The new Premier League season finally gets underway today when Arsenal make the trip north to play Newcastle United. It's a fixture that was full of controversy last season when Arsenal led 4-0 at half time, but ended up drawing 4-4. Their cause wasn't helped by an injury to Johan Djourou, and the sending off of Abu Diaby early in the second half.
It was a game which typified Arsenal's season in many ways, as they played brilliant attacking football but failed to deal with with the opposition when under pressure. I can talk all day about that game and how some terrible refereeing was part of the reason Arsenal capitulated, but the players were found wanting at a crucial time. The Arsenal defence couldn't cope with Newcastle's aerial bombardment and Arsene Wenger promised to sort the problem out this summer.
The new season has arrived and Arsenal have more or less the same defensive options as they did last season. Obviously Gael Clichy has been sold and Carl Jenkinson has arrived, but the centre of the defence has seen no new blood. Thomas Vermaelen missed most of last season through injury, and Wenger of course hs hailed his recovery as "being like a new signing".
Arsenal are in the market for a new centre back, but Wenger has said how difficult it is to sign one and I can only hope he continues to pursue his targets. Arsenal may have other problems at the moment, but unless they sort out the defence it won't matter what players come or go. Vermaelen is a very good player, but the defence was no better in the previous season with him in it.
Ideally I would like a left back to be signed too, as I think the current options leave Arsenal open to an awful lot of problems this season. Obviously the players can work on defending in training to improve matters, but I think the purchase of a centre back and a left back would go a long way towards stabalising the whole team.
The squad today will be without Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri because of the ongoing transfer speculation. It looks to all intents and purposes that Cesc will be a Barcelona player very soon, and Nasri looks destined for Manchester City. They will be missed but Arsenal will move on and no player is bigger than any club.
Wenger claims Nasri is unavailable due to some sort of sickness, but he was fit enough to play for France on Wednesday night. If City really have offered over €20 million for him Arsenal should sell him immediately, as he has less than a year remaining on his contract. He is most certainly not irreplaceable, and he will soon fade from the memories of Arsenal fans.
Cesc is a different matter as he is the best player in the world in his position in my opinion, and Arsenal cannot directly replace him. Hopefully the money they get from his sale will be wisely invested in players that can improve the overall quality of the team. It could be a tough season for Arsenal, but no player is bigger than any club and they will move on despite any setbacks.
Besides Cesc and Nasri Arsenal are only missing Jack Wilshere and Abu Diaby for today's trip to Newcastle. Diaby is so injury prone that he cannot ever be depended upon to be a regular member of the team, but Wilshere is a different matter. I thought he was the best Arsenal player in pre season, and he will be a big loss to the team today.
He has the drive that Arsenal need in midfield, and with Cesc and Nasri not playing either their midfield will be considerably weakened. It will probably consist of Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky, and they will have to give their all to gain a foothold. Rosicky came on in the fixture last season with the score at 4-1 to Arsenal, and his performance was woeful.
He has a lot to make up for in my eyes, as he should have been the player to inspire the others. He is an experienced international player who captains his country, and I couldn't believe his lack of effort on the day. Hopefully he will put in a performance to banish that game from the memory of all Arsenal fans.
With Wojciech Szczesny in goal the defence picks itself more or lees, as Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny all look certain to start. The only reason any of them will not play is if they are carrying a knock, and the manager decides to rest them. I think Johan Djourou might be a better bet than Koscielny for this game, as he has more aerial presence and Newcastle will look to exploit Arsenal's lack of heigth at times.
The front three will probably consist of Robin Van Persie, Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin with RVP looking to extend his record of having scored in the last nine away Premier League games. Theo Walcott would probably be a better option than Arshavin, but he has only just recovered from yet another ankle knock and I don't think he will be risked. RVP should captain the side, and hopefully score the goals to gain a victory.
Arsenal have a very tough start to the season and a win today would be a great boost to the team, but it's vital they don't lose. As always I'm predicting an Arsenal win and I think they will do so on a 3-1 scoreline with RVP bagging a brace of goals. Gervinho could be the player to make a real difference on the day, and I hope he tears Newcastle's defence to shreds.
Finally for today the club announced the signing of Joel Campbell from Deportivo Saprissa in Costa Rica. He can be added to the other teenage signings this summer as a player with real potential. What is needed now is a few players who have fulfilled their potential and can add something to the team here and now. That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last season's encounter with Newcastle.
See You Tomorrow