Arsenal have been drawn against Liverpool in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup after their 5-1 victory over League One Sunderland. Plenty of youth was on display Tuesday, with Folarin Balogun and Charlie Patino both playing.
It is unlikely that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta would risk the same level of inexperience to take on Premier League title challengers Liverpool.
However, after scraping through on penalties following a 3-3 draw with Leicester City, the Reds may need to dip into the depths of their squad considering some major absentees.
Arsenal too will be without some first-team players as both sides will be affected by the African Cup of Nations tournament which is expected to go ahead at present this January.
Arsenal will see Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all leave for the competition. The latter was unlikely to be involved this winter anyway considering the captaincy controversy the Gabonese striker finds himself currently embroiled in.
Liverpool however will be without some vital parts of their team. Jurgen Klopp will lose Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita. Despite this, the German coach will be pleased that he will not be without Joel Matip after the former Cameroon international turned down an invitation to return to the side this winter.
“There are players who wanted to come back to the national team. For me there is no need to enlist a player who is not ready to return,” said Cameroon coach Toni Conceicao back in August.
“Matip does not want to return to the national team, that is the issue”.
With the currently scheduled first leg of the semi-final taking place the week commencing the 3rd of January, there is the possibility that new signings could also feature should the clubs move quickly to secure their targets early.
Arsenal have been linked with several players but considering two midfielders will be absent, and the position is an area well documented to be in need of continual improvement, a signing in the role appears most pressing.
Bologna midfielder Mattias Svanberg has been revealed by Italian media to be of interest to the Gunners. Their success with former teammate Takehiro Tomiyasu will encourage Edu that the relationship between the clubs would stand them in good stead.
However, could a surprise inclusion come in the form of Jack Wilshere? With the Gunners losing two senior midfielders and the 29-year-old training with the senior side for more than a couple of months now, he presents as an easy option for the club to recruit and quickly.
Finally, before considering what Arsenal’s side could look like, the fixtures around the tie could play a key role. Arsenal face Manchester City the weekend prior and will want to field a strong side in an attempt to pick up points followed by a trip to Nottingham Forest the weekend after.
Arteta has shown a willingness to want to win the competition and use it as a springboard for the rest of the season. He may also recognise that Klopp may field a rotated squad and look to take advantage.
Speaking with Liverpool Fan Brand Editor Matt Addison, he feels as though Liverpool will rotate but maintain plenty of first-team options.
MA: “I’d imagine it will be [Caoimhín] Kelleher in goal again, plenty of changes across the rest of the team as well. [Kostas] Tsimikas, [Joe] Gomez maybe – probably Konate, Neco Williams. Salah and Mane will be at AFCON, as will Keita. Divock Origi should be back, so imagine he’d play, Minamino as well. Midfield should have Thiago, Fabinho and [Jordan] Henderson in it by then, injury permitting.
“Stronger than last night, basically, but still with a few changes – though Shrewsbury being between the two legs could make it interesting as that would be the real weakened team, I’d guess.
“Chelsea is before the first leg, but Salah and Mane should play in that, so one of [Roberto] Firmino or [Diogo] Jota plays Arsenal. Then Brentford is after the second leg, so possibly could be a slightly weaker team second leg if anything.
“A complicated answer, but basically – AFCON means definitely not those players. And only [Harvey] Elliott is a long-term injury, others should be back, but may/may not play.”
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Taking everything into account, willing an early January signing into existence for the Gunners in the form of Svanberg may be fanciful but it is Christmas after all. For the desired team, a strong side would be preferable to try and claim a trophy and boost the Gunners ahead of their top four run-in while taking into account surrounding fixtures.
Desired Arsenal XI: Leno, Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Tavares, *Svanberg, Xhaka, Martinelli, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Nketiah
*Dependent upon January acquisition.
Possible Liverpool XI: Kelleher, Williams, Gomez, Konate, Tsimikas, Thiago, Fabinho, Henderson, Minamino, Jota, Origi
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