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Arsenal vs. Liverpool: Predicted Lineup, Bench & Score

Between COVID-19 and AFCON how will this League Cup tie play out?

Arsenal v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Quarter Final Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

After coming away with no points despite controlling much of the opening hour against the current league leaders, the feeling around Arsenal remains positive. The club continues to sit in 4th place but pauses league action with a trio of Cup matches coming up. And we have the January transfer market beginning to spin with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac both rumored to be moving away.

The Gunners will be without their share of players. Four are off to the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast), Thomas Partey (Ghana) & Mohamed Elneny (Egypt). Gabriel will miss the first leg of the League Cup after picking up two yellows against Manchester City and last-minute COVID cases remain a possibility.

Liverpool will be without Naby Keita (Guinea), Sadio Mane (Senegal) & Mohamed Salah (Egypt) due to AFCON. They are further hampered by injuries and COVID absences, including Alisson, Thiago, Joel Matip, Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino & Takumi Minamino. However, reports out earlier today state that Liverpool canceled their Tuesday afternoon practice and have requested for the first leg of the semi-final to be postponed.

Even with the players missing on each side, both clubs have sufficient U23 depth that this match should proceed.

Predicted XI

Bench

  1. Bernd Leno
  2. Nuno Tavares
  3. Cedric
  4. Calum Chambers
  5. Pablo Mari
  6. Charlie Patino
  7. Gabriel Martinelli
  8. Folarin Balogun
  9. Alexandre Lacazette
  • Left Out: Arthur Okonkwo, Sead Kolasinac (returning from injury & potential January transfer) & Ainsley Maitland-Niles (expected loan to Roma)
  • Out: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (AFCON), Mohamed Elneny (AFCON), Thomas Partey (AFCON), Pepe (AFCON), Gabriel (Red Card) & Sead Kolasinac (left ankle).
  • Even with four players off to AFCON and Gabriel forced out due to his yellows at the weekend, Mikel Arteta can field a very competitive starting XI and bench.
  • Up top, Mr. League Cup this season Eddie Nketiah should get the start. He’s excelled in the competition this year and can give Lacazette a rest. I expect the two to rotate as the lone forward over the next three matches.
  • The attacking line behind Nketiah remains available, which is the real factor in Arsenal’s recent surge. And while Martinelli has been excellent lately, I’ve brought Emile Smith Rowe in for a start on the left. However given the fluidity of those four young attackers, Arteta can move Smith Rowe into any spot and rest whichever needs it the most from Odegaard, Saka, and Martinelli.
  • In the midfield, it’s pretty straightforward. No Partey and Elneny, plus Maitland-Niles’ expected move to Roma by the end of the week. That leaves Xhaka and Sambi as the only two senior midfielders. Calum Chambers provides experienced depth for the position on the bench, while fans will be excited to see Charlie Patino back on the bench for a hopefully late sub appearance.
  • Rob Holding steps in for Gabriel, but the rest of the defense remains in order to chase a first-leg advantage over Liverpool. At the weekend a rotated backline and keeper can face Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup if needed.

How to watch

Thursday (1/6) at 2:45 pm ET / 11:45 am PT on ESPN+.

Prediction

Arsenal - 2

Liverpool - 1