Liverpool vs Arsenal – battle of the second XIs: Who comes out on top?

Liverpool vs Arsenal – battle of the second XIs: Curtis Jones has the edge over Joe Willock and William Saliba is rated above Sepp van den Berg but which side has greater strength in depth ahead of Carabao Cup clash?

  • Liverpool take on Arsenal in the Carabao Cup in same fixture as 5-5 last year 
  • Reds and Gunners both have plenty of depth and quality in respective squads  
  • Diogo Jota, Curtis Jones, Dani Ceballos and Nicholas Pepe are all set to play
  • Sportsmail took a look at which second XI is better when everyone is fit 

The incredible, chaotic and goal-filled 5-5 draw between Liverpool and Arsenal in the Carabao Cup last year will live long in the memory… unless it is surpassed tonight. 

Jurgen Klopp’s side welcome the Gunners back to Anfield in the very same fixture having edged them out on penalties at the same stage of the Carabao Cup last year following a 10-goal thriller. 

Inevitably both managers will make a raft of changes from the 3-1 Liverpool win on Monday in the Premier League and Sportsmail has put the second XIs up against each other to see how they match up.  

Before the comment section erupts, there are a couple caveats here. This selection is intended to be the strongest with all players available, some are currently injured or nearing moves away. 

Those who are regularly in and out of the line-ups for the first team, such as Naby Keita and Ainsley Maitland-Niles are also excluded. 

Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta will make plenty of changes for their second clash this week

GOALKEEPER & DEFENCE –

Adrian started life at Liverpool impressively, helping the Reds win last year’s European Super Cup and filled in adequately for Alisson in the early weeks of their title-winning triumph. 

There were however a couple of wobbles later on, notably against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League when the goalkeeper made a couple of high profile blunders and his side crashed out. 

He’s since spoken about that game eating away at him but Adrian is preferable to a somewhat unknown quantity in Arsenal’s new £2m man Alex Runarsson. 


Adrian (left) is expected to play for Liverpool and Alex Runarsson may line-up for Arsenal 

William Saliba is slightly higher rated young centre-back than Sepp van den Berg by some 

The 25-year-old made 36 Ligue 1 appearances in Ligue 1 for former side Dijon and let in 61 goals. Arsenal fans will need some convincing he can properly deputise for Bernd Leno. 

At left-back Liverpool have the edge too, Kostas Tsimikas has impressed so far since joining from Olympiacos for £11.75million and Sead Kolasinac appears to be on his way out of Arsenal with Bayer Leverkusen among the interested parties. Tsimikas will miss Thursday’s game with a slight knock picked up in the previous round.

It is tricky to compare both defences individually as they’re likely to be playing different formations. But James Milner is probably a more dependable option than Neco Williams at right-back, even though the elder statesman usually fills in at left-back when needed. 

Williams has a bright future but Milner can still do an excellent job but Cedric Soares is a Portugal international and naturally right sided defender so has the edge. 

Joel Matip is a great back-up option to have for the Reds when he returns to full fitness

At centre-back Joel Matip faces a battle to get back into the Liverpool first team when he returns to fitness as Joe Gomez is playing well but he was outstanding last season and is the highest quality back-up defender on either team. 

Sepp van den Berg is still just 18 and one for the future but William Saliba is the more highly-rated young talent. Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have plenty of experience, valuable in a game likely to feature the exact opposite of that. 

VERDICT: This one is tough to compare due to the slight difference in set-up but also in terms of quality. Liverpool may have the narrow advantage with Matip and Adrian but only by a slim margin. With Tsimikas and Matip out of action, the Reds are only stronger in defence with everyone fit so Arsenal may well have the advantage at the back tonight. 

In the holding role, Xherdan Shaqiri has been given the nod as he played in the unfamiliar position in the last round against Lincoln City and excelled, so much so that Klopp suggested it offered a lifeline for his Liverpool career. 

Local lad Curtis Jones also features alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is currently recovering from injury.

Jones has been superb whenever he’s been afforded an opportunity and scored two classy goals in the 7-2 demolition of Lincoln City. 


