In an alternative reality, Arsenal could have arrived at Anfield this evening with a healthy first-leg lead after beating a weakened Liverpool team soundly at the Emirates.
As it happens, the fickle fate of Covid changes the dynamic of this tie. Liverpool have some key players back – including Alisson and Trent Alexander-Arnold – and Arsenal now have to manage their resources to stay in the tie for the second leg and manage energy levels before a hugely important game at Tottenham on Sunday.
Both clubs are weakened by the Africa Cup of Nations with Liverpool missing Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita and Arsenal feeling the absence of Thomas Partey, Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (depending on how you view his squad status) and Mohamed Elneny. Arsenal are also without Takehrio Tomiyasu, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard for tonight’s game so you would say advantage Liverpool. Mikel Arteta does at least have Granit Xhaka available after Covid and Gabriel back from suspension.
Jurgen Klopp has not reached a domestic cup final since losing to Man City at Wembley in this competition in 2016, but the cups might take on greater importance given the deficit Liverpool have to make up in the league. Under Klopp, Liverpool have scored more goals against Arsenal in all competitions (43) than they have vs any other opponent, while Diogo Jota has five in his last seven appearances against them.
Evidently, Arsenal’s recent record at Anfield is dreadful and they were vanquished 4-0 here in the Premier League in November. They did however, progress on penalties in a Carabao Cup tie at Anfield last season after a goalless draw and were involved in a barmy 5-5 draw here in this competition in 2019. With away goals not a factor, a low-scoring draw or even a narrow defeat might be an acceptable outcome for the visitors who will hope to be in better health for the second leg.
Full team news on the way shortly.