Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic put Chelsea in control of their Champions League last-16 tie against Lille with a 2-0 win, but Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech went off injured. 

Despite Romelu Lukaku being dropped to the bench after a dismal showing against Crystal Palace on Saturday, Chelsea needed just eight minutes to find the net through Havertz. 

The reigning champions saw in-form duo Kovacic and Ziyech hobble off before the hour mark, casting doubt over their chances of featuring in the EFL Cup final against Liverpool on Sunday. 

Pulisic finished off a quick break after 63 minutes to secure a strong first-leg lead for Thomas Tuchel's side, with the return leg to come in France next month.

Havertz wasted little time in making his mark as the central striker, nodding home from Ziyech's corner after failing to take a couple of early chances. 

Antonio Rudiger almost turned a Renato Sanches cross into his own net and Lille threatened with a flurry of chances from the resulting corner as they started to get a foothold in the game. 

Chelsea were dealt a blow when they lost Kovacic and Ziyech in quick succession early in the second half, but they doubled their advantage in the 63rd minute. 

N'Golo Kante surged forward from inside the Chelsea half and fed Pulisic for a delightful dink over the onrushing Leo Jardim and into the bottom-right corner. 

Lille tried to reduce the arrears with a push for a late goal, but Edouard Mendy was never really tested and Chelsea remained in charge of the tie. 

What does it mean? Advantage Chelsea 

The Blues were always going to be the favourites in this match-up and they got the win that was expected of them despite being far from dominant. 

Chelsea have a good record when winning the first leg of a Champions League tie; in the 11 occasions they have won the opening encounter, they have reached the next round nine times. 

However, the two exits followed first-leg victories at Stamford Bridge against Barcelona in 1999-2000 and Liverpool in 2006-07. 

No room for Romelu 

Lukaku was dropped after having just seven touches across 90 minutes at the weekend. Havertz needed just five to have three attempts on goal and find the net with the last of them, showing he is more than capable of being a potent threat through the middle. 

Sanches shines in defeat 

Sanches proved he has come a long way as he returned to the ground where he infamously passed to a logo on an advertising board, which he had mistaken for a team-mate during an underwhelming loan spell at Swansea City in 2017. He bossed the midfield in the first half and played some lovely passes.  

What's next? 

Chelsea face Liverpool in the EFL Cup final at Wembley on Sunday, when Lille travel to Lyon in Ligue 1. 

Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic could be doubts for the EFL Cup final this weekend after hobbling out of Chelsea's Champions League meeting with Lille. 

Kovacic sustained an injury shortly after the restart in the last 16 first leg at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday and was replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 51st minute.

Ziyech, who has scored in each of his past three Premier League appearances and set up Kai Havertz for the opener against Lille, appeared to sustain an ankle injury. Saul Niguez was sent on in his place in the 60th minute. 

Thomas Tuchel will no doubt hope the pair are able to recover in time to feature against Liverpool at Wembley on Sunday, with Chelsea chasing more silverware after their Club World Cup triumph earlier this month.

Thomas Tuchel has moved to manage expectations of Chelsea ahead of a crucial week that will see them return to Champions League action and contest the EFL Cup final.

Chelsea played their first Premier League game in nearly a month on Saturday, beating Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park thanks to a late Hakim Ziyech goal.

In the intervening month, Chelsea progressed in the FA Cup and won the Club World Cup for the first time, defeating Palmeiras in extra-time.

Tuchel complained about Chelsea's packed schedule after beating Palace, acknowledging his team looked "a bit drained and exhausted".

But they have little time for rest with Lille visiting Stamford Bridge in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday and then a showdown with Liverpool at Wembley on Sunday, as Chelsea look to claim a second trophy of the season.

Looking forward to an important week, Tuchel tried to ease the pressure.

"I think it is very important for us in this moment to be realistic and not over-expect from us," he told reporters.

"Also accept games against teams in mid-table or the lower end of the table can become difficult games. Once we accept that, it is the first step to feel a certain freedom and to become better, that we don't over-expect.

"We should not expect too much about how big others see us and if we are the favourites against Lille, just accept it is a phase where things feel a bit tight and a bit more difficult than in other times.

"We will accept it and this is the situation for the match on Tuesday. First of all we play at Stamford Bridge and we are confident to have a good performance because we deliver on a high level in knockout matches, cup matches, Champions League matches."

