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Shkodran Mustafi boost as Arsenal prepare for Liverpool opener

Arsenal's summer began well with the £35 million arrival of Granit Xhaka in May. If there was hope that was to be a precursor for similar arrivals over the course of the offseason, it's no wonder there's something of an air of disappointment around the club now.

Two more players have been bought, but they're very much ones for the future. Defender Rob Holding came in from Bolton, while the surprise capture of Japanese striker Takuma Asano is unlikely to be of much benefit this season as he lacks the requisite number of international caps to get a work permit.

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It looks as if Valencia's Shkodran Mustafi is on his way to help address the defensive crisis, but it's doubtful that a deal will be completed in time for him to face Liverpool in the Premier League opener on Sunday.

The nervousness about the first fixture of the new season will be exacerbated by the fact that Jurgen Klopp did his business early and efficiently, and seems better prepared than Arsenal are right now. In mitigation, the German has been planning for his first summer transfer window for a long time, having eschewed the January market after his Anfield arrival last October.

Nevertheless, the defensive injuries, the fact Arsenal haven't signed the striker everyone knows they need and the late arrival of three key players -- Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny -- will only add to the trepidation before kick-off.

Arsene Wenger will certainly be pondering how best to solve that central defensive issue this week. Playing Holding with Calum Chambers seems implausibly risky. The 20-year-old has yet to play a Premier League game and this would certainly be a baptism of fire, even more so alongside the relatively inexperienced Chambers.

There's a risk too in bringing back Koscielny after less than a week of training. The French international was given an extended break after the European Championships, and will be playing catchup in terms of preseason fitness and conditioning. With two senior defenders, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel, already sidelined, taking a chance on Koscielny would not be ideal.

The most likely scenario is that Nacho Monreal -- who was pressed into action in the centre of defence in the 2014/15 season -- will slot in alongside Chambers with Kieran Gibbs coming in at left-back. It's far from ideal, but if there is a silver lining it's that Wenger can call upon some excellent midfield options to offer the makeshift defence more protection.

Xhaka brings qualities that have been missing for some time. Not only is he a fantastic distributor, he's a tall, physical player who, in his time in the Bundesliga, showed that he's no pushover. The Arsenal manager can choose either Mohamed Elneny, the January arrival who has been hugely impressive, or the combative Francis Coquelin to partner him, providing a tough shield in front of the back four.

Shkodran Mustafi
Shkodran Mustafi's arrival would boost an Arsenal defence in need of strengthening.

His wide forwards will work hard down the flanks to provide cover, so the relative weakness at centre-half should be offset by strengths elsewhere. And for all the talk of what Arsenal are missing, they do have plenty to offer threat up the other end.

While questions can certainly be asked about the consistency of their goal scoring, Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all capable of making telling contributions in that regard. Alex Iwobi looked impressive last season and again in preseason, with the 20-year-old likely to get the nod on the left hand side.

Up top, it'll be Alexis Sanchez in a position he has rarely played in during his time in north London, but he's a player with all the attributes to be hugely effective there. He's got pace, power, movement and finishing quality, it's whether he can maintain the positional discipline that's required.

Wenger has done it before, though. Robin van Persie was dubious about his manager's decision to deploy him as a lone forward, but thrived once he'd grown more accustomed to the position. There's no reason why Alexis can't do likewise, and having played there in the past for Chile, he's not venturing into the complete unknown.

A Premier League start against Liverpool provides more challenging opposition than people might like, but go back to last August when it was almost considered a certainty that the Gunners would see off West Ham in their opening fixture. Wenger's men duly lost 2-0.

As much as that defeat bucked expectations, there's no reason why this current side can't get the right result on Sunday. They've made it a little more difficult than it should have been, but then that's the Arsenal way.

Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.


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