Arsenal v. Sunderland Match Preview – The New Season Begins…By: Perry | August 17th, 2012
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Arsenal v Sunderland
Kick-off: 10:00 AM EST.
TV (stateside): ESPN, ESPN3
Last Meeting: Arsenal 2 – Sunderland 1 (Feb 10, 2012)
Starting: Szczesny; Djourou, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs; Song, Ramsey, Arteta; Walcott, Podolski; Giroud.
Bench: Mannone, Diaby, Arshavin, Gervinho, Santos, Jenkinson, Cazorla
Out: Frimpong (hamstring), Rosicky (calf), Sagna (broken leg), Wilshere (ankle), Oxlade-Chamberlain (ankle)
Tests: Walcott (thigh), Koscielny (calf), Cazorla will be assessed before kick-off after featuring in Spain’s friendly win over Puerto Rico, but should at least make the bench
Starting: Westwood; C Gardner, O’Shea, Cuellar, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole, Colback, Elmohamady; McClean; Saha.
Out: Bardsley (ankle), Vaughan (hernia), Brown (knee).
Test: Sessegnon (ankle)
Referee: Chris Foy
And so the season kicks off at our home ground. We’ve invested so much time into the transfer window, I am absolutely relieved to be able to actually talk about a real match instead of where RVP would ultimately land. I’m done talking about him for the time being. I’m 100% certain we’ll have more banter on him sooner than later, it’s natural and I won’t blame anyone, but for now, lets focus on our true passion, Arsenal FC.
Arsenal entertain Sunderland on Saturday in the first round of Premier League fixtures for 2012-13, and if there is anything we’ve learned from last season, it is absolutely crucial we begin the season with a bang. We start the season off with our newly appointed captain, Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian central defender has displayed captain-like qualities from the start of his campaign with Arsenal, from on the pitch to the way he expresses his love affair with Arsenal off the pitch. There are few players better suited to the role. Vermaelen has earned numerous plaudits from fans and announcers alike for his heady play in defense and superb tackling. He is prone to the odd error, but with new assistant manager Steve Bould on board, Vermaelen has voiced confidence in improved defending from Arsenal this season. Along with Vermaelen, our wishes were granted as Arteta has been named Vice Captain. I honestly can’t think of a better combination of leadership, so this was very pleasing, though not surprising, to hear.
In defense, I think with our injuries to Sagna, Djourou will get the nod, but Jenkinson has impressed during preseason and could feature. With Kocielny’s slight fitness concern, I’m pretty sure BFG will get the nod alongside our new captain with Gibbs on the other side.
We’ve had a positive summer in regards to our transfers coming in and at this point (and with Wenger stating as much) it is safe to say Giroud has been signed as Van Persie’s natural replacement, whilst Podolski will provide more depth in scoring options. I really have no doubt even with Van Persie’s departure, we are a better team this season overall. Not only with the transfers coming in, but with the health of a few of our players on the up and up. We really need to endure August and September well, and we should have a pretty complete, and healthy squad by October (if you just read that last sentence, please go knocking on wood now!). I think most of us are on the same page when I say, I’m absolutely delighted to see what immediate impact Santi Cazorla will have our squad; all three noobs are in line for a debut this Saturday. We have a slew of offensive options available to us, so my lineup prediction is honestly a best guess, who knows what Wenger is thinking. I’m really interested in seeing what our formation will be going forward. I get the feeling we’ll see our standard 4-2-3-1 formation from last season, but with the new recruits, Wenger might have another idea in mind (4-3-3 is still possible).
Speculation is building that we may sell Song if we can secure Sahin or vice versa (depends on the source you read). I, for one, am in the camp that we need to get rid of Song if his dimwitted will is to play in Spain (another very poor decision if you ask me). I think if we can secure Sahin for the long term or bring in M’Vila, we are more the adequate in that department. But until further notice, Song is an Arsenal Gunner and I will treat him as such considering he was class for us last season and is contracted for a few more seasons to come. If Song remains, you can be assured he’s an automatic starter.
This will be Martin O’Neill’s first full season in charge of Sunderland, and the Northern Irish manager will hope to continue the progress he made in 2011-12. The Black Cats were relegation contenders when O’Neill took over, but in the end were safe in mid-table. As Martin pointed out in his preview last season, with O’Neill in charge, Sunderland looked like a far better team, one who will severely underperforming before he came on board. I don’t take this match lightly by any means, but I do feel very strongly that the energy is extremely high in the Arsenal camp and it should show on the pitch.
A new striker has been high on the Stadium of Light side’s priorities, after Nicklas Bendtner returned to Arsenal after a loan spell. However, I don’t think he’ll feature as an Arsenal player again. An effort to sign Steven Fletcher has not come to fruition due to Wolves’ inflated valuation of the Scottish forward (though they contine to work towards it), but just yesterday Sunderland completed the second signing of their offseason, bringing in 34-year-old striker (and former Red Devil) Louis Saha on a one-year deal. Arsenal fans will have fresh memories of the Frenchman, whose predatory goal opened the scoring for Tottenham at the Emirates in February’s north London derby. Thankfully, from an Arsenal perspective, that game would quickly turn on its head, teetering decidedly in the Gunners’ favor. But Saha’s menace has not diminished with the onset of age, and one would expect that Black Cats manager Martin O’Neill will have him feature on Saturday in both teams’ league opener.
Sunderland have managed to hold onto exciting midfield duo Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean, and the pair will be critical in providing the creativity needed to forge chances away from home. However, word is Sessegnon has picked up an ankle injury in training and is a doubt for this match (good news for us). The visitors will sit back and look to soak up pressure, but I feel that they must not concede early if they are to stand a chance of getting something from the game. For Arsenal, it will be a priority to strike early and often to 1.) ensure a solid victory and take the 3 points (Wenger knows every damn point will count this season) and 2.) to show their intent this season. A good, strong, clean finish for Arsenal in this match will give them a vote of confidence and prove to them that our newcomers will have just as much impact on this squad as the 30 or so goals Judas scored last season.
Arsenal are definitely favourites for this one and we must look to forget Robin van Persie with three points and if at possible, a clean sheet. My pick for this one is a 3-1 win to Arsenal.
Some Key Facts (History is on our side):
- We are unbeaten in our last 11 opening day fixtures, though this is the first time we’re starting the new season at home since 2008.
- We have never lost to Sunderland at home during the Premier League Era (11 matches unbeaten)
Still trying to figure out how to do a liveblog for tomorrow, but if not, at least a match thread will be available until we get the semantics down for live blogging.
WE, THE FANS, DESERVE THIS VICTORY! COME ON YOU GUNNERS!!