It’s back, it’s bigger than ever and according to Arsene Wenger, it’s anyone’s guess who could be lifting the Premier League trophy at the end of the season.
Arsenal kick off their campaign in style this weekend as they welcome Jurgen Klopp’s newly reformed Liverpool side to a jam-packed Emirates Stadium who are awaiting a league title.
Whilst most of the talk surrounding the Gunners has focused on incoming talent, Wenger recently stated that the only focus at this stage should be on the opening 90 minutes.
Wenger has been forced to experiment with his side for the weekend with a number of players still recovering to full match fitness following the Euro’s in France.
Nevertheless, these are two heavyweights that are sure to be in the title race and if last season is anything to go by there’s sure to be plenty of ups and downs, and that all starts against the Reds.
For many teams the start of the season would usually mean having a full strength squad, but Arsene Wenger is hardly spoilt for choice when choosing his starting XI.
Given the fact that a trio of players in crucial positions are missing, something has to be done about the holiday spell following an international tournament.
Arsenal will be without Ozil, Koscielny and Giroud due to lack of match fitness, which should see some new faces stake their claim for a regular first team spot.
Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere falls just short of this one and will be back to face Leicester City next weekend, whilst Welbeck and Mertesacker continue their long term recovery on the sidelines.
Wenger announced that the news on Gabriel was better than expected, and he’ll be back fighting for his role alongside Koscielny within 6-8 weeks, meaning a new defensive signing is imminent.
Arsenal Absentees: L.Koscielny (Match fitness) P.Mertesacker (Knee) Gabriel (Ankle) Welbeck (Knee) Olivier Giroud (Match Fitness) Mesut Ozil (Match Fitness)
Despite recruting seven new players to create “his” team, Klopp’s squad is lagging behind in the race to become fit for the new season and several key names are set to miss out.
A decision on Daniel Sturridge will be made as close to the first whistle as possible, but knowing his history with injuries the Reds boss won’t want to risk his star striker.
James Milner is also set to miss out after leaving Wembley on crutches following the crushing 4-0 victory over Barcelona last week. It’s not as bad as first feared but the vice-captain will be out of this one.
Also missing as big characters is Mamadou Sakho after sustatining a nasty achilles injury, meanwhile Klopp’s new number one Loris Karius is recovering from surgery on a broken hand.
Liverpool Absentees: D. Sturridge (Hip) M. Sakho (Achilles) J. Milner (Heel) L. Lucas (Hamstring) L. Karius (Hand)
Pre-season: P5 W4 D1 L0
With an impressive summer behind them, Arsenal will take every bit of confidence with them going into the new season despite the amount of players they’ve had missing.
The Gunners scored an impressive 19 goals in the summer, including an impressive 3-2 win over Pep Guardiola’s new-look Manchester City squad that saw the likes of Walcott and Iwobi shine once more.
Not only did it give Wenger a chance to experiment with his options, but it’s allowed the likes of Rob Holding and Granit Xhaka to prove they’re ready for the Premier League.
Pre-season: P9 W6 D0 L3
It’s been a topsy-turvy summer for Klopp’s men as he tries to implement his style on the squad and ultimately start the season all over again.
They followed up an entertaining pre-season by domlishing La Liga champions Barcelona 4-0, but just days later they were the one’s on the other end of that scoreline after an embarassing loss to Mainz.
With all these new faces, Klopp’s team are still strapping up the loose ends and it won’t be a Liverpool side we’re used to seeing on Sunday, their possession play has been a big factor this summer.
One’s To Watch
Arsenal – Alexis Sanchez
As if there isn’t already enougb expectation on Arsenal’s prized asset, Alexis will find himself in a position where goals are a must for both him and the home supporters.
All of the talk surrounding Arsenal this summer is the fact that they’ve failed to go out and buy a striker early enough for the season to get underway and now Wenger has to have results to back that decision up.
Although Alexis is no stranger to the number 9 role due to playing it for Chile, he will find himself in a position where knock-downs and glancing headers to run on to are hard to come by.
Instead, Wenger will put faith in him having the fitness to constantly duck in and out of Liverpool’s back four to go in and compete for the ball before turning a defender and running in behind.
Liverpool – Saido Mane
Heavily linked with a move for the last three seasons, Liverpool have finally got their man and it could prove to be one of the most important signings of their summer.
Not only does he take the pressure off of the heavily relied on Phillipe Coutinho, Mane is capable of causing defences trouble even when they’re on their best day.
He’ll relish the chance to start against an inexperienced centre back duo that Arsenal host, and his ability to get into the six-yard area and tuck home a goal will be playing on Rob Holding’s mind all afternoon.
This is a big test and he’ll want to impress on his competitive debut, whether he’ll have to turn provider over goalscorer without James Milner is another question, but Klopp will definitely want his new boy in the starting XI somehow.
Cech (c), Bellerin, Holding, Chambers, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, The Ox, Ramsey, Iwobi, Alexis
Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Klaven, Moreno, Can, Henderson (c), Wiijnaldum, Mane, Coutinho, Firmino
My Prediction: Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool
Arsenal never really have much luck when it comes to their opening day of the season, they’ve won just one of their last six and last year’s 3-2 loss to West Ham will already be a forgotten memory.
It’s going to be tough to settle into the game given Liverpool’s attacking presence, and our youngsters may have performed well in pre-season but now they have to step up their game ten times as much.
Weaknesses in defence and a possible lack of match fitness means there will be plenty of goals in this one, and I expect it to be an end-to-end game where neither side is ever comfortable.
Liverpool have every right to come and have a go at the Gunners but they won’t want to throw everything at Arsenal from the first whistle due to the pace and agility of Alexis.
The Chilean up top on his own is something many Premier League teams have never had to deal with so it’ll be interesting to see how high Klopp sets his defensive line.