Opposition Watch: Could Arsenal's Emile Smith-Rowe Replace Naby Keita at Liverpool?
On Thursday evening Liverpool will take on Arsenal in the second-leg of their EFL Cup semi-final tie. Could the fixture allow one of the Gunners to impress and therefore interest the Reds in a potential transfer this summer?
Naby Keita's seemingly endless injury woes and his recent departure to the AFCON have continued to prevent the Guinean from putting together consistent game time, or fulfilling his potential, at Anfield.
The number eight has been linked to a move away from Merseyside, with a host of European giants rumoured to be after his signature.
Enter Emile Smith-Rowe. The 21-year-old is having a groundbreaking season at the Emirates, currently sitting at the top of the Gunners' scoring charts with nine goals in all competitions.
Smith-Rowe's ability to carry the ball at pace from midfield to attack allows for dynamic breaks and forces opposing defenders to step out of line, thus creating space for attackers. His dynamic and direct approach continues to impress.
Valued at just £34.2million by Transfermarkt, much lower than I expect his asking price would be, ESR is producing the most expected non-penalty goals and assists per 90 (npxG+xA) in the PL for Arsenal, 0.75.
The young Gunner has produced these numbers across 18 Premier League appearances and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Comparing this to Keita's numbers suggests that Smith-Rowe may be able to add a spark of creativity and a dash of consistency to the Merseyside midfield.
Naby has only managed 11 Premier League appearances this season, producing two goals and one assist.
The midfielder has coupled this with a npxG+xA of 0.51, the highest amongst the Reds' middle-line and noticeably lower than Smith-Rowe's.
As a fan of Keita it will be tough to watch him leave. Anfield has seen glimpses of Naby's unbridled brilliance and it remains clear that he can become a truly world-class player.
This being said, ESR is five years younger than the Guinean and his ceiling continues to rise.
Prising the South Londoner away from the capital will no doubt be costly given his integral role under Mikel Arteta and local roots.
Yet, the opportunity of providing for the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota may be enough to catch the midfielder's wandering eye.
Moving for a player so integral to a team's setup makes for an unlikely transfer, but it remains an exciting prospect.
Thursday night will provide a spotlight for both teams and the opportunity for the Arsenal talisman to display his ability against some of the best.
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