Arsenal have arrived in the Northeast for the 2011-12 Premier League opener tomorrow. It's almost hard to believe that the time has already come, since the dull pain of the end of the 2010-11 season still feels pretty fresh (while somehow also being dull; don't ask). It probably also feels rushed because Arsenal are far from settled at the moment, and while players are saying all the right things about being focused and ready, they have to show it on the pitch tomorrow.
The squad has, of course, been unsettled by the constant high-pitched whine of a media situation involving Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, and injuries sustained in the preseason warmups has left one key piece out of commission. Jack Wilshere, who is set to have a huge age 20 season, will miss the opener with an unspecified ankle injury; he is currently in walking boot.
The less thought about that, the better. Kittens are in jeopardy if his injury turns out to be annoyingly long.
As for the rest of the squad, only Abou Diaby is an injury concern besides Wilshere. Fabregas is not yet match fit, which makes sense given that he hasn't played a minute of football since April. Nasri is "sick", according to Arsène Wenger in his presser today; conflicting information about the impending sales/non-sales of both has ME sick, but that's another story.
It is hard to say what should happen tomorrow. Predictions based on strength of the clubs feel totally premature at the moment. Toon haven't had an easy preseason, either, losing Jose Enrique to Liverpool, having Joey Barton go all completely batcrap wonky on them, and waiting for the return of Hatem Ben Arfa to full fitness. Still, this is a side that came back from 4-0 in this stadium last winter to draw Arsenal. It should be an interesting match, one that will tell us way more than the preseason about where things are at with this Gunners team.
Given that Fabregas won't be playing, look for Arsenal to deploy Aaron Ramsey in his stead in a sort of triple-pivot midfield. The bench should contain some interesting young players, three of whom haven't played a minute for Arsenal in the league.
Predicted lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Song, Ramsey, Rosicky; Arshavin/Gervinho, van Persie, Walcott.
Predicted result: a first half of light opera followed by a second half of blood raining from the sky, total solar eclipse, dogs laying down with cats, and a late late late van Persie winner scored through a hailstorm that only I can see.