Despite his previous comments about fixture congestion, Tuchel is not especially worried about the tight turnaround being an issue before facing French champions Lille.

"I think that Saturday to Tuesday evening for us as a home game and playing in London should not be a problem," he added.

"Sometimes it can cause a big advantage if there is a tight schedule, but we will be ready to fight with Lille on an okay level so that should not be decisive."

Mason Mount has been ruled out of Chelsea's next two matches with a foot injury, but Thomas Tuchel is pushing for the midfielder to return in time for next week's EFL Cup final.

England international Mount limped off in the first half of Chelsea's Club World Cup final victory against Palmeiras last weekend after damaging ligaments in his ankle.

That was the 23-year-old's 34th appearance of the season in all competitions, level with Antonio Rudiger for the most of any Chelsea player.

Mount's 15 direct goal involvements this season are the most of any Blues player, the England international having scored seven and assisted eight.

Tuchel is therefore eager to get Mount back to fitness in time for the EFL Cup final with Liverpool at Wembley on February 27.

Asked for an update on when Mount could return, Tuchel said at a news conference on Friday: "We will push for the EFL Cup final. We will push. 

"He has injured ligaments. Returning against Lille in the Champions League [on Tuesday] seems very, very close, but we will try hard for the EFL Cup final."

Tuchel also confirmed ahead of Saturday's trip to London rivals Crystal Palace that Reece James – who has not played since December – is set to return to training next week.

Cesar Azpilicueta is therefore expected to fill in once again on the right-hand side of the defence against Palace, a week on from lifting the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.

The Spain international has won every trophy available at club level with Chelsea, but he is set to become a free agent at the end of the campaign.

Tuchel remains a big fan of the long-serving defender, who has racked up more than 450 appearances for the club.

"He's always important; he has been super important since day one," Tuchel said. "We had a good connection from the first day.

"He gets better with every game he plays, he leads by example, which is always super nice to have.

"Now he has collected so many trophies and an incredible career at one club which is outstanding.

"He embodies everything that Chelsea stands for, being relentless, humble and a warrior at the same time. I'm happy to have him."

N'Golo Kante has insisted Chelsea "will go for every trophy" and is still hungry for success after winning the Club World Cup.

The Blues defeated Palmeiras 2-1 to win the competition for the first time in their history, having qualified after winning their second Champions League title last season.

Chelsea were fancied to push Manchester City and Liverpool all the way in the Premier League title race, though a top-flight charge now looks unlikely.

However, they have an EFL Cup final coming up against Liverpool at the end of February, while Thomas Tuchel's team remain in the FA Cup and the Champions League. They will face Luton Town and Lille respectively in the next rounds of those competitions.

With a first trophy of the season under Chelsea's belt, Kante – who also counts two Premier League titles and the World Cup among his honours – is eager for more.

"We know there are many more important games coming with the final of the Carabao Cup, we're still in the Champions League, we have to do well in the Premier League and the FA Cup is coming," Kante told reporters.

"So many great things are ahead of us. We hope we will enjoy many more nights like these. I don't know what we can achieve, but what we want is to get the best out of our team so we compete for everything. We will go for every trophy."

Kante also believes Chelsea proved how much the Club World Cup success meant to them by playing a strong team, despite the tournament being played mid-season.

"We took it very seriously," Kante continued. "For many of the players, we've never played this tournament, the club had never won it and to have the privilege to play it and win it is very special. It's a very nice feeling.

"It's the first time for the club and we're happy to be part of that, to have done it. Also, for us, it is the following of the success of the Champions League.

"This is special. It's a nice moment, we're all together and it's another trophy."

Despite the success this Chelsea squad has achieved over the past year, Callum Hudson-Odoi explained that, for young players like himself, there is still much to accomplish before he or his team-mates can be considered as club greats.

"I don't feel like a legend at all," Hudson-Odoi said. "At the end of the day I'm young, I've got a long way to go.

"I'm delighted to win trophies. When you win trophies it is a big feeling. You keep adding and adding to the cabinet and it's nice but you can't say you're a legend at 21.

"It is too, too early to say that. There is a lot more to come, hopefully. We keep pushing and keep going and at the end of the day we keep creating more history for the club and enjoy it while we can."

Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka accepts he needs to "improve" his disciplinary record, but he does not think he can change his approach.

Xhaka attracted widespread criticism after he was sent off in Arsenal's EFL Cup semi-final first leg draw with Liverpool.

The Switzerland international made a wild lunge on Diogo Jota in the first half, with the Liverpool man looking to bring down a lofted pass before he received a high kick from Xhaka.

It was by no means the first time Xhaka's discipline has been called into question – that was his fifth red card since joining Arsenal in 2016, the joint-most of any Premier League player in that time.

But he does not think changing his game is possible, pointing out that it is not as if he is doing it on purpose.

"It's not like I'm planning this," he told Sky Sports prior to Liverpool's 2-0 win in Thursday's semi-final second leg. "It's not like I'm doing this on purpose, but sometimes I am in a position where I have to take a 50:50.

"It's risky, of course. Now people will say, 'Yeah, but why do you always [take] risks?' This is who I am. I can't change myself from today to tomorrow.

"Of course, I need to improve and I know I need to improve, but in this moment, if Jota takes the ball and he scores, they will say again, 'Why didn't you stop him?' Now, I stop him, they say, 'Why do you get the red card?'

"In the end, after the game, everyone is smarter than in the moment – myself as well. Of course, when I see it back now and say, 'Do I need to go into the duel or not?' No.

"But it is a moment, a second, where I have to make a decision and this time I made the wrong one and I feel sorry for the team, I feel sorry for the supporters, but thank God they did an amazing job after that."

Concerns over Xhaka's decision-making has not been limited to just red cards, though, as he also has a poor record when it comes to conceding penalties.

He has committed six offences that led to spot-kicks during his Arsenal career, with only David Luiz, Fernandinho (both seven) and Wilfred Ndidi conceding more over the same period.

The most recent of Xhaka's six came against Manchester City on New Year's Day, with the Arsenal man penalise for a coming together with Bernardo Silva – while there was contact, the Portugal star appeared to throw himself to the floor in a theatrical manner.

Referee Stuart Attwell did not immediately award the penalty, only doing so after a VAR check, and Xhaka voiced his frustration with situations like these.

"If you if you look in slow motion, every duel, every foul looks too much," he added. "[Against City], he [Attwell] had decided already it wasn't a penalty.

"But after, they go to VAR and check and check and check. The thing is, they are checking two pictures, three pictures, and they are not seeing all the action.

"I hope that in the future the referees can make their own decisions. Don't let the people from outside look in slow motion and stuff like this because I believe in a slow motion, everything looks harder than it is.

"In the end, they are human beings as well. They make mistakes as well. This is part of the job. Everyone makes mistakes. We have to accept decisions and look forward."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has stated that Caoimhin Kelleher will start for the Reds in next month's EFL Cup final against Chelsea, fitness permitting.

The Irish goalkeeper is the understudy to Alisson at Anfield, but has played in three of their five EFL Cup games this season, including Thursday's 2-0 semi-final second leg victory at Arsenal.

Kelleher has played 15 times in all competitions for Liverpool, with former Republic of Ireland international Shay Given recently suggesting that the 23-year-old should leave the club to seek regular football.

However, Klopp insisted before the first leg against Arsenal that the EFL Cup was "his competition" and explained that Alisson only played in last week's 0-0 draw at Anfield because the Brazilian needed "rhythm" after a spell out with COVID-19.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of Sunday's trip to Crystal Palace in the Premier League, Klopp was asked whether Kelleher would retain his place for the Wembley final on February 27, to which he replied: "Caoimh will play, if he is fit.

"We consider Caoimh as an outstanding goalkeeper and we want to keep him here, and to keep him here you have to make sure a few things.

"It is all about how you perform, and if he didn't perform the way he did I would maybe see it differently. He shows that he deserves all the trust and faith we have in him.

"I don't see any reason why Caoimh won't play. He deserves it, he brought the team there."

Klopp was also effusive in his praise for Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose two assists for Diogo Jota in the win against the Gunners took his tally for the season to 14 in all competitions.

In the top five leagues in Europe, only Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller (18) has more, with the German having played four more games than Alexander-Arnold.

"I don't know anyone who is like Trent, who is a right-back and is that decisive," Klopp said. "On the bus on the way home the television is on and you hear people talking and they say 'yeah defensively he is not that good'... honestly I thought he played outstandingly well defensively last night.

