With the new season just around the corner, football fanatics are more excited than ever. Everyone's counting down the days until the weekend, when we all get to see how our teams will perform back in the swing of playing Premiership football.
But for Arsenal fans, the weekend means something even larger. It marks the end of a painful offseason, and we can finally watch Arsene Wenger play his strongest squad rather than surrendering leads with the reserve team playing the second half. Many people have talked about how Arsenal's preseason hasn't been successful, but the fact that the Gunners have always scored when their strong players are on is a good sign, because these are the players who will have to be putting in consistent performances week in and week out.
The first match of the season is always an important one, as it sets the tone for the upcoming campaign. For Arsenal, this match can instill the squad with a better winning mentality in order for the Gunners to do well in the looming matches against Liverpool and Manchester United. If Arsenal can get out of August with seven out of nine points, they'll be in very good shape, but that means that this match is a must win.
Apparently there were a number of players who picked up minor injuries in Arsenal's friendly against Benfica, but the extent of their injury and their return dates have been very unclear. So forgive me if I make a prediction about a player who doesn't end up playing on Saturday.
Here are 10 bold predictions for Arsenal's Premier League opener at St. James' Park.
We all know what the score was last time around; it brings back bad memories just thinking about it.
However, the fact that Arsenal led a four goal lead slip in their last encounter at St. James' Park means that the Gunners will go into this match with a mentality that they have "unfinished business." They'll be looking to notch up some goals, and this time, they'll go past all measures to keep their lead.
Arsenal have scored most of their preseason goals in the first half, so expect them to hit the ground running. I'm expecting Arsenal to produce plenty of goal scoring chances early on, resulting in the Gunners putting the ball in the net in the first 15 minutes of the match. To seal the deal, I predict they'll score another one deep into the second half, kind of like their win against Wolves at the Molineux last season.
It should be a tight match, and Wojciech Szczesny will have to make some crucial saves, but Arsenal should be able to hang on for the three points.
At the end of the 2010-11 season, Robin van Persie scored in a record-breaking nine consecutive away matches. This Saturday, he'll make it 10.
However, I predict that he'll score both of Arsenal's goals, giving the Dutchman a head start on his quest for the golden boot. He ended last season will some prolific goal scoring form, hitting the back of the net nearly every match. If he can continue that kind of form without any serious injury, he may just find himself at the top of the goal scoring charts by the end of the season, maybe even with a Premier League trophy in his hands.
But according to Arsene Wenger, Robin van Persie does have a small ankle injury, so this could be one of those predictions subject to change due to injury. Nonetheless, it looks like van Persie will be starting in Arsenal's opener, as he's been called up for international duty to play in Holland's match against England.
Robin Van Persie is a player who's got a stellar shot and can finish accurately when he's in the right place at the right time (which he often is). He definitely should be able to hit double digits in terms of consecutive away matches he's scored in, but I predict he'll even get a brace.
Last season, Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou formed a superb defensive partnership. At times, this partnership seemed solid and made some vital last ditch tackles, but at other times, the two would be the obvious scapegoat for a poor result.
Nonetheless, these two made a great connection, but their partnership is unlikely to continue, as the pair will rarely be on the pitch at the same time, thanks to Thomas Vermaelen. Vermaelen is undoubtedly the Gunners' best centre back, and the fact that he's back and fit is a huge relief to Arsenal fans. He's reliable, he's strong and basically, he has everything that Arsenal lacked at the back last season.
But it's up in the air as to who will be playing centre back along side the Belgian international. If Arsenal buy Gary Cahill or Phil Jagielka, then it'll be one of them, but unfortunately, those moves are yet to come through.
Johan Djourou was definitely more impressive than Koscielny last season, but in this preseason, Koscielny has definitely been the better of the two.
So who's it going to be? Koscielny or Djourou?
I think it's got to be Koscielny. He's made a number of stellar tackles in Arsenal's preseason friendlies, and against Boca Juniors, he did an excellent job of dealing with Juan Riquelme's infamous through balls.
He and Thomas Vermaelen could be the answer to Arsenal's defensive woes, so given Koscielny does start over Djourou, we'll see how the pair perform together on Saturday.
With Cesc Fabregas not being available for Arsenal's season opener, for reasons unknown, there are really only three other candidates to captain the squad at St. James' Park: Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Thomas Vermaelen.
Samir Nasri has captained a few Arsenal matches in his time at the Emirates, but he isn't quite experienced enough to captain the Gunners in a match as crucial as their season opener. There's nothing wrong with Robin van Persie captaining the match; he's one of the oldest players in the squad, but personally, I think it should be Thomas Vermaelen to do the job.
For Wenger, it's an easy decision, right? Vermaelen is a centre back, one of the most common positions for a team's captain, he's strong and most of all, he's a leader. Rather than "leading by example," like Cesc Fabregas does, Vermaelen leads with his commands and his good decision making, like most successful captains do.
If Thomas Vermaelen is walking out of the tunnel wearing the captains armband on Saturday, Arsenal should put in a solid, winning performance.
Last season, Newcastle were on and off about their first choice keeper, with Tim Krul and Steve Harper having just about the same number of appearances. But at age 36, Harper's not getting any younger, and Alan Pardew will be looking to develop his long term replacement in Tim Krul.
