Koscielny not fit but may have to fill hole

LONDON • Arsenal faced a huge problem in the centre of their defence when they fell 3-4 to Liverpool in their English Premier League opener on Sunday.

With centre-backs Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista absent with long-term injuries and a lack of progress on a potential move for Valencia's Shkodran Mustafi, manager Arsene Wenger has indicated he may "gamble" on the match fitness of Laurent Koscielny when they travel to Leicester City today.

Frenchman Koscielny has not played since the Euro 2016 final but Wenger may have no choice but to risk him.

An alternative would be to play the inexperienced pair of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding again, and they may potentially find themselves being torn apart by Leicester, who like to play on the counter.

The duo, whose combined age is just 41, lined up at centre-half against Liverpool and Wenger admitted that his attempts to shore up his defence have so far come to nothing.

"If Mertesacker and Gabriel had not been injured in pre-season, we would have been less under pressure to sign a defender but once you are under pressure, everybody knows you are, so it makes you weaker," he said.

A LACK OF BIG MEN

If you look around in Europe, all my friends I call are all looking for centre-backs but they cannot find them.

ARSENE WENGER, Gunners' manager, on his central-defence dilemma.

"We have been in the market a long time but, if you look around in Europe, all my friends I call are all looking for centre-backs but they cannot find them."

Wenger added: "Buying calms the fans down - it is important to spend but even more important to spend it the right way."

Whether that translates into a serious bid for a striker as well remains to be seen.

Had Danny Welbeck, who scored the stoppage-time winner against Leicester at the Emirates the last time the two teams met in February, not suffered the serious knee injury that ruled him out for the rest of the year, then perhaps there would be no need.

The 25-year-old, signed from Manchester United two summers ago, is making good progress after checks showed that he will not require more surgery and could be back just after Christmas.

"That was the good news of last week, the only good news," said Wenger.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline 'Koscielny not fit but may have to fill hole'. Print Edition | Subscribe