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Butt: A loss to Liverpool cuts deeper than most

The injury picked up by Shkodran Mustafi on international duty will leave the German sidelined for up to six weeks, according to Arsene Wenger.

In the short term that presents the Arsenal manager with a problem, because the 25-year-old has been a regular in the side for the past few weeks and the Gunners have some other injury worries at centre-back. In the long term, it brings into sharp contrast the age profiles of his central defenders and what a job he's got on his hands during the coming months.

Of the six recognised central defenders at the club -- and Nacho Monreal is included because although he's spent most of his career at left-back he's a fixture in that position these days -- three of them are over 30.

Per Mertesacker, the club captain, is 33 and retiring at the end of the season. Monreal will turn 32 in February, and while hardly over the hill, is at an age where you have to start to consider how you're going to replace him. And Laurent Koscielny is also 32, but the injury problem which might keep him out of Saturday's trip to Watford is one which will trouble him for the rest of his career.

The French international has a chronic Achilles' tendon issue, something which requires daily treatment, and while manageable for now could well contribute to him calling time on his playing days earlier than he might like.

On the other end of the spectrum, both Rob Holding and Calum Chambers are 22, with the latter having been awarded a new contract this week.

"I believe that it's important we keep our young centre-backs because they blossom at 24," said Wenger on Thursday, but perhaps more than any other position on the pitch, experience in central defence is crucial. Young players with lots of promise like Chambers and Holding can only achieve their full potential through education.

Some of that comes from playing games and learning from mistakes, but the advice and guidance of senior professionals plays a big part in that, too. When you have someone who has been there and done that to advise you what to do at key moments, it's hugely beneficial.

The evidence of that was clear in the final part of last season when Holding played in almost every game up to and including the FA Cup final. He generally had Koscielny or Monreal in there with him, and at Wembley in May the veteran Mertesacker was there to help him cope with the guile of someone like Diego Costa, a player who lives on the edge and has made life uncomfortable for even the best defenders in the Premier League and Europe.

At the moment the blend of relative youth and experience is quite good, but if they lose too much of the latter too quickly, then it could start to become problematic. During Wenger's time at the club young defenders have burst on to the scene, and showed great early promise.

Perhaps there are no better examples of this than the Swiss duo of Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou. Such was the potential of the former than he was very seriously considered for the captaincy at a very early stage of his Arsenal career.

However, over time they were left exposed by Arsenal's defensive frailties, and while the weaknesses in their own games may have become apparent anyway, it's also fair to say that they didn't have the right kind of experience alongside them to guide them through those difficult periods.

As it stands, the trio of Mertesacker, Monreal and Koscielny are all intelligent players and intelligent men, perfect teachers for the likes of Chambers, Holding and even Mustafi who, despite being 25, has somewhat youthful flaws in his game that really need to be ironed out.

Soon enough, the baton will need to be passed and the gaps filled. It's harder than ever to find top class central defenders these days, even if you have plenty of money to spend, but while Arsenal fans fret over how they might replace the potential departures of stars like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Wenger has to ensure he makes a good case for the defence as well.

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

Tottenham return to action in a healthy position, lying third in the Premier League, sitting second in their Champions League group and with a place in the last 16 of the League Cup.

With 10 games gone in all competitions, their record is the same as it was 12 months ago -- seven wins, two draws and a loss.

Then, like now, they improved quickly after an average start and went into the second international break with a winning run -- five matches in 2016, four successive games this time.

Mauricio Pochettino and his players will just hope the similarities end there, because this was the period last year when they began their damaging slump. Between Oct. 15 and the end of November, they won just one of 10 matches.

It cost them their place in the League Cup and then the Champions League, and Pochettino has since reflected that it also left Chelsea too far ahead despite the gallant pursuit that followed.

There were mitigating factors though, most notably injuries to Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld, and at present Tottenham are looking healthier.

Indeed, having already survived a glut of absences -- seven players were missing against Apoel Nicosia -- they could soon be able to call upon Erik Lamela and Danny Rose.

The early signs are that Spurs will be competitive in all competitions -- probably more so in Europe than last season -- but how competitive exactly? The next four weeks are likely to be highly instructive, throwing up a number of heavyweight showdowns and other important challenges.

First up is a home game against struggling Bournemouth -- not the trickiest fixture on paper but another test of Spurs' ability to beat the lesser teams at Wembley, something they have failed to do so far.

Tottenham have the joint-best away record in the league, along with Manchester City -- four wins from four and a goal difference of plus-10. But they have the fourth-worst home form, having lost to Chelsea and been held to draws by Burnley and Swansea, scoring only twice across those three matches.

It is a vital area for improvement, and the visit of 19th-placed Bournemouth looks a big opportunity to get that elusive home win in the league.

Things get a little tougher three days later -- a trip to the Bernabeu to face Real Madrid -- but Spurs have room for error in Group H (a six-point lead over the bottom two teams).

While a point or three would of course be hugely valuable, the pressure is off to an extent and, even in defeat, the trip to Spain can provide useful experience and a chance to measure Tottenham's side against the best.

Given Pochettino has stated his desire to win the Champions League as well as the Premier League, here will be a handy yardstick -- a showdown with a side aiming for a third successive European title who will give Spurs a good idea of their standing on the continent at present, and where they need to improve.

The north Londoners then return to Wembley for another crunch clash against Liverpool, traditional top-four rivals and a side Tottenham are yet to beat at home under Pochettino.

Last season Tottenham won all but two matches at White Hart Lane, beating Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United -- but not Liverpool, who led before Rose's equaliser resulted in a 1-1 draw. Can Spurs beat the Reds this time?

Three days later, Pochettino's side host West Ham in the League Cup, at the stage where they were eliminated by Liverpool last season.

Despite the local rivalry, Pochettino is likely to pick a weakened team, so can his second-string players take an extra step this time and seize a place in the quarterfinals? It is set to be a good test of Spurs' squad.

Then comes a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, a fixture Tottenham have lost in each of their three seasons under Pochettino.

The two Manchester clubs are five points ahead of the rest at present, but can Spurs challenge them and get involved in the title race again? We may well get a better idea on Oct. 28.

What follows is two rather different home matches against Real Madrid and top-flight basement boys Crystal Palace, when contrasting tactics will probably be needed.

So, before the November international break, Spurs can quieten concerns about their home form at Wembley, secure improved results against two of their biggest Premier League rivals relative to last season, book a place in the last eight of the League Cup and further enhance their position and reputation in Europe by impressing against Madrid.

On the other hand, a repeat of last year's barren spell could again damage their ambitions in all three competitions, and eliminate them from one entirely.

The next month may well show how far Spurs have come since then, and how far they could go this season.

Ben is ESPN FC's Tottenham blogger. Follow on Twitter: @BenPearceSpurs.

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