Wenger may opt for untried defence duo

The absence of Arsenal defender Gabriel, injured in a pre-season friendly against Manchester City, may force manager Arsene Wenger into picking a new partnership against Liverpool.
The absence of Arsenal defender Gabriel, injured in a pre-season friendly against Manchester City, may force manager Arsene Wenger into picking a new partnership against Liverpool.PHOTO: REUTERS

Injuries could see Gunners manager pair up Chambers, Holding to face Reds in opener

LONDON • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is grappling with a defensive injury crisis ahead of his English football team's Premier League opener at home to Jurgen Klopp's buoyant Liverpool today.

The Frenchman is set to be without his three senior centre-backs at the Emirates Stadium and in Liverpool faces a team who put four unanswered goals past Barcelona in a recent friendly.

With Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham all having strengthened in hope of toppling champions Leicester City, Wenger knows that it is not the time to be left in the starting blocks.

"There is anxiety because you want to do well and you know how important it is, and maybe this season more than ever it looks like every club has new ambition," he said. "So, it promises to be a very exciting one and a very difficult one as well.

"I believe it's not necessarily what Liverpool wanted or what we wanted. Usually you would like four or five games before the big games turn up. But the fixtures are as they are and you have to deal with it. It's the same problem for both teams."


TOUGH CAMPAIGN AHEAD

Maybe this season more than ever it looks like every club has new ambition. So, it promises to be a very exciting one and a very difficult one as well.

ARSENE WENGER, Arsenal manager, on a wide-open EPL title race this season.

Wenger is no stranger to opening-day home defeats, having seen his side lose 2-0 to West Ham United a year ago and 3-1 to Aston Villa in 2013.

He is certain to be without German centre-back Per Mertesacker, who will be out for four months with a knee injury, and Brazilian Gabriel, who faces up to eight weeks out after injuring his ankle in pre-season.

Laurent Koscielny, meanwhile, has not played in pre-season after reaching the final of Euro 2016 with France.

It may mean Arsenal going into their opening game with an untried centre-back pairing of Calum Chambers and new signing Rob Holding, who arrived from third-tier side Bolton Wanderers last month.

With Koscielny's France team-mate Olivier Giroud also short of fitness and Danny Welbeck sidelined by a knee problem, Alexis Sanchez could start up front.

Wenger's woes will be music to the ears of Liverpool manager Klopp, who has used his first pre-season at the club to drill his players on tactics and team shape.

Liverpool finished a disappointing eighth in the league last season, but they reached the finals of both the League Cup and Europa League. Klopp hopes to carry that momentum into the new campaign.

"Hopefully this planet will still work for another two or three million years and in 50 or 60 years, somebody looks back and says that this season, 16-17, was a really wonderful season," Klopp told Liverpool's website. "'We played this, we won this,' and all that stuff. That's what I want."

The German is expected to hand competitive debuts to new signings Georginio Wijnaldum, the former Newcastle midfielder, and Sadio Mane, the Senegalese forward signed from Southampton.

But striker Daniel Sturridge (hip problem) and midfielder James Milner (bruised heel) are both doubtful.

Arsenal have lost only once to Liverpool in 10 encounters, but that was a 5-1 drubbing in February 2014.

The teams drew 0-0 at the Emirates and 3-3 at Anfield when they met in the league last season.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ARSENAL V LIVERPOOL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Wenger may opt for untried defence duo'. Print Edition | Subscribe