PREVIEW By Alex Taylor
Arsenal will kick off their Premier League campaign against Liverpool on Sunday with a weakened team after availabilities wrecked by injury and the match fitness of key men.
Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista have long-term injures, which means Laurent Koscielny could be rushed back in alongside new signing Rob Holding in the heart of Arsene Wenger’s defence.
The Gunners centre-back pairing are likely to be flanked by first choice full backs Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal in front of the solid Petr Cech in goal.
The make-shift Gunners back-four will mean Wenger is likely to employ both Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin as midfield shields.
All eyes will be on Xhaka if he starts the game, as the Swiss star is Arsenal’s biggest and only major signing of the summer, following his £30million-plus arrival from Borussia Mochengladbach.
Welshman Aaron Ramsey could get the nod ahead of Mesut Ozil in the playmaker role as the German only returned from his post-Euro 2016 break last week.
Olivier Giroud’s lack of match fitness could mean wide man Alexis Sanchez spearheads the attack, with pacy youngsters Alex Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on either flank.
Chuba Akpom will consider himself unlucky to miss out if he does not get to start Arsenal’s season opener after enjoying a fine pre-season with his club.
Arsene Wenger will be hoping his young players can shine on the big stage in the absence of a string of first team stars.
In other Arsenal team news, Mesut Ozil has bemoaned Arsenal’s lack of transfer activity this summer.