I wanted to wait before I wrote a preview for this opening game of the season as I wasn't sure if Arsenal were going to retain the services of Robin Van Persie or not... The Dutchman has now fully transferred to Manchester United and that means a lot of pressure on the new boys to provide the goals so Van Persie's absence is not felt.
It doesn't figure to get much easier for Arsene Wenger at the moment as he admitted that Alex Song could be the next player to walk out of the exit door at the Emirates Stadium with Barcelona being heavily linked with him. Unlike last season, Wenger has at least replenished his squad way before August 31st, signing the likes of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Carzola with a couple more new signings likely to be made.
Arsenal were strong at home last season where they finished with a 12-4-3 record, scoring 39 goals and conceding 17 in those games. Only three teams either won more games or scored more home goals than Arsenal last season and they were the 3rd highest scorers in the Premier League last season, although the loss of Van Persie will take away 30 of their 79 total goals.
Theo Walcott could miss out with an injury and Carzola is a doubt having played for Spain in Puerto Rico on Wednesday night. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Laurent Koscielny are out. The rumours surrounding Alex Song's future means he could be left out if his head is not in the right place.
Martin O'Neill revitalised a Sunderland side that was going nowhere but downhill last season, although they did come off the boil in the final weeks of the season. He hasn't been able to invest in the playing staff as much as he would have liked, having a big bid for Steven Fletcher turned down by Wolves, while Nicklas Bendtner has returned to Arsenal.
They finished 13th in the Premier League table last season with a comfortable buffer between themselves and the sides in the relegation zone. Sunderland were 4-5-10 away from home, scoring 19 goals and conceding 29.
The team still have a solid look to them, and they have now signed Louis Saha in a bid to help provide more goals, although the 34 year old striker is very injury prone. Scoring goals was a problem for the Black Cats last season and that is still an area that O'Neill will look to strengthen before the transfer window slams shut in two weeks time.
Stephane Sessegnon is a doubt for this game and Saha is in the squad to perhaps take his place. Wes Brown, Phil Bardsley and David Vaughan are all absent.
Head to Head
Arsenal beat Sunderland in both League games last season, although they were knocked out of the FA Cup at the Stadium of Light.
They beat the Black Cats 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium in a game where Robin Van Persie scored twice (one of a number of games where the Dutchman grabbed the winning goal).
Arsenal's win last season means they have now interchanged wins and draws here against Sunderland over the last 5 Premier League games.
This could be a tense afternoon for the Arsenal team on Saturday as the fans at the Emirates are surely going to have Robin Van Persie in mind. If the Gunners do not get an early goal to get those fans onside, frustration will build and that will seep into the performances of the players if they are not careful.
Sunderland will look to make life as difficult as possible and I can imagine they will defend with ten men for long periods of this game and look to get the home fans on the Arsenal player's backs.
The problem for Martin O'Neill is they seem to be a little light up front and I am not sure how much they are going to be able to threaten an Arsenal goal, even though Laurent Koscielny will not be available for selection.
This game really could go two ways- either Arsenal get an early goal and go on a rampage, or they struggle to get going without their talisman up front. They always looked a little suspect at the back last season, despite only conceding 17 goals at home, but Sunderland's issues up front has put me off picking them on the handicap.
Instead, a quick look at recent games when Arsenal have entertained Sunderland will show that only 1 of the last 5 has seen the Gunners win by more than 1 goal.
2 of the last 3 Arsenal wins have come by a 1 goal margin and I am going to take them to do the same here in what could be a tense afternoon in North London.
Auls Betting Tip : Sunderland +11/4 AsianHandicap