For the very first Match of the Week segment I have chosen the Arsenal v Sunderland match on the opening day of the English Premier League.
Where: Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, London
Time: Saturday, August 18; 10:00 am (EST) (3:00 pm GMT)
Where to watch: ESPN (US) and ESPN3.com
Arsenal are coming into the match with the future of their captain and leader, Robin van Persie, still up in the air. At the time of this writing he is still a member of the Arsenal squad, but come Saturday morning, it is quite possible that he will have been sold on to Manchester United. There is also speculation that midfielder Alex Song could be transferred to Barcelona. In the past few weeks manager Arsene Wenger has made several moves for players including Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, and Olivier Giroud. These additions should strengthen a squad that picked up steam at the end of last season.
For Sunderland there have been few changes with manager Martin O’Neill preferring to do business late in the transfer season. Sunderland will be without key defender Phil Bardsley after undergoing ankle surgery. Sunderland has a nice mix of young talent and Premier League tested veterans. They always make a good match for any team and will make it difficult for Arsenal.
The outcome of this match could be determined one way or the other depending on what happens with the ongoing saga of Robin van Persie. With van Persie in the side they should be able to overcome Sunderland. Without van Persie don’t be surprised to see an Arsenal side struggling to score. Sunderland will most likely adopt a counter attack strategy due to Arsenal’s usual attacking style of play. The question will be whether Sunderland can grab a goal on the break. Last season Arsenal struggled in defense sporadically throughout the season, but did show renewed strength by the end. Sunderland’s attacking front comes through Niklas Bendtner and Sebastian Larsson. Either player has the ability to get a goal with the right delivery. Without van Persie Arsenal can still be an attacking force, particularly with the addition of Podolski.
My pick: Arsenal 2 Sunderland 0
In the end I think Arsenal can get the goals they need and will most likely do so in the second half to win 2-0. Despite the possibility of losing their captain Arsenal still have the strength in attack to overcome the Sunderland defense. Arsenal will most likely dominate position and be able to keep the ball in Sunderland’s half of the field.