Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday August 17 2012
18th August, 2012
The time for talk is finally over, the big kick off is here! Arsenal begin their campaign with a home game against Martin O'Neill's Sunderland. In the corresponding fixture last season, Arsenal emerged 2-1 victors with Robin van Persie goals winning the day for Arsenal either side of a Seba Larsson free kick. Arsenal will be sporting a new look side with new boys Santiz Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud in line for full debuts. Martin O'Neill has added Carlos Cuellar and Luis Saha to his squad. The Gunners of course begin life without Robin van Persie.
Arsene Wenger has choices to make with the impact of midweek international friendlies:
We have to assess some players this morning because some have been away, like Cazorla in Puerto Rica. Some others are out like Koscielny, because he had to pull out of the national team with a calf strain, and Chamberlain, for an ankle problem.
'We have to assess Walcott, who pulled out of the England squad. He has a test but I believe he will be fit. With everybody else, apart from the long-term injuries, it will just be a selection problem.'
Before adding, 'Sunderland is always a challenge.'
Meanwhile, Martin O'Neill said he was looking forward to a challenging opening fixture, "Training has been good this week and we will look to do a few things better than we have done so far in pre-season.
"It`s going to be a difficult game but playing Arsenal is always a difficult game.
"I don`t think the departure of Robin van Persie puts any more pressure on Arsenal but that`s not my concern anyway, there is enough pressure on us without worrying about the position.
"I am just keen to get on with it now and look to start getting points on the board."
Arsenal are without Bacary Sagna, Tomas Rosicky, Emmanuel Frimpong and Jack Wilshere for the foreseeable future, though all are back running in training.
Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are out with calf and ankle problems respectively. Wenger suggests that both should be ok for the visit to Stoke next week.
Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla will be assessed. Cazorla played 90 minutes in Puerto Rica on Wednesday whilst Walcott pulled out of the England squad as a precautionary measure owing to a bruised thigh.
Cryptically, Arsene says Alex Song, who is expected to move to Barcelona next week has 'a little knock.' Mikel Arteta is fit.
Well there will almost certainly be three debutants on display. If he starts it will be interesting to see how Santi Cazorla acclimatises to Cesc Fabregas' creative midfield role. But Lukas Podolski could be the one to watch here. With van Persie sold, many eyes will be on the German to deliver. Gervinho has also had a very solid pre season.
Martin O'Neill is definitely without right back David Bardsley and centre half Wes Brown, both with ankle injuries. David Vaughan is out with a knee problem.
Martin O'Neill plans to assess Stephane Sessegnon who has not featured at all in pre season because of an ankle knock. Luis Saha is in line for his debut.
If he plays. Sessegnon is clearly a danger man for Sunderland, as is rumbustuous winger George McLean. Luis Saha has also scored on his last two visits to Arsenal.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eleven opening day fixtures. The last team to beat them on the opening weekend was Sunderland in Wearside in 2000.
This is the first time the Gunners have kicked off at home since 2008, when Nasri's debut goal defeated West Brom 2-1.
Arsenal have lost just one of their last seventeen league games with Sunderland.
Arsenal are three home games without a win, Sunderland are seven away games without victory.
The match will be refereed by Olympic legend and cyclist Chris Foy. Hang on, wait a minute.......
Arsenal are in a fair bit of flux, but Sunderland are low on strikers- though Saha always enjoys a goal against us! I'm going 2-0 Arsenal. Podolski with a debut goal and Walcott.
Arsenal are away to Stoke City, next Sunday at 1.30pm.
Date:Friday August 17 2012
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