Gunning for it — how Liverpool’s youngsters can benefit from context of Arsenal EFL Cup clash

The Reds welcome Unai Emery’s Arsenal to Anfield in the fourth round of the competition this week and, with both sides likely to field youthful starting elevens, numerous elements of the clash could prove beneficial to Jürgen Klopp’s less experience squad members.

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You can’t, of course, pick and choose your opponents in any competition — especially in knockout cups such as the EFL Cup.

In truth, Arsenal would likely be seen as far from ideal opposition in this scenario. Needless to say they’re one of the stronger participants, something that can make it more difficult to offer youngsters valuable experience. A meeting with a lower league side can often — but not always — offer a gentler introduction to senior football.

Liverpool and their youngsters, of course, have already passed such a test. The 2-0 victory at Milton Keynes Dons may have had the different dimension of being away but facing Arsenal at home next feels a good variant.

While both sides are expected to make a number of changes — largely with the intention of offering that most valuable experience to young players — experienced heads who may not feature week-in, week-out can still be expected within the teams.


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Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren, James Milner, Adam Lallana, Naby Keïta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all featured last time out, nicely offsetting the lesser experience of Caoimhin Kelleher, Ki-Jana Hoever, Harvey Elliott, Rhian Brewster and Curtis Jones from the start.

Many of those names may feature again, with some inevitable shuffling due to variations in game time over the last five weeks or so. Playing with these more seasoned pros, with whom they train often, is arguably just as valuable as simply playing the game itself.

It may be even more beneficial to now have the chance to come up against players of similar standing. Mesut Özil — an extreme example given he has a World Cup winner’s medal — started in the last round and may offer different tactical challenges to the youngsters than before.

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Lucas Torreira and Shkodran Mustafi, while perhaps not in the best form of their careers, are opponents ready to outthink their younger counterparts if the Uruguayan and German retake their starting berths in the competition.

While less experienced, the quality of the likes of Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli will also represent a step up from MK last time out and provide additional motivation — as if it was needed. They’re proof of the Premier League game time youngsters can earn if they keep banging on the first-team door. Even if Arsenal’s may feel slightly easier to force open at the moment.

The Reds will need to be even more focused technically and tactically. Arsenal are still, on their day, a slick outfit who can carve open an even slightly dysfunctional shape. But that remains only one part of the experience on offer on Wednesday — its environment could also prove fruitful.

While it may not be a Premier League clash or a Champions League night, because it’s Arsenal, because of the time of day, and because Klopp will surely encourage it, Anfield should still be on its toes.

Factor in the additionally large away allocation that comes with such cup ties, and Arsenal’s usually excellent travelling support can be expected to make a more than noticeable contribution of its own.

The best case scenario is that Liverpool’s youngsters, alongside more experienced teammates, will find themselves inside a cauldron — at least of sorts — that will be primarily cheering passionately for them but also, at one end, working thoroughly against them.

Productively harnessing the positive and negative energy that they may not have experienced to such a level before is an appetising challenge that they have every reason to rise to.

Do that, alongside battling to win the on-field contest — learning as they go — and Wednesday has the potential to be one of the squad’s most beneficial games of the season, even if it may not be its highest profile one.

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