Teenage trio face baptism of fire against Liverpool

 

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The Independent Online

Trying to second-guess the Arsenal team that will play on Saturday against Liverpool, once you take injuries and suspensions into account – not to mention recent and impending departures – is no simple task. When Arsène Wenger sits down to discuss his options at his press conference tomorrow lunchtime he will hope for some good news on those recovering from injury because otherwise he is down to the bare bones.

His goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is in form and one of the few elements of the team he does not have to worry about. After that Wenger can juggle the back four to move Bacary Sagna to left-back which allows Carl Jenkinson to make his first senior start in his preferred right-back position. Between them, Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny are fit at centre-back even if there is precious little cover after them.

In midfield it gets trickier. Emmanuel Frimpong can step in for his first Premier League start in place of the suspended Alex Song. Aaron Ramsey has been in good form and is fit. But there is now little chance of Jack Wilshere playing again until Arsenal's home game against Swansea City on 10 September. His ankle problem means he will miss the return leg against Udinese next week and is certainly out of England's Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales.

The most likely solution is to bring Andrei Arshavin back into that first bank of three midfielders. It is risky given his typically patchy record in tracking back, but needs must. The front three? Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott (right) are obvious starters but who occupies the third spot? Marouane Chamakh was woeful against Udinese, Gervinho is suspended and Tomas Rosicky was injured again on Tuesday.

There is more than a strong suggestion that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the 18-year-old bought for £12m from Southampton this month, who has never played above League One level, might get his debut at the Emirates on Saturday. If he did, that would mean an Arsenal starting XI with three teenagers making their first Premier League starts, with just 60 minutes' experience in the senior team between them.

The injuries have hit Arsenal hard and they have hit them early in the season. Wilshere, Abou Diaby, Rosicky and Kieran Gibbs are out. Combined with the suspensions for Song and Gervinho it would be enough to affect any team. But add in the departure of Cesc Fabregas and the hopelessness of the Samir Nasri situation ahead of his move to Manchester City and it looks much worse than it should have been at this early stage of the season.

To give Wenger his due, Jenkinson did not look out of place as a substitute in the Champions League qualifier on Tuesday and Frimpong would probably have played many more games last season had it not been for a cruciate knee ligament injury one year ago.

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