"[Gabriel] Martinelli, we will talk about this player in the future. If he avoids major injuries he will have a proper career, so he's really good and what he did there against [Alexander-Arnold] and how he kept him busy defensively and where he showed up and all these kinds of things... the [overall] package of Trent is insane.

"It's not that he delivers every day, there are still departments where he can improve and has to improve and we work on that... he still has 15 years or whatever to play, to create and to score and to learn and to improve. The last five years were a good start in the career I would say."

Jurgen Klopp lauded Diogo Jota once again as Liverpool turn their attention back to the Premier League and Sunday's clash with Crystal Palace.

Jota scored twice in a 2-0 win for the Reds at Arsenal on Thursday in the second leg of their EFL Cup semi-final.

Once more shorn of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who are on international duty with Senegal and Egypt respectively at the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool progressed with relative ease to set up a final against Chelsea next month.

It is the first time the Reds have made a cup final since 2019, when they won the Champions League by defeating Tottenham in Madrid.

Liverpool spent £41million to sign Jota from Wolves in September 2020 and he has gone on to score 27 goals in 57 appearances across all competitions.

Since he made his debut on September 24, 2020, only seven Liverpool players have featured more times across all competitions than Jota, with just Salah (51) able to better the Portugal international's goal tally.

Jota averages a goal every 138 minutes, once again a rate bettered only by Salah (120), while the 25-year-old has had the third-most attempts in Liverpool's squad since his arrival (141), behind Salah (245) and Mane (178).

Of outfield players to have featured at least five times, Jota has the third-best shooting accuracy (excluding blocks), with 59.1 per cent.

Jota is second in the Premier League scoring charts this season with 10 goals from 20 appearances, trailing only team-mate Salah (16), although he has slightly underperformed his expected goals (xG) of 11.4, suggesting he has missed some big opportunities.

After the win at Emirates Stadium, Klopp hailed Jota as a "world-class striker" and, in Friday's news conference to preview the trip to Selhurst Park, Liverpool's manager explained that the forward's quality was already there before he joined the club.

"Work," Klopp answered when asked what the trick to Jota's success was. "But if you don’t have the basis, nobody can perform miracles.

"Diogo came in and he was an outstanding player, but it helps if you are a striker when your team has more of the ball. Yesterday he had to do an awful lot to make it happen.

"Diogo is a really impressive person. Really grown up, a really mature young man. Loves football, loves working, training.

"He was in the middle of the team after three weeks, there was no time to adapt. I'm really happy for him. If you have this quality it’s nice that you can show it and that's what he's done."

Klopp also stressed the importance of Liverpool switching focus back to the Premier League and putting thoughts of the EFL Cup final to one side.

"The boys really wanted it and made it happen and are really looking forward to the final. The only problem is six or seven games to play until then. So we have to put it to the side a little bit but keep the feeling," he said.

"We were flying after the game, the boys were in a really good mood. That's how it should be. It gives us confidence, everything that was said without [Mane, Salah and Naby Keita] available, it's good for us.

"But we have to create a different mood until Sunday because Palace away, they don't give any presents, so we have to be in the fighting mood again.

"We will be, we are not kids anymore. We take the feeling, hopefully can use it but we have to be greedy again, aggressive and fight with all we have. Palace will ask for that. That's what I'm concerned about, not how we can keep this feeling before the final."

Liverpool have won their last six Premier League away games against Palace, including a 7-0 victory in the corresponding fixture last season, though Klopp is expecting a much sterner test this time.

"A one-off, a freak of nature. That day was incredible, we scored pretty much with each shot," Klopp added. 

"We don't expect that again. They've changed and improved under Patrick [Vieira], they look like a really stable team. It's a really good Premier League team with a few unlucky results."

Mikel Arteta insisted Arsenal can use the loss to Liverpool as a platform to build on as he called for improvements against Burnley.

A Diogo Jota double eliminated the Gunners from the EFL Cup at the semi-final stage on Thursday as Jurgen Klopp's side ran out 2-0 victors across the two-legged tie.

Arteta's side rarely troubled the Liverpool goal, bar an early Alexandre Lacazette free-kick hitting the crossbar, and their focus is now solely on the league as they are out of every other competition.

