Preview: After another eventful summer, Arsenal get their Premier League season underway at home to Sunderland. Just a day after their talismanic captain of last season was unveiled as a Manchester United player, manager Arsene Wenger may well relish the focus switching back to matters on the pitch.
But, while losing Robin van Persie is a huge blow, there is certainly a sense that the Gunners are better prepared than they were last summer for the late departures of both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
Other than Van Persie, it has been a successful summer for Arsenal. In have arrived international forwards Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, while the capture of Santi Cazorla is one to truly excite fans.
That trio should help ensure that Arsenal do not endure the same disastrous start to the season that they experienced in the last campaign. As they were then, the Gunners will still be without a number of first-team players, however. Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna, Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Frimpong are all still out for the long term, while Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all doubtful for the opener.
While Van Persie has now departed, speculation has turned to Alex Song. The midfielder has been left out of the squad to face Sunderland as reports claim he is close to joining Barcelona.
In contrast, it has been an extremely quiet summer on Wearside. Louis Saha has arrived in just the last few days to bolster a painfully thin front line. Much of Sunderland's attention for the last few weeks appears to have been taken up by their chase for Wolves forward Steven Fletcher. Incredibly so desperate was Martin O'Neil to recruit the Scot that the club bid £12 million for his services. Even more amazingly, Wolves rejected the offer.
Carlos Cuellar has joined from Aston Villa to add depth to a defense weakened by the departures of Michael Turner and George McCartney. Crucially, though, Sunderland has hung onto their main asset Stephane Sessegnon. The attacking midfielder had been linked to Arsenal, but has remained at the Stadium of Light to add vital attacking verve from midfield. Sessegnon is doubtful for the match at the Emirates but is expected to shake off an ankle problem.
D: Coquelin, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs
M: Arteta, Diaby
Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski
D: Cuellar, Kilgallon, Bramble, O'Shea
M: Larsson, Gardner, Cattermole, McClean
Prediction: After playing catch-up throughout last season, it is vital that Arsenal get off to a good start this time around. Following the departure of Van Persie, there is bound to be some uncertainty among the Gunners' faithful. A positive start against Sunderland would leave everyone with a more positive outlook on the team's prospects.
Sunderland should be difficult to break down and could cause problems on the break with Sessegnon. But with Cazorla pulling the strings and Podolski and Giroud looking to impress, Arsenal should register an opening three points.
Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland