Arsenal entertain Sunderland on Saturday in the first round of Premier League fixtures for 2012-13, and will hope to get their season off to a positive start.
Arsenal will have to endure the loss of captain and talisman Robin van Persie this term, as at the time of writing the PFA Player of the Year looks almost certain to join Manchester United. The Netherlands international scored 30 league goals for the Gunners last term, and as such the remaining attackers must raise their game to fill his shoes.
Apart from this it has been a positive summer for the north London outfit. France international striker Olivier Giroud has been signed from Montpellier as Van Persie’s natural replacement, whilst Lukas Podolski also made a much-delayed switch to the Emirates Stadium. Finally, Spanish winger Santi Cazorla has joined from Malaga and has the ability to delight the home crowd; all three are in line for a debut this Saturday.
Jack Wilshere will still be absent for the hosts as he continues his rehabilitation to fitness after missing the entirety of last season through injury. In the England international’s absence Alex Song has stepped up to the plate and impressed, and as such is now a reported target for Barcelona. It is critical that the Gunners hold onto their deep-lying playmaker, and the Cameroonian has insisted that he wants to stay with the club.
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.
A new striker has been high on the Stadium of Light side’s priorities, after Nicklas Bendtner returned to Arsenal after a loan spell. An effort to sign Steven Fletcher has run ashore due to Wolves’ inflated valuation of the Scottish forward, whilst Louis Saha is also in O’Neill’s sights. If a deal for one of these attackers is not finalised before kick-off the responsibility of leading the line may fall to youngster Connor Wickham.
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. The visitors will sit back and look to soak up pressure, but one feels that they must not concede early if they are to stand a chance of getting something from the game.
Arsenal are favourites for this one and will look to forget Robin van Persie with three points. My pick for this one is a 3-1 win to Arsenal.