But Tim Krul isn't just a long term replacement; he's a short term one as well. His excellent keeping this season even rewarded him with two international call-ups to the senior Holland squad, in matches against Brazil and Uruguay.
The Dutchman certainly proved himself this season with some brilliant saves for Newcastle, and has tons of potential at the young age of 23.
I'm expecting to see Tim Krul between the posts this Saturday rather than Steve Harper as Newcastle slowly go out with the old and in with the new.
So far, so good. Ever since Gervinho bagged two goals on his debut, Arsenal fans couldn't help smiling when they thought about what this guy is going to bring to the squad. His ability to time runs is spot on. His pace is blistering. His dribbling just makes you want to shout "ole!"
The match against Newcastle, which he'll surely start, will be his first competitive match, so I'm sure I'm not the only Arsenal fan who's ecstatic to see how he performs.
Not to be biased or anything, but there's no reason why he won't continue to wow us all. I can already see him dribbling some Newcastle defenders before sending in an accurate cross for Robin van Persie.
Gervinho is a unique player who has fit in perfectly with the Arsenal squad, so an auspicious start to his Premier League season is anticipated. I'm expecting him to be one of the stars of the match, grabbing an assist or two.
With the departure of Gael Clichy not resulting in Arsenal buying a new left back, it's starting to look like the Gunners are stuck with Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traore. At the age of 21, Gibbs has a lot of promise for the future of Arsenal, but he doesn't quite seem to be ready for a nine-month season playing two matches a week. On top of that, the youngster tends to get injured a lot, leaving Traore as the only other left back option for Arsenal.
However, both players have impressed this preseason while attacking, making good runs and sending in decent crosses. But when dropping back on defense, the left side seems to be more exposed, and both of their defensive performances have not been reassuring.
Given Kieran Gibbs does start against Newcastle, which he probably will, then I predict the England international will look the same as he has in the preseason. He's going to be given a tough job keeping Jonas Gutierrez contained, but Gibbs can prove to be effective on Arsenal's counter attacks if he wins the ball.
Jack Wilshere was given a chance by Arsene Wenger, and look how that turned out: brilliantly. Who knows, maybe lightning will strike twice.
Dealing with Demba Ba will definitely be one of Arsenal's main concerns. The new signing was a huge step towards replacing Andy Carroll, and with seven goals in 12 appearances last season, Ba certainly has what is takes to fill Carroll's boots.
One of his main skills is winning long balls in the air and cooly finishing them, and that's something that should worry the Arsenal defense. With Vermaelen and Koscielny as the Gunners' centre backs, the two seem to be capable enough to deal with the aerial threat, but Demba Ba is a pretty unpredictable player, which is one of his other main skills.
The Senegal international has these moments of brilliance where he takes a half chance and turns it into a goal. Arsenal cannot leave this man unmarked, or they will pay the price.
The Arsenal defense certainly has what it takes to deal with Demba Ba; they just have to have no lapses in concentration and full focus for 90 minutes. Ba will certainly be keeping them busy on Saturday.
With Cesc Fabregas being a big doubt for Arsenal's season opener, the Gunners will need a new playmaking presence to step up. I'll give you a hint: it's not Denilson.
First off, I'll address the fact that it's certainly not guaranteed that Wilshere will start against Newcastle due to his ankle injury; however, there's a good chance he will. Assuming he and Aaron Ramsey do start in central midfield at St. James' Park, we're in for a treat.
One of the most highly anticipated Arsenal partnerships, Wilshere, together with Ramsey, have been dubbed as the "future of Arsenal," which is a pretty accurate way to describe it. Aaron Ramsey has arguably been Arsenal's best player this preseason, with two goals and an assist to his name. Both he and Jack Wilshere have displayed their playmaking talent to a further extent, with some incredibly clever passes against Malaysia XI and FC Cologne.
Given the two start together against Newcastle, they'll surely be the engine of Arsenal's attacks, along with Samir Nasri or Alex Song. Wilshere and Ramsey have the ability to control a match when they want to, and if they can be on their game like they have been for the past few matches, then they'll be the driving force of Arsenal's midfield.
This prediction is probably the boldest.
Arsenal fans were recently excited to hear that Arsene Wenger made his third signing of the summer by finally confirming Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's switch to North London. He's been extremely impressive in League One, dribbling defenders like he's in the schoolyard and already been dubbed as the next Theo Walcott.
But many are questioning whether or not the 17 year old can make the switch from League One football to Premiership football, and I do agree. He's not even played Championship football yet, let alone in England's top tier, so it's completely understandable that people have suspicions about whether or not he'll continue to drop jaws in the Premier League.
But that's not to say this isn't a good signing. Arsene Wenger's squad clearly lacked depth last season, so the fact that Arsenal now have three players for each wing is very reassuring.
After a few training sessions before Saturday, I think Wenger will continue his reputation of giving young players a chance by letting Chamberlain have some playing time against Newcastle. Now that's not to say he'll play an entire half. If he plays at all, it will probably be for no longer than 20 minutes. But a chance to see how he performs in the Premiership environment will be huge.
Everyone's got their own opinion on every single match.
So feel free to voice your predictions for Arsenal vs Newcastle, whether it's a score prediction or trying to guess the starting lineup.
See you on kick off day...