Fans of the Premier League can rejoice, the new campaign has finally arrived. Arsenal and Aston Villa face off in one of the opening fixtures. The Gunners hope to build on late success last term while Villa hope to avoid another season-long relegation battle.
Arsenal are dealing with a growing list of injury concerns. Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal aren't expected back until next month, Mikel Arteta is sidelined with a thigh injury and Bacary Sagna is doubtful for the opener. Not an ideal way to start the season.
Injuries are less of an issue for Aston Villa. Instead, the Lions are focused on an improved defensive effort after allowing 69 goals last term, the third most in the Premier League. Unless they improve at the back, another difficult season is on the horizon.
What's your prediction for the first match of the season?
Both sides would love to get the season started on a winning note to set a positive tone. So let's take a glance at all the key information for the match, followed by a breakdown of players to watch and a prediction for the opener.
Where: Emirates Stadium in London, England
When: Saturday, Aug. 17 at 10 a.m. ET (3 p.m. BST)
Watch: NBC Sports Network
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
Arsenal Player to Watch: Theo Walcott
Walcott has made major strides in recent years. He's finally figured out how to use his electric pace to put constant pressure on opposing defenders and paired that ability with an improved finishing touch to rack up a career-high 21 goals across all competitions last season.
He's not just a pure goalscorer, either. The England international also tallied 14 assists, showing the type of attacking versatility that allowed him to generate so much hype even before his breakout season. A nightmare to defend, to say the least.
And, at 24, he's still in the process of getting better. If he can get off to a strong start and avoid serious injury throughout the campaign, there's no reason he can't contend for the EPL scoring title. A matchup with a questionable defensive squad like Villa is a good place to start.
Aston Villa Player to Watch: Christian Benteke
Benteke arrived at Aston Villa with mixed expectations. The rising star had displayed potential during his time in the Belgian Pro League, but it was tough to know what to expect as he made the transition for his first Premier League campaign.
He had no trouble making the jump. The 22-year-old striker scored 19 league goals to pace the Villa attack. It was the type of production expected from him at some point, but doing right away bodes very well for his future.
Along with Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor, the Lions have enough attacking talent to have a rebound campaign. But a lot depends on the back line thwarting more attacks and giving the trio more opportunities to create scoring chances.
Key Matchup: Per Mertesacker vs. Ron Vlaar
One of the most difficult things early in a campaign is getting a defensive group on the same page. After a long offseason and preseason matches when managers are usually mixing and matching players, it takes some time to develop chemistry.
Which CB will make a bigger impact?
Having a veteran center-back who can lead the way is crucial. Both clubs have one in the likes of Mertesacker for Arsenal and Vlaar for Aston Villa. Vlaar is under plenty of pressure considering how the Lions' back line played last season.
But Mertesacker's is even more tricky. He's going to lead a patchwork defense into the match due to the previously mentioned defensive woes. Arsenal should be able to score a couple goals, but how the Gunners' back line holds up will make the difference.
Arsenal 2, Aston Villa 1