SUNDERLAND KICK off their 2012/13 Barclays Premier League campaign with a trip to the capital to face Arsenal.
It`s been a far from ideal summer for Martin O`Neill`s Black Cats with just two new faces added to the squad and pre-season results (however relevant), slightly worrying with goalscoring clearly a problem for the Black Cats heading into the new campaign.
At the Emirates stadium it`s not been your typical Gunners` summer, also Robin van Persie has departed for Manchester United, guaranteeing hate-figure status for evermore, three big additions have been made and unlike last year at least, Arsene Wenger has been able to do the bulk of his business early on.
Whilst the loss of van Persie is of course a massive blow, 48 goals in 67 appearances won`t be replaced with ease, the loss of the Dutch forward won`t have the same debilitating effect on the squad that the loss of Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas did last summer.
Moreover, Wenger has been able to effectively replace the 29 year-old twice over with the additions of Olivier Giroud and Lukasz Podolski.
Giroud, 25, arrives at Arsenal having joint top-scored in the French Ligue Un for eventual league winners Montpellier last term. The 6`3 striker bagged 33 goals in 71 games for Montpellier during a two-season stint at the club. Giroud had previously turned out for Tours, where he bagged 24 in 44 as well as enjoying loan spell with Istres (14 in 33) and a loan spell back at Tours where he scored six in 17. The Chambery-born forward travelled with Laurent Blanc`s side to Euro 2012 but saw his playing time limited and failed to score. Currently Giroud has won 10 full French caps, scoring once.
Polish-born Germany striker Podolski arrived from FC Koln for £10.9m and at 27, should be in his prime. Prince Poldi as he is affectionately known by German supporters, spent an unhappy three years at Bayern Munich having left Koln in 2006. However, after 15 goals in 71 appearances the 6`0 forward returned to his previous employers, bagging another 33 in 88 for the The Billy Goats. Capable of playing wide left of the central forward, Podolski has been electric on the international scene for eight years now, scoring 44 goals in 101 caps for the German national side.
The other big addition this summer was that of former Malaga attacker, Santi Cazorla. Only wrapped up a week ago, the Spaniard has impressed in La Liga, and on the international stage. Wenger splashed a whopping £16.5m on the winger-cum-forward, however the 27 year-old had cost Malaga £21.5m just a year before. Having spent his whole career in Spain, Cazorla has also taken in spells with Villarreal (twice) & Recreativo before his sole season at Malaga. Since making his Spain debut in 2008, the ambidextrous winger has won 46 caps scoring seven times.
As well as adding some genuine classy players, Wenger has enjoyed the luxury of moving on some of the deadwood at the club, letting Manuel Almunia, Carlos Vela and Denilson leave one way or another. One man who still remains despite expressing his intentions to leave for the best part of 12 months is Nicklas Bendtner – hard luck Arsenal fans.
One thing that doesn`t change is the number of injuries Wenger has to contend with. Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Laurent Koscielny should all be fit in time whilst there are doubts over new vice-captain Mikel Arteta. Tomas Rosicky, Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere & Emmanuel Frimpong will all miss out however.
Sunderland are without Phil Bardsley who recently went under the knife for an ankle injury. Wes Brown is out with a knee problem and David Vaughan has a hernia. Stephane Sessegnon, who has missed much of pre-season, could return.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen (c), Santos; Rosicky, Song, Ramsey; Walcott, Giroud & Podolski.
Sunderland: Mignolet; O`Shea, Cuellar, Bramble, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole (c), Colback, McClean; Sessegon; Campbell.