Arsenal’s season gets underway with the visit of Aston Villa on Saturday, but, rather than optimism, the pervading feeling around the Emirates is one of frustration. Despite repeated statements about Arsenal’s new financial power, the source of disgruntlement remains the club’s lack of investment in the transfer market.
Plenty of names have been linked and targeted, but the only arrival for the start of the campaign is France Under-20 striker Yaya Sanogo. Manager Arsene Wenger accepts the fans’ feelings and has continued to claim that he is looking to strengthen. However, he is keen for more focus on the player’s currently at the club.
"I understand every frustration, you have so many frustrated people, but what is important is the quality of what you do on the pitch, so let's not create a crisis from nothing," he said at his pre-match press conference.
"We just played a good game last week [in beating Manchester City] so let's transfer that to the next game and not start to convince everybody that the quality of the team that starts on Saturday will be linked with the number of players we buy between today and tomorrow. The quality of the team will be linked with the performance of every player who plays [against Aston Villa]."
With the squad already thinned through a host of summer departures and just one arrival, Arsenal also face familiar injury concerns on the eve of the season. Mikel Arteta has torn a calf muscle and will potentially miss up to six weeks, while defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal are also ruled out.
In contrast, Aston Villa will be more than happy with their business this summer. The chief reason for that feeling being that manager Paul Lambert was successful in getting last season’s top scorer Christian Benteke to withdraw his transfer request and stay for at least one more season. After surviving relegation last time around, Lambert will hope that his young squad has learned much and will be capable of better things this campaign.
Villa have added to the youthful nature of their squad, with their signings being highlighted by 21-year-old Denmark international defender Jores Okore and 23-year-old Bulgarian winger Aleksandar Tonev. For the opening match, Lambert could be without midfielder Yacouba Sylla and the versatile Chris Herd.
D: Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs
M: Ramsey, Wilshere
Walcott, Rosicky, Cazorla
Aston Villa (probable)
D: Lowton, Vlaar, Okore, Luna
M: El Ahamdi, Delph
Agbonlahor, Weimann, Tonev
Prediction: Despite Aston Villa’s poor record against Arsenal in recent years, it promises to be a difficult opening test for the Gunners. Having failed to sign a much-need natural anchorman in midfield, Arsenal have now lost the closest thing they had to that last season in Arteta. A likely midfield partnership of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere is in danger of being overrun, as they were time and again in preseason against Napoli. One of Villa’s most impressive players last season Andreas Weimann could have plenty of joy running in behind that midfield two.
The one thing the lack of signings has given Arsenal, though, is stability. And there have been signs in preseason that both Ramsey and Walcott have made strides forward with their games. That should allow Wenger’s side to immediately find their groove and they should have enough going forward to record a narrow opening win.
Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.