London. Arsenal may have not lost at home to Liverpool since the turn of the Millennium but the Gunners are already looking unusually vulnerable just two games into the new season.
The departure of Cesc Fabregas and the impending sale of Samir Nasri has left manager Arsene Wenger short of two of the top performers from last term ahead of Saturday’s lunchtime kick off at the Emirates Stadium.
And injury and suspension will also rob him of a number of others, with midfielder Alex Song and summer signing Gervinho both banned following clashes with Joey Barton in the 0-0 draw at Newcastle last week.
With Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou, Tomas Rosicky, Armand Traore and Abou Diaby either out, injured or doubtful, many observers believe Wenger is facing the biggest test since he arrived at the club in 1996.
The only bright spot is that Arsenal at least have yet to taste defeat this season and on Tuesday defeated Serie A side Udinese 1-0 at home in the first leg of a Champions League qualifier.
Theo Walcott, the England winger, scored the only goal of the night and was quick to insist that though sections of the Arsenal support may already be despairing of the future, the players themselves remained optimistic success could still be achieved.
“The mood is very good,” he said. “We got a very good result at Newcastle I thought, especially going down to ten men. A clean sheet was very good and we had young players come on and gain experience in the Champions League.”
Walcott admitted that Wenger will have to spend at least some of the money brought in from the sale of Fabregas to Barcelona and Nasri’s expected departure to Manchester City.
“I am sure the boss has got players coming – I don’t know – but if you sell one of your best players I am sure he has got options coming in,” Walcott said.
At least new captain Robin van Persie will be able to play having been suspended for the Udinese match but Wenger may still have no option but to hand first Premier League starts to defender Carl Jenkinson, a summer recruit from Charlton, and midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong, who has come through the youth ranks.
And the same could also apply to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the 18-year-old who cost £12 million from Southampton who has yet to kick a ball at any level higher than League One.
Arsenal could be forgiven therefore for settling for a repeat of last season’s results against Liverpool, which both ended 1-1.
The Emirates faithful won’t want reminding of the most recent of those draws however as it saw Arsenal go ahead in stoppage time and yet still fail to win at a time when the still harboured realistic hopes of winning the Premier League.
That was the result of Emmanuel Eboue rashly conceding a penalty and the utility player has also since moved on, to Galatasaray in Turkey.
Liverpool have also yet to win this season having drawn their opening game 1-1 at home to Sunderland and are not involved in either of the European competitions.
Nevertheless, manager Kenny Dalglish knows much is expected of his players this term, not least because the club spent heavily in the transfer market over the summer.
One new recruit was the former Newcastle full back Jose Enrique, who made it clear he had moved to Anfield because he felt the club could restore its reputation in Europe in double quick time.
“I’ve never played in the Champions League and it’s a dream for me,” he said. “It’s very difficult to be there but if we play like we played in the first half against Sunderland I think we can be there.”
Much will also depend on the Spaniard’s former Newcastle team-mate Andy Carroll, who cost £35 million in January. “For Newcastle he was brilliant,” Enrique added.
“I know he was in the Premier League for just six months but he was brilliant. He is a really young player and has to learn a lot, like everyone. But I think he can be really, really important for us.”