But the Spaniard believes his team can utilise their outing against the Reds to develop upon on Sunday against Burnley, who they have lost just one of their last 18 league games against.

"I will show them what they have done against Liverpool and demand more of ourselves as well," he told reporters at his pre-match news conference.

"We did a lot of good things but it is not enough to win the tie across two games against them, and this is the level of excellence we have to look for."

Burnley are winless in their last 11 Premier League away games, drawing four and losing seven, but have not played in the top flight since January 2 due to various coronavirus-enforced postponements.

The Clarets will be without the in-form Maxwel Cornet for the trip to Emirates Stadium as well, but Arteta expects a tough task against Sean Dyche's relegation battlers.

"They are a competitive team and Sean always puts them out there for a difficult game," he added.

"For us, it is a massive game after the defeat and disappointment – we have to get back on track and get winning."

Burnley did win 1-0 on their last league visit to Arsenal and are looking for consecutive such victories for just the third time, after doing so in 1950 and 1960.

While aware of his side's need to regain their form, Arteta insisted Arsenal are not feeling the heat of the top-four race as they sit in sixth – two points behind fourth-placed West Ham having played two games fewer.

However, north London rivals Tottenham are fourth, a point ahead of the Gunners, while boasting a one-game advantage over their neighbours.

"We are here to win football matches and that is the pressure, we know the amount of matches we have to win if we want to be up there," Arteta continued.

"We can't look too far ahead, there has been a lot happening in recent weeks and it has been extremely difficult to manage the squad and the team.

"We have lost a lot of players and we have to reunite, win on Sunday and move from there. Then we have a window to hopefully get some players back."

Diogo Jota was "on fire" against Arsenal and Jurgen Klopp took it as evidence he has become a "world-class" attacker at Liverpool. 

Liverpool spent £41million to sign Jota from Wolves in September 2020 and he has provided stiff competition for Roberto Firmino. 

The Portugal international took his tally for the Reds to 27 in 57 appearances with a double in the EFL Cup semi-final second leg against the Gunners on Thursday, clinching a 2-0 aggregate win that set up a meeting with Chelsea at Wembley in February. 

Despite only playing two games for Liverpool at Emirates Stadium he is already the club's top scorer at the ground with four goals, while he has five in his past four appearances against Arsenal in all competitions. 

Jota stepped up to play a decisive role with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, but it came as no surprise for Klopp. 

"The mood in the dressing room is that we are over the moon. It was a difficult game, difficult time in general … but what the boys did tonight against this really strong Arsenal side was absolutely exceptional," Klopp told Sky Sports. 

"First half, Arsenal were pretty lively, then we calmed it down, played good football and created not plenty but quality efforts were not so easy. The second half was pretty similar. 

"We scored two wonderful goals, I have to say. Wow, Diogo Jota on fire. But the passes were – on the first goal it was super play and the second one, I don't think a lot of people in the stadium saw Diogo in that position but Trent saw it, which was helpful. Then he finished it off. Absolutely outstanding. 

"We were completely convinced when he arrived at the club that he would help us massively. Nowadays you can watch 100 games if you want [before signing a player], so we were really comfortable. 

"Since he is here, he has made another step. It's helpful. He has just turned into a really world-class striker." 

Arsenal hit the bar through Alexandre Lacazette in the opening period and the France international missed a great chance to work Caoimhin Kelleher early in the second half. 

The Gunners' were left with a bitter taste when Thomas Partey picked up two bookings in three minutes after returning from AFCON duty earlier in the day.

Arsenal have had a player sent off in three of their past four games – none of which have ended in victory – and have received a total of 14 red cards in all competitions since Mikel Arteta took over in December 2019. No other Premier League side has received more than eight.

"We are really disappointed but we played against a top side. We had big moments in both halves and we have to score," said Arteta. 

"We had chances and were pushing for the game but we have to convert if we were to beat a team like Liverpool. 

"I have no regrets [about sending Partey on]. I cannot use him now, so it is what it is. He made the effort to come ... we had to make a decision and we decided to use him and unfortunately that happened.

"We have played the last three games with 10 men and at this level it is extremely difficult to win like that. I am proud of the boys and how committed they were without any training sessions." 

Diogo Jota fired Liverpool into the EFL Cup final with his double securing a 2-0 victory over Arsenal, who finished the semi-final second leg with 10 men.

Liverpool will take on Chelsea at Wembley in their 13th EFL Cup final, though it will be their first appearance in the showpiece since 2016. 

Jota squeezed in the opening goal in the 19th minute, bringing an end to a bright Arsenal start that saw Alexandre Lacazette hit the crossbar. 

Liverpool had the tie wrapped up when VAR overturned an offside decision after Jota lifted in his second, with the Gunners' frustrations compounded by a 90th-minute dismissal for Thomas Partey.

Arsenal went close to taking the lead when Lacazette's free-kick was tipped onto the bar by Caoimhin Kelleher during an impressive opening quarter of an hour for the hosts. 

However, Joel Matip had a goal ruled out for offside before a sweeping Liverpool attack ended with Jota scuffing an effort beyond Aaron Ramsdale from 18 yards against the run of play. 

Lacazette spurned a great chance from Albert Sambi Lokonga's excellent pass four minutes after the restart. 

Kaide Gordon wasted an opportunity to punish him when he blazed over and Konate – who replaced Matip at half-time – crashed a powerful header into the foot of the upright before the hour mark. 

Arsenal controlled possession in the closing stages but Jota put the game to bed in the 77th minute, with the VAR deeming he had been played onside from Trent Alexander-Arnold's excellent pass by Gabriel Magalhaes.

Partey only arrived back from Africa Cup of Nations duty with Ghana on Thursday and picked up two yellow cards in three minutes to cap a disappointing day for the Gunners.

What does it mean? Liverpool too good for Gunners 

Arsenal had their moments and played well, but Liverpool were just too solid for them and they failed to register against Jurgen Klopp's side in the fifth straight meeting of the teams in all competitions. 

The Gunners have now won just one of their past 18 matches against the Reds, with this representing their first home EFL Cup loss to the Merseyside side. 

Chelsea await in the final, where Liverpool will hope to become the first team to win the competition nine times. 

Diogo goal crazy 

Jota now has five goals in his past four games against Arsenal in all competitions – four of them have been at the Emirates as a Liverpool player, making him the club's leading goalscorer at the stadium.

Gordon makes history 

Gordon was named in the starting line-up and became the first Liverpool player aged 17 or younger to feature in the semi-final or final of a major competition. He was not heavily involved and missed a great chance to mark the occasion with a goal early in the second half. 

What's next? 

Arsenal entertain Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday, when Liverpool are back in London to take on Crystal Palace. 

Mikel Arteta has urged his Arsenal players to do their talking on the field against Liverpool after accusing unnamed parties of "lying" about the reasons behind Sunday's north London derby postponement.

The Gunners had a request to call off the match against fierce rivals Tottenham accepted by the Premier League on Saturday due to having a lack of players available to choose from.

However, Arteta's side were accused of exploiting the Premier League's rules for a game to be postponed, with the majority of their players absent due to injury, suspension or Africa Cup of Nations duty.

Arsenal had only one confirmed positive COVID-19 case at the time of lodging an application to get the derby called off, but the Premier League deemed they were unable to meet the required number of available players – 13 outfielders and a goalkeeper – despite their Under-23s having a squad of 16 for a game on Friday.

Speaking on Tuesday, Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte felt the decision to postpone the match was "very, very strange".

But Arteta hit back at Arsenal's critics in response to Conte's remarks and added: "We're not going to let anybody damage our name or try to spread lies."

Doubling down on those comments, Arteta said: "We have to defend ourselves. The best way to do that is demonstrate who we are, and the best way to do that is on the pitch.

"Whoever is saying we are trying to do something we are not, that's a lie. We have all the evidence we have to provide. 

"You have to provide evidence individually, all the MRIs, all the COVID cases that you have, you have to put it on the table, you have to explain it, you have to answer more questions and you have to go again and do it. We've done all the right things."

As the fallout from Sunday's derby cancellation continues, Arsenal have a crucial EFL Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool to prepare for on Thursday.

The tie is delicately poised following last week's goalless draw at Anfield, where Arsenal held on with 10 men for more than an hour after Granit Xhaka's sending off.

And for Arteta, the match at Emirates Stadium represents a chance for his young squad to continue their development by reaching a major final.

"I can sense the excitement when they're training. They're really looking forward to it. The majority of them have not experienced [a semi-final]," he said.

