After the first leg at the Emirates was postponed due to Liverpool’s COVID-19 outbreak last week, the first leg is now finally ready to get going, this time on Thursday at Anfield.
The Reds finally have a servicable squad with which to compete, as a number of players have returned from COVID-19 seclusions. In fact, many of the positives within the camp were discovered to be false positives according to manager Jurgen Klopp, meaning the group will have a host of players deemed eligible.
Arsenal will be motivated to compete, knowing Liverpool’s form has slipped of late and the Reds may be vulnerable. The Gunners, in contrast, are in great form and silverware is within reach. The second leg is set for Jan. 20 at the Emirates, and the team that advances to the Feb. 27 final will meet Chelsea, which knocked out Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsenal could make a statement in this match, but the Gunners will need to do so with a depleted midfield due to AFCON stripping the squad of first-team choices, and a hostile crowd at Anfield will be buzzing for Liverpool’s return. This could be a fun one for neutrals.
How to watch Liverpool vs. Arsenal
Thursday’s first-leg match between Liverpool and Arsenal from Anfield in the EFL Cup semifinals will be broadcast exclusively on ESPN+ in the United States.
Liverpool vs. Arsenal projected lineups
Trent Alexander-Arnold is the only Liverpool player still in COVID-19 isolation, meaning the Reds are nearly back to a virus-free squad. Young Conor Bradley could be the one to step in, having already earned a start in the FA Cup win over Shrewsbury Town. Goalkeeper Alisson is included in the group of returnees, having missed time earlier with a positive COVID-19 test.
Still, the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita are all on AFCON 2021 duty, and the injured group of Harvey Elliott, Divock Origi, Thiago, and Nat Phillips join them on the unavailable players list. So the Reds aren’t exactly healthy despite the COVID-19 cases fading away.
That means young players like Curtis Jones and Kaide Gordon could not only come into the side, but they could see the field.
Liverpool projected starting lineup (4-3-3): Alisson (GK) – Bradley, Matip, Van Dijk, Tsimikas – Henderson, Fabinho, Jones – Gordon, Jota, Minamino.
Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are both on AFCON 2022 duty, meaning the Arenal midfield is extremely thin. That could lead to time for Charlie Patino and Albert Lokonga in the middle of the pitch. The Gunners also appeared to be dealing with COVID-19 issues, but Granit Xhaka has proven himself fit, a major boost. Takehiro Tomiyasu is reportedly still out with a calf injury, meaning Cedric Soares will step in at right back again.
Also, late news updates have pegged both Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe as out, with Smith Rowe unable to recover from the groin injury that kept him out of the FA Cup match last weekend, and Odegaard a new addition to the list with an undisclosed injury. That leaves Arsenal without a No. 10, but the aforementioned Xhaka could see himself deputize in that role with the youngsters behind him.
Another question for Mikel Arteta is who to start up front as the striker. Eddie Nketiah has been a go-to option in Cup games of recent past, but he was poor in the EFL Cup loss to Nottingham Forest and that could lead Alexandre Lacazette to return.
Arsenal projected starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Ramsdale (GK) – Tierney, White, Gabriel, Cedric – Lokonga, Patino – Saka, Xhaka, Martinelli – Lacazette.
Liverpool vs. Arsenal betting pick & prediction
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
Both teams are less than healthy, as Liverpool struggles to put a forward line together and Arsenal is forced to dip into the academy products for a midfield pairing. That leaves us with less ability to predict how the match will go, especially considering both teams have slipped in recent weeks.
Liverpool’s league standing has taken a big hit over the past few weeks, with a few dodgy performances over the festive period. Arsenal, meanwhile, lost a shocker to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup over the weekend, leaving the Gunners out of the competition in just the third round.
So, with that in mind, it’s more difficult to find valued openings. Looking at their recent run of good league form, Arsenal has beat up on bad teams, putting up nearly 3.0 xG in each of the games against Norwich City, Leeds United, and a sliding West Ham, plus other good performances against Newcastle and Southampton. However, when facing table-topping competition, it has gone far less successfully. Against Man City, Arsenal was soundly beaten 2.31-0.80 xG despite a close 2-1 scoreline, and the Manchester United defeat was also a fair representation of the statistics.
Considering the last time these two teams faced off, a 4-0 romp by Liverpool back in late November that stood out for the 3.50-0.33 xG differential, backing Liverpool against an Arsenal team without its entire midfield beating heart seems like the play. It could be a goal-fest with youthful mistakes all over the pitch.
Pick: Liverpool win & over 1.5 goals (+130)
Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal
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