The Emirates Stadium, North London
August 18, 2012. 15:00 Hrs BST
The sweet, irresistible smell of the new season has finally brought in renewed belief among football fans – that life can be beautiful after all! The boredom of the transfer window and pointless discussion forums will, finally, be replaced by MatchDay commentary and Match Previews.
Arsenal, after finishing third last season, will find themselves in similar territory as far as the summer transfer market is concerned, well, almost. They have, yet again, lost their best player in the team, like every season, and will probably let go off a few more. The only aberration to the normal summer of Arsenal is that this time around, they have actually done some sensational business as far as signing players is concerned. Podolski, Giroud and Santi Cazorla are top-class additions to the squad and the fans have all the right to be super excited about their opener against Sunderland on Saturday at home.
While Arsene was all busy in the transfer market, Sunderland’s limited funds meant Martin O’Neil had to contain himself with just one signing this summer – a Spanish defender Carlos Cuellar, who had earlier played under the boss in the latter’s Aston Villa days. The pre-season friendlies weren’t too exciting for Sunderland as they managed to score just four goals while they suffer a lot from injuries to key men in the team. With top striker Nicolas Bendtner no longer available as an option, the strike-force look quite weak. To come out of the pre-season flat performances, O’Neil gave his team a breather midweek, and will hope they ‘turn up’ the heat on Matchday.
Team News And Tactical Brief
With the usual long injury list, Arsenal will start their new season, expecting their new recruits to run the show like it happened last season. The manager is expected to take no risk in the first game as he will rest Koscielny, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud, the first two for injuries and the last for ‘tiredness’. Though Santi Cazorla travelled quite far midweek, Arsene might be tempted to give him a Premiership debut alongside Lucas Podolski. Considering pre-season form, Gervinho might have a heads up over the German. On the right-wing, Theo has a slight bruise on his thigh, but is still expected to start tomorrow.
As far as the defensive midfield pairing goes, Arteta will start in the absence of Arsenal’s New Number 10, Jack Wilshere, while Alex Song might not be risked before a big money transfer across the English Channel. In case, Barcelona are ready for a bid for the Cameroonian, Arsene will either play Diaby or the relatively inexperienced Coquellin in the middle of the park. At defence, newly crowned captain Thomas Vermaelen will pair with Mertesacker in the absence of Koscielny, while Jenkinson will patrol on the right-wing fulfilling his full-back duties in the absence of Bacary Sagna. The left full-back slot will be taken up by Kieran Gibbs, ahead of the error-prone Santos.
Strategy-wise, nothing changes this season for Arsenal, except for the fact, that the pace might be increased by a few notches. Cazorla will lead the attack at the middle of the park, stitching moves all over, and feeding the front-men all the time. With Giroud not expected to start, Chamakh can get his first start of the season. At the back, Szczesny will keep his place as the new Number One, but will have to play a flawless game as Lukas Fabianski is right there to grab the keeper’s slot in case of an errand.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny(GK); Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Diaby, Arteta; Cazorla, Theo, Gervinho, Chamakh
Top man Stephane Sessegnon was injured, due to which he didn’t play a single pre-season game, he did train with the team midweek and is expected to make the squad if not the starting line-up. Former Manchester United man Wes Brown is out with an injury, and so are key men Phil Bardsley and David Vaughan. Young English striker Connor Wickham is also a doubtful name in the starting line-up.
Sensational winger James McClean will be available for the Black Cats and as he can be a major threat from the wings, Arsenal need to contain him well. The team is very light on strikers, so Sunderland will be expected to soak all the pressure from the Gunners, as they will sit back and defend and try to hit on the counter with the pace and creativity of Sessegnon and McClean. The key source of goals for the travelling party last season was Arsenal man Nicolas Bendtner, who is unavailable due to expiry of his loan period.
Sunderland finished a scary 15th last season, and will look to improve that position this time around, but will have to play out of their skins to do so. Former Gunner Sebastian Larsson, who scored for Sunderland against Arsenal last season, is expected to lead the attack with his energetic brand of football. O’Neill’s side have not recorded a win in their past three pre-season friendlies, not sure if that trend will be changed at The Emirates Stadium, come this Saturday.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-5-1): Mignolet(GK); O’Shea, Bramble, Cuellar, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole, Colback, McClean, Sessegnon; Saha
- Mikel Arteta completed more than 100 passes in the same fixture last season.
- Arsenal’s leading goal-scorer now is Nicolas Bendtner with 45 goals.
- In each of the last two season, Arsenal have got their players sent off in the first game – Koscielny and Gervinho.
Player to Watch Out For
Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal)
The new Arsenal captain has a point to prove, he has had been accused of being a bit sloppy at times at the Centre of Defence. The Belgian is all set to rubbish all such claims, he is the leader and is ready to lead from the front under the able tutelage of defensive Coach Steve Bould. The Belgian cannot keep his place for granted just because he has the arm-band. He will have stiff competition from Mertesacker and Koscielny all season whenever they are fit.
Arsenal 2 – 0 Sunderland
With a surplus of injuries to the Black Cats, they will be quite vulnerable against Arsenal’s brutal attacking force. The home team is expected to be merciless upfront, but it remains to be seen how tight they can be at the back. With Giroud, Podolski, Cazorla, Theo, Arshavin and Gervinho expected to be playing some part of the game, there is plenty for Arsenal to get all three points, and handsomely.
Blast from the Past
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