"It's why you play football, it's why you want to play for this club, to win trophies. We want to go through and then go and win it, which is the best memory you can have."

Arsenal confirmed on Thursday that defender Pablo Mari has completed his loan move to Serie A side Udinese.

Mari, who has made 22 appearances for the Gunners in all competitions, will remain at the Dacia Arena for the remainder of the season. 

Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders has expressed his excitement at Harvey Elliott's return to full training, saying that the youngster "didn't lose his football brain."

Elliott has been out of action since September, having dislocated his ankle in a 3-0 Leeds United. The teenager had played in all four of Liverpool's previous games this season.

The 18-year-old returned to full training earlier this week and Lijnders smiled as he was asked about the former Fulham player at a news conference ahead of Liverpool's EFL Cup semi-final second leg at Arsenal.

"Let me say it like this, he didn't lose his football brain," Lijnders said, though he did not put a timescale on Elliott's return to match action.

"He shows immediately what he's about. It would be a crime if you would not play him if he trains like this, but we know it's just the start of the team training. He needs time and we go step by step, of course.

"Some players they never knock on the door, they run through it – and he's one of them."

Elliott, the youngest ever Premier League player, returned to Merseyside at the end of last season having enjoyed a productive loan spell at Championship side Blackburn Rovers, where he registered the joint-third most assists in the division (11), behind only Emiliano Buendia (16) and Michael Olise (12), who is now playing a starring role for Crystal Palace.

He was also the only player in the Championship to register as many as three second assists – which Opta defines as a pass/cross that is instrumental in creating a goal-scoring opportunity – and was eighth overall for successful passes into the final third (519), ahead of the likes of Olise (495), Leicester City's Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall (478 while on loan at Luton Town) and Tottenham's Oliver Skipp (441 while on loan at Norwich City).

In his three Premier League starts and one substitute appearance this season before his injury, Elliott created five chances, more than team-mate Curtis Jones (three) has in his four starts and three appearances from the bench, and won possession in the middle third of the pitch (17) more often than Jones (11) and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (12) despite the former Arsenal man making 15 league appearances, seven of which have been starts.

Lijnders also had words of praise for Liverpool's opponents on Thursday, crediting the work that Mikel Arteta has done since taking charge of Arsenal just over two years ago and noting how well the Gunners played in the goalless first leg at Anfield despite going down to 10 men in the first half when Granit Xhaka was sent off.

Arteta, too, has been happy to utilise younger players as he continues to freshen up Arsenal's squad.

"First of all, Arsenal always had really good players but, for me, they have a really good team at this moment," Lijnders added. "I think credit to Mikel, they matured.

"You see many games where the team with 10 men plays better than the 11 – not play better but they give just this extra step, they give this extra [bit] more because they know they have one player less. What happens many times with the 11 players is that they do one thing less because they know they have one player more. That's exactly what happened.

"Anyway, what I like about the Arsenal game is that we wanted to surprise them with our intensity and that's what we did until Xhaka went off.

"I really think that in football the only advantage exists if you go to the last minute of the game, to be honest. Before that, it's quite even. I think Mikel did an unbelievable job. The team is a proper team.

"They were struggling as well with injuries and, how you said, COVID cases and they had to change as well in the last minute, but if you can play with 10 men like that then you have a mature and good team."

Mikel Arteta hit back at Arsenal's critics following the postponement of Sunday's north London derby as he insisted "we did the right thing."

The Gunners were due to make the short trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for a showdown with their fierce rivals, but the game was called off due to a lack of players available to Arteta.

Arsenal were accused of exploiting the Premier League's rules, with the majority of players absent due to injury, suspension or Africa Cup of Nations duty.

The club only one confirmed positive COVID-19 case at the time of lodging an application to get the derby called off, but the Premier League deemed they were unable to meet the required number of available players – 13 outfielders and a goalkeeper – despite their Under-23s having a squad of 16 for a game on Friday.

Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte felt the decision to postpone the match was "very, very strange."

Arsenal manager Arteta hit back on the eve of Thursday's EFL Cup semi-final second leg at home to Liverpool, which he expects to go ahead despite "issues that have not been resolved" in his squad.

Asked what he thought about people saying Arsenal could have played the game, the Spaniard said: "We played against Forest [in the FA Cup] when we had 10 players out and we went to Liverpool and we had many players out.

