Arsenal would be facing Liverpool at The Emirates in their season opener on 14th August, Sunday 2016. The Gunners are in the midst of a serious defensive crisis with injuries to two key players in Mertesacker and Gabriel while Laurent Koscielny is not yet ready to be fit for the first game. There are going to be some changes in the starting lineup, which the in-form Liverpool team would look to exploit. Let’s look at the three key battles which will determine the outcome of the match.
Xhaka Vs Wijnaldum
Arsenal’s third most expensive signing ever would have a battle in his hand when he meets the Liverpool new boy Georginio Wijnaldum. The former Newcastle United midfielder scored 11 goals from midfield last season for the Magpies as well as supplying 5 assists. Only Riyad Mahrez contributed more in terms of goals from midfield. Xhaka has impressed in the friendlies so far but it will be interesting to see how he counters the threat of Wijnaldum on Sunday.
The Swiss international is a very intelligent player with a fierce combative attitude. The midfielder is tough in the tackle and never shies away from a challenge. Xhaka would need to keep his wits about him being particularly careful that while being combative in his duels, he doesn’t get booked unnecessarily or get sent off in his debut, as he has had a problem with his discipline in the Bundesliga last term receiving no less than 5 red cards. The outcome of the game would depend heavily on this battle.
Gibbs Vs Mane
There is a high chance of the usual left back Nacho Monreal being paired with Calum Chambers in the central defence for the match, which will put Kieran Gibbs in the left-back position. Gibbs would be facing a serious threat in Sadio Mane. The Senegalese joined Liverpool from Southampton where he dazzled with his pace, physicality and intelligent runs scoring 10 times in the Premier League in his debut season and 11 times in the next one.
The explosive winger has good pace which he uses to great effect against defenders. Gibbs is also very fast and is a very good defender in 1v1 situations. It is going to be a fantastic battle of pace when the two would go head to head against each other. Arsenal’s left back can prove a point to his manager by nullifying Liverpool’s new signing, which will not only be a major setback for the attacking threat of the visitors but also one of the reasons based on which Arsenal can get points out of the tie.
Oxlade-Chamberlain Vs Alberto Moreno
This is the season where Oxlade-Chamberlain needs to step up and quash the doubts of him not being able to reach his desired level. Chamberlain had a very good preseason where he looked sharp and ready. There won’t be better opportunities to make a serious statement than August 14th when the Explosive English winger would be pitted against Alberto Moreno, who is not the best in his defensive positioning.
There would be spaces to exploit down the left-hand side with Liverpool’s left back overlapping and Arsenal should look to make use of that. The home side would be having two of the fastest players of their team on the right flank in Bellerin and Chamberlain which would be enough to trouble the visitors. The Ox, however, needs to make sure he shines against Liverpool making use of his set of skills, ensuring the home team starts the season in the best possible way.