Amid a backdrop of controversy surrounding a batch of false positive COVID-19 tests, Liverpool welcome Arsenal to Anfield for the rescheduled first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final on Thursday night.
The two clubs are vying for a spot in the final against either Tottenham Hotspur or Chelsea, with the Blues aiming to build on their 2-0 first-leg win on Wednesday.
Arsenal supporters were less than impressed when the news of Liverpool’s apparent COVID-19 outbreak forced the postponement of the first leg at the Emirates Stadium, and Jurgen Klopp’s admission that most of the Reds’ cases were false positives has reportedly not gone down well with many a club in the country.
Liverpool could supposedly face an investigation into their batch of false positives – with such a high number considered almost impossible – but a mixture of youth and experience did their talking on the pitch as Shrewsbury Town fell to a 4-1 defeat in the FA Cup at the weekend.
Up-and-coming starlet Kaide Gordon netted before Fabinho’s brace and Roberto Firmino’s cheeky backheel helped Liverpool avoid quite the giant killing, as the League One side took the lead through Daniel Udoh within 27 minutes.
That success represents just a second for Liverpool in their last five matches across all tournaments, although they have now marched to eight successive wins at their Anfield headquarters, only failing to score at least two goals in one of those successes.
Norwich City, Preston North End and an inspired Leicester City outfit have all fallen to the Reds’ superiority in the EFL Cup this season, but the eight-time winners – who last won the tournament in 2012 – are unlikely to be cheered on by the neutrals this weekend.
If Arsenal had performed like they did against Nottingham Forest in the first leg at the Emirates, Mikel Arteta’s side were possibly saved from a humbling, as the Championship side deservedly advanced in the FA Cup at the expense of the record 14-time champions.
Granted, Arteta’s ranks were thinned by AFCON, injuries and COVID-19 cases, but Arsenal’s second-string XI looked devoid of any sort of inspiration at the City Ground and ultimately succumbed to Lewis Grabban’s late winner on Sunday night.
Such a result was a sure-fire way to dampen the spirits in Arsenal’s ranks a week after they produced one of their best showings of the season against Manchester City, and four of the Gunners’ last six away games in all competitions have ended in defeat.
Arteta’s side have enjoyed a smooth run to the semis – scoring 16 goals in four victories against West Bromwich Albion, Wimbledon, Leeds United and Sunderland – and the opportunity to win a first EFL Cup since 1993 should certainly lead to a greater sense of urgency from the Gunners here.
However, Arsenal fans will need no reminding of how Liverpool taught them a footballing lesson 4-0 on Merseyside earlier this season, although they did advance on penalties at Anfield in the 2020-21 EFL Cup after a goalless draw.
Liverpool EFL Cup form:
Liverpool form (all competitions):
Arsenal EFL Cup form:
Arsenal form (all competitions):
We say: Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal
Arsenal’s complete lack of a midfield presence is there to be exposed by a refreshed Liverpool outfit this week, although the Reds hardly have their first-choice XI available either.
The return of several big-hitters should at least help the Gunners post one shot on target at Anfield, but we cannot look past Klopp’s side to take a first-leg advantage into next week’s second leg at the Emirates.