Finally, the first match of the Premier League season is upon us, and the infernal transfer window can take a back seat for at least a day or two.
The curtain opener for our season could have been a lot easier, but a match against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool will be a good indicator to see whether Arsenal’s pre-season truly has the Gunners up to the required speed for the Premier League.
This Sunday kickoff sees both sides with genuine aspirations of improvement on their previous campaigns efforts. Both managers have dipped into the transfer market – one with a little more gusto than the other – and team lineups may be difficult to predict.
Arsene Wenger faces a defensive headache with Per Mertesacker and Gabriel injured in warmup games, and Laurent Koscielny rested after his Euro2016 efforts. This leaves the young Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Krystian Bielik as the candidates for the centre of defence. They all played well in the friendly matches, but can they withstand a Premiership attack?
The other option is Nacho Monreal, who covered in this position last term ably. If that is the case, expect Kieran Gibbs to fill in on the left of defence.
In midfield is where the biggest selection conundrum can be found. The clamour to start Granit Xhaka will be loud, but Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny have shown they are well within their rights to expect a start in the heart of the pitch. They both work so hard, but Coquelin has the edge on the darker arts of the game, and Elneny is more adept in the final third of the pitch.
Throw into the mixer Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, and Wenger will be mulling this over for some time. Santi Cazorla, if fit, surely must play in some capacity. Be it on the flank, in the number ten role, or as a box-to-box midfielder, the Spanish magician makes his side tick. Ramsey is coming off the back of a mercurial Euro2016 campaign for his country, and he too will want some action.
Up front, and Theo Walcott has started a few games in pre-season, but in the last friendly – a 3-2 win over Manchester City – the returning Alexis assumed this role. Expect one of these two to play in the lone striker role, with Chuba Akpom surely earning a spot on the bench after his friendly heroics?
Then there is Joel Campbell and Alex Iwobi. Both have been immense this summer, and if Alexis does move from the left into the centre, this leaves the left spot open for Iwobi to continue to impress.
Joel Campbell has shown that he is far more than a squad player, his vision and touch would surely earn him a starring role with most other Premier League clubs, but if all are fit at Arsenal, he will surely be on the bench. Lucky for the Costa Rican then, that the Gunners normally have a full treatment room.
Predicted Lineup –
Cech, Bellerin, Chambers, Monreal, Gibbs, Xhaka, Coquelin, Iwobi, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis.
Klopp can boast some impressive transfers this summer, and chief among them is Sadio Mane, the former Saint who terrorised defences will now be doing so in the red of Liverpool. Also, Georgino Wijnaldum has jumped from the sinking ship of Newcastle, and he will be an asset for the Reds.
One of their new recruits which may have slipped under the radar is Joel Matip. The former Schalke defender will add a touch of organisation to an at times messy ‘Pool defence. Something that fans will be thankful for with the questionable Mignolet and Lovren in the team.
Both teams will want to kick off the season with a win, but the atmosphere at The Emirates may turn rapidly toxic if anything other than three points is grabbed. The doubts surrounding the manager are reaching fever pitch with every day that passes without the needed reinforcements.
It may be far too early for vitriol and catcalls from the stands, but let us all hope that our pre-season form transfers to League action.
Prediction – 2-1 Arsenal.