Arsenal had a great finish to their season to grab that final Champions League spot, but they only managed it by the skin of their teeth. They still have to play against Fenerbache in the final qualifying round before their group qualification is confirmed and they must do so with the players currently at the club. That task won't be easy and the injury list currently growing at the club will make it even harder.
They play at home to Aston Villa in their first Premier League game of the new season on Saturday afternoon and it's a game they really need to win. With such a small squad to choose from the last thing Arsene Wenger wanted was injuries to any of his players, but as always that's just what has happened. It's hard to know which players will be fit and which players won't be, but the Arsenal bench will probably have a very youthful look to it.
I can only imagine Wojciech Szczesny will get the nod in goal and therefore confirm he is the manager's first choice for the season with Lukasz Fabianski as back up. In defence there are only five players to pick from with both Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal definitely unavailable through injury. In addition Bacary Sagna picked up a knock on international duty with France this week and if he fails to recover then the four fit defenders will all have to play.
That would see Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in the team and the four of them would be the likely defence for the trip to Fenerbache in midweek too. Hopefully Sagna can recover in time as he has looked good in pre season and looks like he may just be back to his old self. He wasn't at his greatest last season at times but it was understandable having broken his leg twice the season before.
In midfield Arsenal have an array of talent but they only have one real candidate for the defensive holding role and Mikael Arteta looks to be injured. I can only imagine that Aaron Ramsey will be asked to play in a deeper role, but he didn't play for Wales on Wednesday night due to injury. Tomas Rosicky is starting the new season injured but that's something we're used to and Abou Diaby is still out for a few more months.
Santi Cazorla was Arsenal's star performer in midfield last season, but he played in Ecuador with Spain on Wednesday night. The journeys to and from Ecuador as well as playing at what I can assume was an altitude very high above sea level could all take their toll and I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the bench. He could start of course and play for maybe an hour as he will be badly needed against Fenerbache.
Jack Wilshere seemed to come through England's game on Wednesday night unscathed and he will probably be the one to get the nod as the creative force in midfield. He has been used sparingly at times in pre season which leads me to believe he's probably not quite up to the full 90 minutes. Like all of the other players he will have to be left with something to travel to Turkey in midweek.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is versatile enough to play in midfield or as part of the attacking trio and he's a player with bundles of energy. I wouldn't be surprised to see him start in midfield along with Ramsey and Wilshere and for Cazorla to be held in reserve if he's needed. It may be a risky strategy but Cazorla has had only a bit part in pre season after playing so far into the summer with his country.
If the team is as I have predicted it would mean the attacking trio would have to be made up of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott as there are no other options available. Of course Chamberlain could push into a wide attacking role if Cazorla starts but I can't see any other attacking options at all. The players are going to have to put in a hard shift against Villa and do the exact same again on Wednesday night in Turkey.
The biggest question of all could be who do Arsenal have on their bench with so many players either sold or loaned out during the summer. I can only imagine that both Frances Coquelin and Ignasi Miquel might have had a role to play before this month is out, but they are out on loan at the moment. There's even a possibility that Nicklas Bendtner could be named among the substitutes as he's the only other real alternative available.
I think the bench will consist of Fabianski, Jenkinson, Cazorla (or Chamberlain), Emmanuel Frimpong, Gedion Zelalem, Chuba Akpom and Serge Gnabry. The lack of experience on that bench is quite staggering, but what are the options. Looking at the club site Zelalem isn't even listed in the first team or academy squads, but he could be called upon at some stage.
Even with all of the injured players and the small squad available Arsenal still have enough quality available to them to see off a Villa team who leaked goals for fun last season. It's crucial for onfidence to get the season off to a good start and that means a home win is a must. Anything other than three points will only add fuel to the fire for those who think the club's transfer policy this summer has been a disaster.
I'm still prepared to wait until the transfer window closes to pass judgement on that, but there is no doubt that the opportunity to build a much stronger squad in advance of the season is gone. It can only be hoped now that Arsenal can convince other clubs to part with their prize assets with very little time left to replace them. The alternative of no players of any real significance arriving just doesn't bear thinking about.
Arsenal were clinical in front of goal in their final pre season game against City last week, but Villa won't give Arsenal room to get in behind them like City did. Arsenal will have to work hard to open them up but if they can score first they can hopefully pick Villa off after that. They will have to be aware of the threat posed by Christian Benteke who had an excellent first season in English football last season.
He's a player who might have fitted in well at Arsenal, but he signed a new contract at Villa when he realised only Spurs were interested in signing him. If Arsenal can keep him quiet I think they should win by a couple of goals and hopefully get the chance to give a few of the players needed on Wednesday night a bit of rest time before the game finishes. I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal and I have a feeling both Walcott and Giroud will get on the scoresheet.
It's great to have football back and the next nine months promise to be a roller coaster ride for Arsenal fans, but let's hope the club can do the business to finish it on a high. A trophy would be great but at this very moment I would settle for getting past Fenerbache and then finishing in the top four yet again. They're not exactly lofty ambitions but given the current state of affairs not too much else can be expected.
That could all change in the next 17 days if the right players are brought in and I won't be writing my season preview until the transfer window closes as a result.
There's also my fantasy league to join which is heading towards 1,000 teams at the moment and has a prize of €50 for the winner. I'm hoping to increase that prize as the season progresses by getting some sponsorship for the league name and by adding a percentage of the small amount of advertising revenue I get from my blog. You can join my league here using the code 23040-7359 once your team is set up.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.