Arsenal's trio of teenagers face baptism of fire against Liverpool


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 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. It is asking a lot of Oxlade-Chamberlain to throw him in at such an early stage – if that is what Wenger chooses to do. Should he play on Saturday it would be enough for him simply to hold his own at this level.

It is a tough time for Wenger. The first home league game of the season should be an occasion for optimism rather than mustering a team from the far corners of his squad to take on one of the summer's biggest spenders in front of a restless home crowd. Whoever Wenger may have his eye on as a potential signing this month – Lucho Gonzalez, Marseilles' Argentinian midfielder was mentioned yesterday – will not be able to help him on Saturday.

The Arsenal manager had a rough ride on Tuesday night with an official from Uefa calling at half-time from their headquarters in Switzerland to warn Arsenal that they did not want Wenger to pass messages to the bench via his assistant Boro Primorac, who was on the phone alongside him in the club level seats.

Club sources have indicated that Arsenal club secretary David Miles expressly sought clarification from Uefa officials on Monday that Wenger would be permitted to communicate indirectly with his bench and was told that was not against the rules. The club do not expect a Uefa charge for Wenger, who has now served his touchline ban, but he will in all likelihood get a warning for failing to speak to the media after the game.

After Tuesday's match, Walcott observed that looking around his table during the pre-match meal in Newcastle on Saturday he had realised that, at 22, he was the oldest player there. Nevertheless he said that he believed Wenger had a plan. "I'm smiling right now, so I'm very positive," Walcott said. "I'm sure the boss has got players coming in, I don't know, but if you sell one of your best players I'm sure he's got some options coming in.

Signing players will be the least of Wenger's short-term worries as he surveys his options in training this morning. For all the encouragement – friendly and otherwise – he has had this summer to spend money on players, Saturday will come down to how well he manages his existing, dwindling resources.

Call the doctor: Injury bug strikes early at Emirates

Jack Wilshere injured an ankle in pre-season on 31 July. He was ruled out for three weeks but is a major doubt for Saturday's Premier League game with Liverpool.

Kieran Gibbs injured his hamstring in the 1-0 defeat of Udinese at the Emirates on Tuesday. He was replaced by Johan Djourou, who was taken off with the same injury. Neither Gibbs nor Djourou will play on Saturday.

Tomas Rosicky played with a groin strain against Udinese but is a doubt for Saturday's match. Armand Traoré injured his groin in a reserve game this week, and Abou Diaby is a long-term absentee after ankle surgery.

New signing Gervinho is suspended for three domestic matches after his red card against Newcastle United last Saturday: he will miss games against Liverpool, Manchester United and Swansea. Alex Song wll miss the same three games after a retrospective violent conduct charge for stamping on Joey Barton in the same match.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent