Big Midweek: Arsenal back in Champions League, Prem chance for Liverpool, Erling Haaland

Ian Watson
Liverpool versus Luton, MIkel Arteta in the Champions League, And Erling Haaland out of form.
A Bog Midweek for Liverpool, MIkel Arteta, and Erling Haaland.

Liverpool face Luton and Man City look to fix Erling Haaland for the visit of Brentford in the Premier League while Arsenal are distracted by a return to the Champions League knockout stage…


Game to watch: Porto v Arsenal
Arsenal end their seven-year absence from the Champions League knockout stages when they head to Portugal on Wednesday.

Porto are comparative veterans, having graced this round in six of the seven seasons Arsenal have not. Though rather more encouragingly for the Gunners, Porto have been eliminated in seven of their last eight knock-out meetings with English sides. The one time they triumphed prompted Jose Mourinho’s touchline dash at Old Trafford.

More relevant is the fact that Sergio Conceicao’s team are currently on a 10-match unbeaten run at home, losing only once in any of their last 10. Arsenal, though, are flying after recovering from their three-match New Year blip with a five-game winning run, scoring 21 goals in the process. Whatever Arsenal did in Dubai, it seems to have done the trick.

Mikel Arteta’s priority may be the Premier League now they have dragged themselves back into the race and a clash with Newcastle, who the Gunners feel are owed a shoeing, looms on Saturday night. First things first: should they remain as potent in attack as they have been of late, this ought to a be a tie that Arsenal can take control of before the return leg at the Emirates in three weeks.


Team to watch: Liverpool
While Arsenal are distracted by the Champions League, Liverpool and Manchester City will seek to increase the gap between themselves and the Gunners when they face what the table might suggest should be straightforward home games in the Premier League.

Liverpool welcome Luton to Anfield on Wednesday night having already dropped points against the Hatters. Two would have been three were it not for Luis Diaz’s late leveller at Kenilworth Road so Jurgen Klopp is unlikely to gamble much with his team selection ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

He probably couldn’t if he wanted. The win at Brentford on Saturday – as routine as they come thanks to their accommodating hosts – came at the cost of at least two more injuries, with Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota almost certain to miss Luton’s visit.

Darwin Nunez was also brought off at half-time, though seemingly as a precaution, while Alisson and Dominik Szoboszlai are unlikely to be risked and Trent Alexander-Arnold is definitely out.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Mo Salah is back, scoring and assisting at Brentford off the bench. And their form suggests they aren’t feeling sorry for themselves. They are still yet to lose outside north London this season.

Luton will turn up to do more than just enjoy their day out, and the Hatters are currently five unbeaten on the road in all competitions. But, injuries and all, this is an assignment Liverpool simply have to pass and push on.

Read more: Man City within a point of Liverpool in the ‘fun to watch’ Premier League table


Player to watch: Erling Haaland 
The Manchester City goalbot malfunctioned on Saturday when Chelsea kept him out despite Haaland taking nine shots and recording an xG of 1.71 – the highest this season of any player for a game in which he failed to score.

“It’s good to have nine shots and next time he’s going to score,” said Pep Guardiola afterwards, refusing to blame his no.9 for City’s first dropped points in seven games. And Pep probably has a point.

Especially if Brentford defend like they did against Liverpool on Saturday. The Bees gave the Reds three of their four goals and it was not a one-off. Thomas Frank’s side have kept one clean sheet in 16 games while conceding 35 times. Only Sheffield United have shipped more in that time.

Perhaps Haaland is still adjusting his settings, with the 3-1 win at Brentford three games ago his first start after a foot injury. With City now playing catch up at the top of the table, Haaland seething, and Brentford apparently incapable of defending, don’t be surprised to see the Norwegian restored to full working order.


Manager to watch: Xavi
The first time Xavi left Barcelona, as captain in 2015, it was as a Treble winner. This time, it looks more likely he’ll depart potless from his final season as manager.

Sitting eight points of leaders Real Madrid in La Liga, the Champions League is Barca’s most realistic prospect of silverware this term. And the likelihood of that feels slim at best.

Xavi will need to prompt a run of form that his squad looks neither motivated or capable of embarking upon. Starting in Naples on Wednesday night.

Napoli have made an even bigger mess of their title defence this season, sitting down in ninth, nine points adrift of those occupying the European qualification berths. But for Barca, they remain dangerous opposition, with even less to lose.

Xavi pointed to ‘big data’ that suggests his side are underachieving this season and that they would lead La Liga if they made more of the openings they create. But they don’t. So they aren’t.

Xavi also says he has a ‘good feeling’ going to Italy, which may be sparked by Robert Lewandowski hitting form. But Barca will need more than good vibes at the Diego Armando Maradona.

EFL games to watch: Bristol Street Motors Trophy Semi-Finals
Without the means to watch any of the four Championship fixtures on Tuesday, your Football League fix will have to come from the EFL trophy semi-finals being televised over Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Blackpool welcome Peterborough to Bloomfield Road first in an all-League One tie, before Bradford, the only remaining League Two side, entertain Wycombe. Buzzing now, aren’t you?

If that doesn’t float your boat, the Championship’s chasing pack are in action, with Southampton, Ipswich and West Brom facing Hull, Rotherham and Plymouth respectively. It’s big for Saints and Ipswich especially, with these being their games in hand over Leeds that could propel them above or alongside the second-placed Yorkshiremen.