Joe Willock (left) and Curtis Jones (right) could line up against each other on Thursday

The 19-year-old has massive potential and is tipped for a huge future. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s strengths are well established as an England international but he’s been plagued by injury. 

When on form last season he was a real goal threat from midfield and scored some wonderful long range strikes. 

For Arsenal, Dani Ceballos offers real creative quality and bravery in possession. He glides with the ball and Mikel Arteta clearly rates him highly, bringing him back from Real Madrid for a second loan spell with the north London club. 

Dani Ceballos brings a composure and creativity to Arsenal’s midfield play 

He partners with 21-year-old Joe Willock. Willock’s contribution to the Gunners has flown under the radar slightly compared with other Arsenal youngsters but he is yet to really nail down one position. 

It is hard to tell where he is best deployed on the pitch but works hard and is a clearly confident. In terms of a balance with Ceballos there may not be enough defensive solidity but the Liverpool midfield lacks that too. 

VERDICT: Curtis Jones is regarded by most as a more promising prospect than Willock and that just gives Liverpool the edge in this department.

Attack – 

This is where things really start to get interesting with burgeoning talent and real quality in the final third of the pitch for both sides. 

Arsenal’s Nicholas Pepe has not quite justified his £72million price tag but shown in flashes why the club spent so much on him. 

The addition of Willian has bumped him down to a role on the bench at the start of this season so he will be desperate to prove his worth on Thursday night. 

Takumi Minamino keeps getting better and better with every appearance in a Liverpool shirt. He may not quite have the physicality but the Japan international is incredibly sharp. 

Takumi Minamino has impressed Jurgen Klopp when he’s played so far this season 

One thing that is both a strength and weakness is that he is versatile. He lacks the out and out pace of a winger but can often find himself on the flank, particularly if Divock Origi starts through the middle. 

The Belgian is a cult hero among Liverpool fans having scored some of the most important goals in the club’s history, particularly in the Premier League. But there has been a feeling for some time that if Roberto Firmino gets injured then Origi is not an adequate back-up. 

Leading the line for Arsenal could be 21-year-old Eddie Nketiah. There are high hopes for the striker at the Emirates and he has been tipped for the top for some time. 

If he’s given the start against Liverpool, it will be the kind of game he has to excel in to have any chance of a rare start for the first team. 

Young striker Eddie Nketiah is getting more and more game time under Mikel Arteta 

On the left flank, new signing Diogo Jota has made a flying start, scoring on his debut against the Gunners at the weekend after coming off the bench. 

He is two-footed, relentless in his pressing and already looks a really astute addition to the squad. In the same position for Arsenal Bukayo Saka has been a breath of fresh air over the last year but given a choice between the two, most managers would opt for the Portuguese international.     

VERDICT: This is a fascinating match-up and all six players are incredibly different and tough to compare. It is very tempting to sit on the fence and weirdly this game has another 5-5 written all over it. With a gun to my head, the quality of Jota and Minamino tip the balance in Liverpool’s favour.

Mikel Arteta may feel as though this side is his strongest second XI to choose from 

Overall – 

Both sides have real strength in depth, as you would expect from massive clubs with aspirations of silverware this season. 

In defence the injuries to key Liverpool personnel mean that they could be a weaker unit than Arsenal on Thursday night but when everyone is fit, the likes of Joel Matip and Kostas Tsimikas give Jurgen Klopp a stronger rearguard back-up than the Gunners. 

Liverpool have Thiago, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho on rotation in midfield for the starting XI so their depth in midfield is better than Arsenal’s too without even mentioning Curtis Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. 

Diogo Jota scored on his Liverpool debut against the Gunners on Monday night 

Arsenal have been linked with Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar and midfield is clearly the area they need to strengthen. 

In attack, there is more parity between the sides. Saka and Nketiah are at the start of their careers and promise much, while Pepe is undoubtedly a huge talent but yet to fully hit top gear. The Premier League champions favour versatility with Minamino and Jota able to play across the front three but Origi’s long term future is in doubt. 

Liverpool just about edge the strongest back-up XI on paper but in an empty Anfield, Thursday night’s game is utterly unpredictable. Anything close to last year’s extravaganza would be very welcome.  

Liverpool have slightly better strength in depth than Thursday night’s opponents overall




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