Liverpool is under immense scrutiny following their recent FA Cup fixture. The Liverpool camp requested the EFL to postpone their fixture against Arsenal due to a “COVID outbreak” within the club. But when they proceeded to play their FA Cup fixture against Shrewsbury, many eyebrows were raised amongst other fans. And when Jurgen Klopp confirmed that there were “many false positives” in the camp, there was chaos. Fans everywhere started calling out the club and the EFL for even letting this happen. Following the outrage, the EFL is under pressure to take action and might even give Arsenal the bye. While nothing is confirmed yet, safe to assume that the fixture will happen. And given that both clubs are missing key players due to AFCON, this fixture will be quite interesting to analyze.
Arsenal has taken a big blow due to the AFCON Cup of Nations. With senior players such as ex-skipper Aubameyang, Thomas Partey, and Nicolas Pepe unavailable, the Gunners are left pretty short-handed. Their humiliating exit from the FA Cup in the 3rd round by Nottingham Forest says enough about their current situation. Arsenal is currently missing 4 senior pros right now who were pivotal in their recent success in the Premier League. So given the current squad, let’s see the optimum XI Mikel Arteta might start with.
Since the signing of Aaron Ramsdale, Arteta has heavily relied on him leaving the German Leno on the sidelines. Arteta has only ever selected Leno for domestic cup fixtures since there are no European fixtures this time for Arsenal. Since Leno has started in almost every Carabao cup fixture this season, it’s highly likely he will start this time as well. But given how uncertain the squad is now, it may be possible that Arteta will start Ramsdale instead.
The preferred back-four by Arteta would be Tierney, Gabriel, White, and Tomiyasu; Gabriel is available after serving his disciplinary suspension. While Tomiyasu didn’t feature on Sunday, he might be available for this fixture, sorting the right-back spot. The two ideal centrebacks should be Gabriel and White but considering Arsenal’s following fixture, Arteta might not play White. Arteta is least likely to start with Holding given performance on Sunday, leaving Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers for contention. Tierney will be the preferred left-back over Tavares following a terrible performance on Sunday which triggered an early substitution.
Granit Xhaka did not feature in Sunday’s fixture following his positive COVID test. Whether he is available for selection is not confirmed as of yet. Emile Smith Rowe did not feature due to a minor injury but is likely to feature in this cup fixture. With Arsenal feeling the absence of Partey and Elneny, Arteta will prefer Lokonga and Charlie Patino as the likely combo. They both played together on Sunday and the lack of experience was evident but Arsenal is out of options.
Other central midfield combos might include the likes of Omar Hutchinson from the academy, a promising midfielder. If push comes to shove, Arteta might have to change his formation altogether with only one central mid defender. Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka will most likely retain their winger positions. Martin Ødegaard will play at #10 preferably. But if Arteta is to employ a 4-1-4-1 formation, then we can expect Smith Rowe to join him in the center.
Arsenal’s striker issue has been the main point of talk this season. With Aubameyang, Pepe, and Folarin Balogun both unavailable, Arsenal will now rely on the interim skipper Alexandre Lacazette. Eddie Nketiah was preferred over the French last Sunday but performed poorly, missing crucial chances to score. With both these individuals running out of contract this summer, Arsenal is now in search of a permanent solution which they fancy will be found by this month.
PREDICTED STARTING XI:
Defense: TOMIYASU, WHITE/CHAMBERS, GABRIEL/MARI, TIERNEY
SAKA ,ØDEGAARD ,SMITH ROWE , MARTINELLI
CF: LACAZETTE (c)
Liverpool is missing out on three of their key players viz, Salah, Mane, and Naby Keita. Making use of academy players in their last FA Cup fixture against Shrewsbury, Klopp now might have some decent options. While Alexander-Arnold is the only extra COVID-positive player, the rest of the senior pros are all available for selection. The current injury situation is not an issue for Liverpool and they look in form following their win last Sunday.
Even though Liverpool now has Loris Karius available for selection, Klopp would prefer the young Caoimhin Kelleher between the posts. The young Irishman has been nothing short of impressive as the backup of the Brazilian Alisson, who is COVID positive. Although Alisson’s availability is still not confirmed, it is highly unlikely Klopp will risk him for the EFL fixture.
No doubt in Virgil Van Djik’s selection for the following fixture. He will either be paired with Ibrahima Konate or Joel Matip, who did not go for the AFCON cup. Andy Robertson has served his 3-match ban and is available for selection ahead of the fixture. With Trent Alexander-Arnold down with COVID, Klopp will look forward to starting Kostas Tsimikas as the right-back. Joe Gomez and Neco Williams are also available for the fixture.
Klopp will have to utilize Henderson and Milner in the flanks, having used the combo last week against Chelsea. Henderson, a veteran center midfielder, played on the right flank behind Mo Salah in the 2-2 draw against the Blues. In the center, Klopp might fancy starting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain if Fabinho is deemed unfit. Thiago is currently dealing with a hip issue and no statements of him returning have been given out yet. Since Fabinho played the entirety of both the previous matches for Liverpool, him starting against Arsenal is unlikely. It is highly likely that Fabinho will be available on the bench and might replace Oxlade-Chamberlain later in the second half.
With Mane and Salah both absent, highly likely that Klopp will start Diogo Jota as a winger along with Minamino. Roberto Firmino was brought on as a substitute last Sunday against Shrewsbury where he scored a goal. With the lack in the attacking side, highly likely that Klopp will start Firmino in this EFL cup fixture. The other contenders who can feature in the flanks are Curtis Jones and Kaide Gordon. The two young Reds featured in last Sunday’s FA Cup fixture with Gordon scoring the equalizer. Curtis Jones has been one of Klopp’s favorites amongst the young players having features in the Premier League this season. It will be interesting to see who Klopp selects in the EFL cup semi-final 1st leg against Arsenal.
PREDICTED STARTING XI
Formation : 4-3-3
Defense: TSIMIKAS, VAN DJIK, KONATE/MATIP, ROBERTSON
Midfield: HENDERSON(c), OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN, MILNER
Attack: GORDON, FIRMINO, JOTA
It’s still uncertain whether Liverpool will be allowed to play this fixture at all or not with EFL still contemplating. Many say it was a ruse that Liverpool called for the postponement on the basis of “false positives”. Whether it really was unfair or not is really a decision to be made by the EFL. The only positive for Arsenal here is that because of the postponement, Gabriel will not be available for selection. And if the fixture proceeds to happen, it will be very interesting to see how both the camps play. Will Arsenal take the 1st leg advantage at Anfield? Or will Liverpool maintain their unbeaten run at home against the Gunners? Only one way to know!
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