Arsenal enter what is arguably the most testing week of Arsene Wenger’s 15-year reign today when Liverpool visit the Emirates to kick-off a potentially season-defining sequence of matches.
The gloom which settled over the Gunners at the tail-end of last season has remained stubbornly in place during a summer of discontent which culminated with the departure of captain Cesc Fabregas this week and the looming exit of Samir Nasri.
To compound those twin blows, Wenger’s best-laid plans have been wrecked by a combination of suspensions and injuries threatening to deprive him of up to eight key players at a time when he can least afford it.
Gervinho and Alex Song are both banned following the stormy 0-0 draw at Newcastle last week, while Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou, Tomas Rosicky, Armand Traore and Abou Diaby are out injured or doubtful.
Arsenal’s spiralling casualty list comes as they prepare for Premier League clashes with Liverpool today and champions Manchester United the following week, with a crucial Uefa Champions League qualifier against Udinese in between. Preposterous as it may seem, but three defeats in those games, and Arsenal’s season will be threatening to unravel before the end of August.
Yet Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is wary of the threat posed by a wounded Arsenal, and insists he is paying little attention to their injury crisis.
“I don’t know how they’re going to react — it’s up to us to know how we will react,” Dalglish said.
“We can control what we do and we can compete against them, and that’s what we’ve got to do.
“Maybe we’re due for a win (at the Emirates). Arsenal have been most football fans’ second team. They’ve been very entertaining to watch, but unfortunately for them they’ve not won anything for six years, which is the monkey they’d love to get off their back. It’s not going to make it any easier for us that they’ve lost Fabregas, Nasri might not be playing and that they’ve got a couple of suspensions.
“It’s still going to be a difficult game for us and they’re still a team I have the greatest respect for, so we’ll go there with the same feelings that we had last season, thinking that it’s going to be a really difficult game, but hopefully we can make it as difficult for them as they will for us.”
In other fixtures, Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas is determined to secure the first win of his Stamford Bridge career as the Blues face West Brom at home. With a fixture against Norwich to follow, Villas-Boas says Chelsea must aim for maximum points. “We have two games at home that we must do everything in our power to get three points out of both … It’s two games at home and you have to win them.”
Chelsea’s preparations have been disrupted by an injury to goalkeeper Petr Cech, meaning either Hilario or Ross Turnbull will be pressed into action.
Manchester City will attempt to build on their impressive opening victory over Swansea when they travel to Bolton. All eyes will be on Argentinian Sergio Aguero, who lit up the 4-0 win over the Swans with two goals and an assist during a scintillating second-half cameo.
Worryingly for Bolton, City manager Roberto Mancini believes his South American acquisition will only improve as he becomes more settled at Eastlands. “I think Sergio needs to play more with his team-mates to get better,” he said. “We have incredible players like David Silva and Yaya, who speak the same language. I think he needs to improve with the team.”
Manchester United meanwhile will be confident of building on their winning start to the season when they entertain Tottenham on Monday. Spurs have not won at Old Trafford since December 1989.
Elsewhere, newly promoted Queens Park Rangers will hope to mark the first match under the reign of new owner Tony Fernandes with a positive display against Everton at Goodison Park.
The Hoops were thrashed 4-0 at home by Bolton on the opening day but a mood of optimism swept over the club this week after the Fernandes takeover. — AFP