest of the season, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles has already played his first match for AS Roma, also on loan.
The club have recently been shaken by a lack of discipline from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. As a consequence, the 32-year-old forward has been off the team for a while now, and he’s lost the captain’s armband because of it.
Arsenal reached this stage of the cup by disposing of West Bromwich Albion in the second round, AFC Wimbledon in the third, Leeds United in the round of 16, and Sunderland in the quarterfinals.
Over in the Premier League, Arsenal now sit directly below Liverpool with a seven-point deficit, which not many would have believed possible after the defeats suffered in the opening three rounds of the campaign. But Arteta seems to have put the puzzle together, and the Gunners are actually on a fine run of results, only interrupted by the heartbreak suffered at the start of the FA Cup a few days ago.
In the last six matches played, Arsenal beat West Ham 2-0 at home, Leeds 1-4 away, and Sunderland in the quarterfinals of this cup by 5-1 at home. Then came the 0-5 win away to Norwich, the disappointing 1-2 defeat at home to Manchester City, and the shocking FA Cup exit at the hands of Nottingham Forest. The only goal of that match was scored by Lewis Grabban, and the Gunners are out.
Arteta will likely go as strong as possible into this match; he’ll want his team to make up for the Nottingham Forest fiasco.
Apart from Aubameyang, midfielder Thomas Partey is away representing Ghana at the AFCON. Arteta is hopeful that Granit Xhaka will be ready to play, and it’ll be either Mohamed Elneny or Albert Sambi Lokonga playing alongside the Swiss international.
Lacazette is set to lead the line upfront, with Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli on his flanks. Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes will be commanding the back line, flanked by Kieran Tierney and Tahekiro Tomiyasu.
Though Liverpool beat Arsenal 4-0 at Anfield on November 20th, this is likely to prove a different match. The Gunners are playing much better these days, while Liverpool without Mane and Salah can’t boast the same quality as when those two forwards are in the team.
Nonetheless, Liverpool have shown over the years that they can deliver even when their ranks are severely depleted. But whatever else may happen, there is likely to be goals on both sides of the pitch.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 6/10
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