St James’ Park Kick-off: 17.30 BST TV: Live ESPN, highlights BBC One Match of the Day
So.. first game of Arsenal’s 2011/12 Premier League season is against Newcastle, many will remember the 4-4 thriller last season, although Newcastle manager Allan Pardrew insists there will be no repeat of the high scoring match. With Arsenal’s injury list shortened with the return of Walcott, Vermaelen, Gibbs and Robin Van Persie, a very strong Arsenal team will make their way through the tunnel today. Fabregas and Nasri will not feature with Fabregas not ‘match fit’ (even though he set to leave the Emirates this weekend) and Nasri is ‘sick’, so Wenger will look set to start the new campaign by pairing Ramsey and Rosicky in the middle of the park with starting XI regular Alex Song.
This will be a testing match for the Gunners, however Pardew has had to deal with an exodus of talent, with captain Kevin Nolan being sold to West Ham, Enrique bound for Liverpool and Barton tipped not to feature following his Twitter outbursts against the club’s owners. Consequently Pardew has gone French by bringing in Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux, Demba Ba, Mehdi Abeid and Gabriel Obertan, who are all either from France or French-born. Newcastle’s only injury absentee is French winger Hatem Ben Arfa which may come as a relieve for Gunner’s fans, as the Frenchmen could have been a significant threat.
“I believe the best thing for us, one day before the season starts, is not to focus on the possible transfers,” he said. “What we want today is to focus on the players who play tomorrow and not the players who do not play.”
On recent injuries:
“Theo is back in the squad, this is much quicker than I thought. From the players who played in the last game (Van Persie, Gibbs, Vermaelen), everyone should be available.”
“Jack Wilshere has been put in a boot. He has an inflamed ankle and it is difficult to set any specific date on his return, but we hope he will be back soon.”
“Abou Diaby is slowly improving. As well, it is difficult to say when he will be back, but we know he will not play before the end of September.”
“During pre-season we were more disturbed by transfer noise than injuries. We already knew that Diaby would not start the season, but he is improving steadily. We did not know that Wilshere would not start the season, that is our only bad surprise. But it is not a threatening injury, it is an inflamed ankle and we hope he will be back with us soon. Overall, this has been the best pre-season medically for a long time.”
allArsenal’s predicted man of the match:
Robin Van Persie – Van Persie’s away form was sensational last term, knocking in 9 consecutive away goals which is a Premier League record, he will be looking to extend this record at Newcastle this weekend, and has knocked in a goal-per-game during preseason despite usually only featuring for half a match.
allArsenal’s formation pick:
Sagna Djourou Vermaelen Gibbs
Walcott Van Persie (c) Gervinho
allArsenal’s Bets of the week:
Form: Newcastle DDLWDD Arsenal DLWLLD
Arsenal are favourites at 11/10, a draw is 12/5, Newcastle to win is 5/2. Definitely worth putting a sneaky tenner on the Gunners
allArsenal’s Special Bet: wincast – Arsenal to win/RVP to score anytime = 13/5