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Ahem. The 2012-2013 Premier League season begins tomorrow as Arsenal welcome Sunderland to London, and hopefully send them home feeling rather embarrassed and unhappy. Not disrespected, though - we here at The Short Fuse are a classy outfit. Anyway, Arsenal will look to get off to a quick start to begin the healing process after a few high-profile departures have marred the end of what's been a good transfer period/offseason.
Sunderland finished last season in 13th position on 45 points, a good 25 behind Arsenal. They managed only 17 points in road games, with a -10 goal differential (compared to a -1 total). They shipped 29 goals in 19 road matches, scoring only 19 (as if you can't do that math yourself), which is good news for an Arsenal team that, at least at the moment, look to be fairly offensively-oriented. Niklas Bendtner is gone after a year's loan, but they still have dangerous players. Lee Cattermole and former Arsenal man Sebastian Larsson are competent players - don't forget Larsson's free kick goal at the Emirates last year. Titus Bramble is a generally decent defender who has often (inexplicably) been linked with Arsenal in the past, and Simon Mignolet is one of the cadre of goalkeepers who basically always play well against Arsenal, for some reason. Add in new man Louis Saha and Sunderland will not be a pushover.
Injury problems may hand Saha his Sunderland debut, as striker Stephane Sessegnon will be a last minute decision due to an ankle injury. Also injured and set to miss the match are David Vaughan, Wes Brown, Connor Wickham and Phill Bardsley. Additionally, Steven Fletcher remains a Wolves player, as they have not yet accepted any bid from Sunderland, so he will (obviously) also not play.
Arsenal are facing a few injury problems of their own, with Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hurt. Long-term injuries will also force Bacary Sagna, Tomas Rosicky, and Jack Wilshere to miss the season opener - however, Mikel Arteta and Theo Walcott appear ready to play. With some players like Santi Cazorla possibly unready due to international fixtures at midweek (author's note: WHYYYYYYYYYY), though, the squad may be a bit thin.
I see the team lining up like this:
Nico Yennaris - Thomas Vermaelen (c) - Per Mertesacker - Kieran Gibbs
Francis Coquelin - Arteta
Walcott - Olivier Giroud - Lukas Podolski
with Andre Santos, Johan Djourou, Carl Jenkinson, Santi Cazorla,
Marouane Chamakh Gervinho, Lukasz Fabianski, and Aaron Ramsey on the bench to start. Due to injury, tiredness, and transfers, I think this is by far the most likely outcome, though Ramsey or Cazorla could start ahead of Diaby. Alex Song will not play.
PREDICTION: In the team's training camp, the Walcott/Giroud/Podolski line has concentrated on developing a kind of telepathic connection, allowing each other to predict their movements before they even plan them. They use this gift to score eight goals, between them. Unfortunately the defense did not follow suit, and they ship six goals. Szczesny makes a pair of saves at the death to preserve the win. Andrei Arshavin giggles through the entire match. Arsenal 8-6 Sunderland