LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 13 – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is grappling with a defensive injury crisis ahead of his team’s Premier League opener at home to Jurgen Klopp’s buoyant Liverpool on Sunday.
Wenger 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 Hotspur 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,” said the Frenchman.
“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.”
Approaching the 20th anniversary of his appointment by Arsenal, Wenger finds himself under pressure to deliver from the club’s fans as never before.
Last season’s title race was seen as a big squandered opportunity for the north London club, who have not won the league since their fabled ‘Invincibles’ season of 2003-04.
Supporter unrest, which manifested itself in anti-Wenger protests at the end of last season, has not been helped by the fact that Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka is Arsenal’s only major close-season signing to date.
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.
– ‘A really wonderful season’ –
Laurent Koscielny, meanwhile, has not played in pre-season after reaching the final of Euro 2016 with France.
It may mean Arsenal go into their opening game with an untried centre-back pairing of Calum Chambers and new signing Rob Holding, who arrived from Bolton Wanderers last month.
With Koscielny’s France teammate 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 and 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 the Liverpool website.
“‘We played this, we won this,’ and all that stuff. That’s what I want because that is what life is for –- and especially a football life is for.
“I want that in the next summer break, we look back at this season with big smiles on our faces.”
Klopp is expected to hand competitive debuts to new signings Georginio Wijnaldum, the former Newcastle United midfielder, and Sadio Mane, the Senegalese forward signed from Southampton.
But striker Daniel Sturridge and midfielder James Milner are both doubtful, the former with a hip problem, the latter due to a bruised heel.
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 Stadium and 3-3 at Anfield when they met in the league last season.