As Liverpool prepare to take on Arsenal in the League Cup semi-final, we get the view from the Gunners ahead of the two-legged tie.
A much-changed Reds side won 4-1 at home to Shrewsbury in the FA Cup on Sunday afternoon, as they eased into the FA Cup fourth round.
It’s now time to focus on a rare domestic semi-final under Jurgen Klopp, as Arsenal stand between Liverpool and a first Wembley final in five years.
The Gunners were dumped out of the FA Cup at Nottingham Forest, so they will be desperate for a response, especially after the bad blood that has emerged between themselves and the Reds after last week’s first leg postponement.
With kickoff approaching, we spoke to award-winning illustrator and Arsenal fan Matty Long (@Matty_Long) to discuss the north Londoners’ form, his thoughts on Liverpool and the last-four clash.
To begin with, let us know your thoughts on the much-discussed postponed game last week?
Firstly, it’s great to hear that all those COVID tests that got the game postponed turned out to be false. What are the odds?
There’s clearly a lot of fan frustration across all clubs over cancelled games at the moment and more clarity from the people making those decisions is needed.
In terms of this game, maybe the dynamic has shifted slightly from an Arsenal perspective after a rotten showing against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup.
There’s not much left to play for this season, and despite the general positivity, we’ve lost our first two games of the year.
It’s a crucial time – we’ve got Tottenham at the weekend – and our midfield is looking a bit threadbare and the squad is being stretched further than we would like.
Still, the postponement means we’ll have Gabriel back in defence after serving his suspension and maybe even Takehiro Tomiyasu, Emile Smith Rowe and Granit Xhaka returning, too.
How happy are you with Arsenal currently?
I’m pretty happy, despite the Forest defeat.
Fourth is really the best we could have hoped for at this stage of the season, given our young squad, new signings needing to gel, and a manager who is still finding his feet.
There’s a long way to go, but even if we were to land in the Europa League places from here, that would probably be mission accomplished as far as this season goes.
Regardless, though, watching Arsenal is fun again and the games feel like they matter.
Is Arteta the man to take you forward?
I’d have to say Mikel Arteta is the man to take us forward, even if I can wobble from that view in the aftermath of games like the Everton and Forest ones.
There is clear progress in what he is doing with this squad of players; the last time I spoke to you I said his next job was to figure out how to make the attack click and I think he’s done that.
It turns out dropping the star striker and captain was all it took!
Who have been Arsenal’s three best players this season?
Tomiyasu has been a brilliant signing and made a mockery of that bloke from Sky Sports who claimed he’d been rejected by every other Premier League club.
He is just always a seven or eight out of 10 and you can’t underestimate how important such stability is in a young, developing back-line.
Aaron Ramsdale has probably been a bit busier than we would like at times but his communication with the defence, distribution forward, and winding up of opposition fans has been first-rate.
His saves look really good, too.
Martin Odegaard had a slow start to the season and even found himself out of the starting lineup, but he’s really starting to make his mark on the team in goals and assists.
It’s hard to imagine us getting into Europe if he was to spend a prolonged period on the sidelines.
I feel a bit harsh leaving out Smith Rowe here – our top scorer – but you could argue the case for a number of players.
Which individuals have struggled?
It’s been a stinker of a season for Nicolas Pepe and I can’t imagine he will want to hang around too much longer as players like Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Smith Rowe rightfully keep him out of the side.
Thomas Partey, by his own admission, hasn’t been anywhere near his best – until the Man City game, that is. He is taking his best form to AFCON now. Cheers, Thomas!
How much does the League Cup mean to you? Genuine trophy?
It’s a genuine trophy for sure and it would be huge for Arsenal‘s young players to get their hands on some silverware.
As a fan, though, it’s one you can shrug off pretty easily if you don’t win it.
Apart from Salah, which Reds player would you most like to see at Arsenal?
Sadio Mane. A player like him would address one of the potential issues in our squad going forward – a lack of experience and quality in front of goal.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the naughty step, we are relying a bit on Saka and Smith Rowe not reverting to their chance conversion rates of last season.
I liked Mane’s goal against Chelsea – he and Christian Pulisic had similar opportunities, but Mane didn’t mess around at the crucial moment.
Where do you see the key battles taking place across the two ties?
I think it could be chaos all over the pitch – these Liverpool and Arsenal League Cup ties have thrown up some crazy contests in the past.
It might be less about key battles and more about who plays the most first-team players.
Our typical League Cup fodder like Pepe, Mohamed Elneny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles won’t be available thanks to AFCON and the January transfer window, so I do wonder if Arteta might go a bit stronger than he otherwise might.
Finally, who will progress over the two legs?
You know, it might be the sweet, sweet Carabao going to my head here but I will go for Arsenal.
I think they will win 2-1 at home and draw 2-2 away.