Arsenal’s central defender Gabriel Paulista suffered a hamstring injury from an Iheanacho tackle in the injury time of the last preseason friendly game in Sweden. It looked all so positive for Arsene Wenger as Arsenal defeated a strong Manchester City lineup by a score line of 3-2 until disaster struck. With Per Mertesacker out for 5 months and Laurent Koscielny not in contention to start the season opener, the Gunners are now seriously short at the back. The situation is so grave that Wenger has to choose between fielding makeshift defenders against a Liverpool side which looked impressive on their way to comprehensively beating Spanish champions Barcelona by 4 goals.
At this very moment, Wenger has only the likes of Holding and Chambers available as the only recognized central defensive pairing. It would be a big risk to throw the two youngsters on to the sharp end against Liverpool right away. The manager won’t be taking that risk. Rob Holding has done really well in the friendlies and looks far more composed than Chambers but starting with him against Liverpool will not be a good move. Holding is still not yet ready to get used to his name on the team sheet in the Premiership and must be integrated to the lineup gradually after having more game time in the cup competitions, a method which is generally used by almost all top level managers.
On the other hand, Calum Chambers presents a unique challenge of his own. Last season, the Englishman had a horror show against the same opposition at the Emirates and it can play at the back of his mind if he starts. Thus there’s absolutely no possibility of Chambers and Holding being paired together on 14th August. That means one of the makeshift options could be used in the game and it certainly won’t be Bielik or Coquelin who trained as a centre-back reportedly for a few days after Mertesacker injury and according to his own words was ‘Bossing It’. The only feasible option seems like Arsenal’s Mr. Dependable Nacho Monreal. The left back had a short stint as a CB in 2014/15 during a similar period of crisis (funny how it happens too often at Arsenal) and overly impressed with his displays in that position.
Currently, it seems that pairing Monreal at the centre of defence with Chambers being the best option for Wenger against Liverpool. Chambers should get the nod based on the fact that he has had more experience of playing at the top level as a CB so far. Kieran Gibbs can slot in as the left-back and the makeshift pairing would mean that the base of the midfield would feature Xhaka and Coquelin, with Coquelin slotting in at times making a back three with the centre-backs splitting to cover spaces left by the overlapping fullbacks. Xhaka can hold his place and Coquelin would give extra stability and added cover for the defenders which might be needed against the hard pressing of Jürgen Klopp’s side. I won’t be surprised if Arsenal decide to sacrifice their attacking options against Liverpool with the mentioned structure at the back and at the base of the midfield, the opening game of the season is thus going to be a huge test for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.
Arka Tarun Mukherjee
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