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Carabao: Liverpool vs Arsenal Preview

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.

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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, 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 fell to a 4-1 defeat in the FA Cup at the weekend.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Liverpool should have Alisson Becker back from his COVID-19 infection this week, while Trent Alexander-Arnold is now the only confirmed positive case in Klopp’s ranks.

Liverpool 4-1 Shrewsbury: Reds player ratings as Gordon makes FA Cup history

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita are all away at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Klopp is also set to be without Harvey Elliott, Divock Origi, Thiago Alcantara and Nat Phillips due to injury.

It would not be surprising to see Gordon handed another start on the right-hand side this week, but Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota will both expect to return to the first XI.

Liverpool vs Arsenal

As for Arsenal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey and Nicolas Pepe remain absent, but Gabriel Magalhaes makes a timely return from suspension.

Granit Xhaka and Folarin Balogun are expected to miss out owing to positive COVID-19 tests, and it remains to be seen if Emile Smith Rowe and Takehiro Tomiyasu will shake off their injury concerns.

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