Organizers of the League Cup must be a bit pleased with the results of the fourth-round draw. The draw resulted in several marquee clashes early in the competition, including five matches to be played by Premier League opponents amongst themselves. One of these marquee clashes will take place at Anfield on Wednesday night as Liverpool host Arsenal.
By their own standards set earlier this season and late last season, Liverpool have been underperforming a bit. They had to settle for a draw at Old Trafford, ending their 17-game victorious run. They also went a goal down within a minute at Anfield against Tottenham on Sunday, only to recover and win the game 2-1 in the end. Between those two games, they traveled to Genk in Belgium and won 4-1, but Klopp was not impressed with that performance. The Reds, however, are the only side in the Premier League to be still unbeaten and sit six points ahead of the current champions in the league table. But Klopp and his team know that those league credentials count for little in a knockout game against Arsenal. Given the strength of his bench, Klopp will rotate and give much needed rest to some players. He will hope his rotated squad will have enough to overpower the Gunners at Anfield.
If Liverpool are a bit up and down at the moment, Arsenal are fairly down. They are currently fifth in the league, a full 12 points behind Liverpool and four behind Chelsea in fourth. Their only win in last three games was a labored 3-2 win at home against the Portuguese side Vitoria de Guimaraes in the Europa League last Thursday. Prior to that they lost 1-0 at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United and then on Sunday, ended up drawing 2-2 against Crystal Palace after being up by 2-0 at half time. On top of these results, Unai Emery has personnel issues to address. Granit Xhaka has dropped himself from contention after his outburst at the Emirates faithful on Sunday. Mesut Ozil’s involvement in matches has been minimal this season. Emery also has to prepare for a Wolves’ visit to Emirates, in less than 72 hours after Wednesday’s game.
- Liverpool have history on their side when considering overall history. The Reds have won 88 games against the Gunners, while having lost 78 and having drawn 61. In their recent meetings too, Liverpool have been the better side – unbeaten in the last nine matches against Arsenal, winning five of them, including the last two games at Anfield.
- However, in the League Cup, Arsenal have an upper hand against Liverpool. In their last three games against Liverpool in this competition, Arsenal have won 2 and lost one. In 2009-10, the Gunners beat the Reds 2-1 at the Emirates, at the same stage. Prior to that, in the 2006-07 season, the two sides met at Anfield in the quarterfinals, where the Gunners emerged 3-6 winners, thanks to a hat-trick from Julio Baptista. Liverpool’s only win against Arsenal in this competition came in 1996-97.
- Jurgen Klopp has led the Reds in 13 games against Arsenal, winning 6 and drawing 4, while losing 3. Against Unai Emery as well, Klopp has a slight upper hand, winning twice and drawing once in four games against the Spaniard. Klopp’s only loss against Emery came in the 2015-16 Europa League final when Emery was managing Sevilla.
Oxlade-Chamberlain would have been disappointed not to have started the game against Tottenham on Sunday after his brilliant brace against Genk in Belgium. The former Gunner is in brilliant form as his introduction against Manchester United directly contributed to Liverpool’s equalizer, before the 25-year old scored two against Genk from outside the box (xG = 0.25). Klopp’s comments after the Genk game suggested that he expects more from Oxlade-Chamberlain and this meeting with his former side could be the game in which he meets his manager’s expectations.
David Luiz was culpable for two of Mohammed Salah’s goals when Gunners visited Anfield in the league earlier this season. He will be looking to make amends. Luiz has been adequate in defence if not spectacular. He wins 52% of his aerial duels in defence and 58% of his tackles. He also puts in more than 7 clearances/blocks/interceptions per game. In addition to his defensive contributions, he is a key threat from Arsenal on set pieces, as he showed in the game against Crystal Palace on Sunday.
For Liverpool, Virgil van Djik and Mohammed Salah suffered knocks in the Tottenham game on Sunday, while Xherdan Shaqiri and Nathaniel Clyne continue to be sidelined. In the midfield, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Adam Lallana all three will expect a start. Milner might start at right back, giving Trent a deserved rest. Possible Liverpool starting lineup for Wednesday: Adrian; Milner, Lovren, Gomez, Robertson; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita, Henderson; Origi, Mane, Lallana.
For Unai Emery, injuries are not as big a problem as dissenting players. Granit Xhaka might have ruled himself out given his outburst on being subbed against Crystal Palace. Hector Bellerin might start on Wednesday but Tierney may drop to the bench, as Emery needs to manage their returns to full fitness. Rob Holding and Joe Willock will hope to start at Anfield as well. Possible starting lineup for the Gunners could be: Martinez; Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Kolasinac; Torreira, Guendouzi, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Pepe; Lacazette.
Given the knockout nature of the tie and given that Klopp will be tempted to rotate his squad at least a bit, one might feel that Arsenal have a chance of knocking out Liverpool on Wednesday. However, Liverpool have shown this season that as a squad they know how to win from difficult situations. Given the form of the two sides, a victory for the Reds is a more likely outcome.
Liverpool 3 – 1 Arsenal