Match day. No sweeter two words after a 2 months plus break from The Arsenal. Unless of course the two words are “Champions Now”. Then again, that’s not the way the game is played. There’s the entire season ahead of us and today is the beginning of it all. Another full season for us to savour, enjoy or be upset about. Hopefully more the first two than the last one.
So let’s get right back into it. By now, I’m sure you’ve already read somewhere that the last time we started with a home game against Sunderland, we won the league. Ominous? Well, while that’s a good statistics/record to remember by, it is all down to the hard work of the management to bring in the right type of players. Down to the hard work that has been put in by the coaches and players alike in the training ground. It is also about the desire of this set of players to do their very best in every single game to push us to be champions.
We’ve added quite a few options over the summer. Be it transfer in or players recovering from injury. But it won’t be like us if we’re not dogged by some form of absence. The long term ones are known. Those that fall within this categories are Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Bacary Sagna. None of these were involved in the pre season and no one expects them to be fit for today either. Of the newer ones and more short term are Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. These two are definite non starter as well.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Santi Cazorla travelled a long way but looks to be involved while Theo Walcott should recover enough from his thigh injury to play. The best bit of news is definitely the availability of Mikel Arteta. We missed his calming influence towards the end of last season and it will be good to have him back. The new vice captain of the club will give his best to support the new captain that is Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian is no stranger to the armband, having captained Ajax and his national side before.
It’s still uncertain, especially in the middle of the park as Alex Song seemed to have picked up a “knock“. The convenient one that turns up when a transfer out is imminent or if there’s a disciplinary problem. Arsene Wenger was non committal when asked about this in the press conference. It remains to be seen whether Song is actually injured or otherwise. Which does leave the midfield a bit thin. Does Wenger then start with Francis Coquelin or does he push Arteta back a little? This being a home game, I do believe it’s the former.
That is the line-up which I suspect Wenger would field, not necessarily the one I would go with. Even though Aaron Ramsey has only rejoined the team in training after being away with Team GB at the Olympics, I think he should start. His fitness level is already further ahead than the rest. More so because I don’t want to take the risk with Abou Diaby. The medical staff at Arsenal has put in a lot of effort to get him back fit and it would a waste if he was rushed back into competitive games too early and suffers as a consequence of it.
The other possible change would be Cazorla instead of Diaby. The little Spaniard, liken by the new captain [in his programme notes for today] to Cesc Fabregas, played the full 90 minutes all the way in Puerto Rico and was probably only back late yesterday. That said, he did appear in the latest round of training pictures. Wenger is known to be reluctant to start with players who came back late from their international commitments.
It would be a day of new partnership and understanding being formed. We’ve never had a midfield of Arteta-Coquelin-Diaby in any competitive match before. Neither have Walcott-Giroud-Podolski lined up in the league before. So, there are lots of aspects to work on and hopefully they have already drummed up an understanding of each other’s game during training. There will be some moments today when things might not be going right but these players will have to persevere with it. The lift from the fans on the first game of the season will go a long way to help lift the spirits of these players.
I won’t pretend to know a lot about Sunderland. They won’t have the services of Nicklas Bendtner this season. They have only made one transfer in but that is a direct replacement for an outgoing one. Carlos Cuellar taking over Michael Turner’s spot in the squad. We’ll have to be wary of conceding free kicks outside the penalty box (within striking distance anyway) because in Sebastien Larsson, Sunderland has one of the most potent free kick taker in the league.
Martin O’Neill has always preferred to utilise the wings to attack the opponent, a tactic clearly used especially during his time at Aston Villa. Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson will have to be wary of that. But it is also the duty of Walcott and Podolski not to allow the full backs behind them to be double-teamed.
First game of the season, first home game of the season. The expectation would be high after what is a mixed summer of transfer activities for us. The last couple of days has been gloomy compared to the week leading up to the Cologne when we signed a certain Spanish international. Hopefully, the boys are ready for the challenge and will fight for the badge that has been slightly smeared by the action of their former team mate.
Let’s give them the best support we can. Up The Arsenal!!!