The original first leg became the eventual second leg, and now Chelsea’s League Cup final opponents can finally be revealed, probably.
With postponed matches still very much a thing within English football, Arsenal may as yet have their way, and see this very game postponed. With a raft of players loaned out, a few injured players to add to their current covid case and AFCON related personnel, the sense is that the game must go ahead.
Granit Xhaka begins his suspension, to add to Arsenal’s woes. Thomas Partey is still away with Nicolas Pepe & Mohamed Elneny, with Partey returning first. Martin Odegaard should be out of his isolation period, and Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Cedric Soares, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Callum Chambers should all be fit after the postponement of their weekend fixture (against Tottenham). Sead Kolasinac appears to be leaving (if not already so), and former skipper, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, remains sidelined.
Liverpool will continue without Naby Keita, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, all of whom are away for the AFCON. Thiago Alcantara and Divock Origi remain with Harvey Elliott on the injury list, and Nat Phillips is still not ready to return. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was injured in the home tie, and his return date remains unknown. With a first leg that would have left Klopp disappointed, the reds will surely look to exploit the Arsenal midfield. Sunday’s game away to Palace is up next for the reds, so Liverpool will inevitably look to go full strength for this semi final. Kaide Gordon could just be the surprise name in the starting line up, though the more senior Taki Minamino will likely start with Bobby Firmino and Diogo Jota.
The reds midfield will probably see James Milner and Fabinho partner either Jordan Henderson or Curtis Jones. Fatigue and match fitness will surely determine who starts in midfield, with the defence likely to introduce Ibrahima Konate. The full back positions could see Kostas Tsimikas start, but rotation may be disregarded in the main.
Arsenal have issues, but if the game goes ahead, the majority of their non AFCON players should be available. A strong back four of Ben White, Gabriel, Keiran Tierney and Callum Chambers should start. The attack and midfield could see any system deployed, but the suspensions, loans and AFCON contingent will still be problematic.
The game will be interesting, as Arsenal seemed far more comfortable in a defensive block, once Xhaka had been sent off. Being the home side (and starting with a full team), they will surely not be able to revert to such a tactic. This could be the critical point for Arsenal, as Klopp will be expecting and planning for some form of low block again. The tactical make up of this game will be the most important, and that’ll be on Mikel Arteta. Liverpool play one way, and they will try to force a more open game from the Gunners.
How the game unfolds will be fascinating, and with the chance of a final at stake, it could become another classic.
Player to watch – Virgil Van Dijk
Arsenal 1 – 2 Liverpool