The start of the new Premier League season may still be over two weeks away, but already the issues facing Arsenal must feel frustratingly familiar for the club's fans. Injuries to key players combined with a lack of investment in the transfer market have held Arsene Wenger's side back from winning a championship for 12 years. And those twin problems again threaten to derail Arsenal's start to the campaign. And they mean Arsenal go into Thursday's match with the MLS All-Stars in San Jose in far from ideal circumstances.
Indeed Arsenal, which was chosen as the latest invitee for Major League Soccer's annual All-Star game, faces a scramble just to find sufficient fit center-backs for the contest. On Tuesday it was confirmed that Per Mertesacker would be out for “a few months,” which, combined with Laurent Koscielny yet to join training after reaching the Euro 2016 final with France and Gabriel Paulista back in London with tonsillitis, leaves Arsenal desperately short of defensive options.
It means that Calum Chambers, whose one Premier League start in the center of defense last season came last August, is the most senior fit option in the position for Wenger. And on Thursday at the Avaya Stadium, Wenger could be compelled to throw his new 20-year-old signing from Bolton Wanderers, Rob Holding, straight into the mix.
But Arsenal's problems aren't limited to defense. Danny Welbeck is expected to be out until the new year, while Alexis Sanchez misses the club's two-game tour of the United States with an ankle injury. Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud have joined Koscielny in not making the trip due to their Euro 2016 commitments.
The absentees only highlight Wenger's familiar cautious approach to the transfer market. Arsenal acted swiftly to add Granit Xhaka, but he is so far the only major arrival in this summer's transfer window. Given that Arsenal charge the highest prices in Europe for tickets, supporters' frustration has been brewing for some time. And it is unlikely to be assuaged by chief executive's Ivan Gazidis' latest comments while in the U.S.
“We can’t afford to outgun competitors that have far more money to splurge on transfer fees than we do,” he told the New York Times. “So we have to be very careful, very selective about how we do things.”
Gazidis is no stranger to the U.S., or indeed MLS, having been the league's deputy commissioner before taking up his post at Arsenal in 2009. And he is delighted at the heights the league has reached since his departure.
“I’m amazed at the development and just delighted, and I’m very, very proud to have played a small part in it. But candidly, since I left in 2009, the league has leapt forward again. When we started the league in 1994 or 1996, when we were starting out, I don’t think we could have been optimistic enough to envision where Major League Soccer is today.”
Those strides will be evident in the caliber of the roster the All-Stars will feature on Thursday. Many will be familiar to Arsenal fans and supporters from around the world, including Kaka, Sebastian Giovinco, Andrea Pirlo, Giovani dos Santos and the man who so often tormented Arsenal while in a Chelsea shirt: Didier Drogba. Fellow former Premier League players Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard did not even make the roster, which was chosen by All-Stars coach and San Jose Earthquakes boss Dominic Kinnear, with two picks given to MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
MLS All-Stars Roster
Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Kaká (Orlando City), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Cyle Larin (Orlando City), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), David Villa (New York City FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Goalkeepers: Petr Cech, David Ospina, Emiliano Martinez
Defenders: Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Rob Holding, Nacho Monreal
Midfielders: Krystian Bielik, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock, Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Gedion Zelalem
Forwards: Chuba Akpom, Joel Campbell, Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott
Venue: Avaya Stadium, San Jose
Game Time: 7:30 p.m. EDT