"We have done that and we have played with academy players when we already have the youngest squad in the league.

"Tomorrow if we have everybody available as I suspect we will play the match because we want to play football."

He added: "I think more than hate [being directed towards Arsenal] there is a lot of respect for Arsenal and that comes from the history of the club, how it's always acted and how it has always conducted itself.

"We know we did the right thing. We worked with the Premier League and the FA to make that decision. If anything we've been very honest at least."

Arteta stressed that it was "100 per cent guaranteed" that Arsenal did not have enough players to face Spurs.

Asked if the criticism of the club could be used as a fuel to drive his team, Arteta said: "We will defend our club tooth and nail. We're not going to get anybody damaging our name or trying to spread lies."

Arteta revealed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is back in London and has undergone tests after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations for medical reasons without playing a game.

The Gabon striker had tested positive for COVID-19 on January 6 and was subsequently diagnosed with "heart lesions".

Arteta said: "He's in London and going through some examinations because we haven't had any clarity from Gabon about why he came back.

"So it's our obligation to make sure he's safe and in good condition. So far historically with what we've done with the player that's never been an issue."

Aubameyang has not featured for Arsenal since December 6, having been stripped of the captaincy due to a breach of club rules.

Arsenal and Liverpool played out a goalless draw in the first leg of their EFL Cup tie at Anfield, with Granit Xhaka seeing red in the first half.

Liverpool are proving that they are not just reliant on Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, according to assistant manager Pep Lijnders.

Jurgen Klopp's side are having to do without two of their star attackers, with Salah and Mane on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt and Senegal respectively.

Naby Keita is also featuring at the tournament, with the midfielder a talisman for Guinea, who like Senegal have progressed from Group B. Salah's Egypt will guarantee their qualification from Group D with a win over Sudan on Wednesday.

The tournament runs until February 6. Senegal were runners-up in 2019 while Egypt are the most successful team in AFCON history with seven titles, and both are fancied to go far this time around in Cameroon.

Liverpool have been without the trio since just after a draw with Chelsea on January 2, and though they subsequently beat Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup, the absence of Mane and the Premier League's leading scorer Salah was particularly felt in a 0-0 draw with 10-man Arsenal at Anfield in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final on January 13.

The Gunners had Granit Xhaka sent off midway through the first half yet Liverpool mustered only one effort on target, with that shot coming in stoppage time, after Takumi Minamino had spurned a glorious chance.

The Reds bounced back with a routine 3-0 win over Brentford on Sunday, with Liverpool having 27 shots (13 on target) and controlling 68 percent of the possession.

Liverpool had 3.1 expected goals against Brentford, the joint-fourth highest total for them in a league game this season, while they have only managed more shots in one top-flight fixture (against Leeds United in September), with their shots-on-target total the most in a single match.

Asked ahead of the second leg against Arsenal how pleased he was with Liverpool's reaction to being without such key players, Lijnders told a news conference: "We did it before. One of the most memorable games [the 4-0 Champions League win over Barcelona in 2019] was without a few of them [Salah and Roberto Firmino].

"When we have our squad, we knew that we needed to have different weapons, create goals from everywhere, dribbles from everywhere, attacks from everywhere, not just based on counter-attacks or the speed of these two boys.

"They are our front line but what I like is we don't just have one weapon, we have so many different ways to attack. How we are evolving as a team, developing with our positional game, it's important and we really like it."

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stepped up on Sunday, scoring Liverpool's second and playing three key passes, second only to Fabinho (four), though the midfielder will not be available against his former club on Thursday due to an ankle injury sustained against Brentford.

"I spoke with him and he feels okay, it's not that bad," Lijnders explained. "He's hoping that he will make the weekend. Tomorrow will be way too soon. We will assess that day by day."

While Liverpool beat Brentford, Arsenal were not in action on Sunday, with the Premier League having granted the Gunners' request to postpone the north London derby clash with Tottenham due to a COVID-19 case within the squad, though injuries and players away at AFCON were also cited as a reason.

"We had our own experience with this, it's really difficult to judge from the outside," said Lijnders, who had to take charge of the Chelsea clash this month when Klopp was self-isolating due to COVID-19.

"We saw that with our situation. I fully respect the submissions because I trust 100 percent the medical department of each Premier League club. I think this is the most important, the trust in these decisions."

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