The English Premier League will commence in less than 72 hours and the excitement is intensifying. World Football fans worldwide cannot wait for ten months of thrills, spills, tears and controversy. Furthermore, 2011/2012 is set to be more tense, entertaining and elaborate than the previous.
It has been a long summer with a number of transfers occurring. The added influence of investors to English clubs is also having a sterling effect in enhancing the equality between clubs, which will only provide more entertainment.
One match that will command a number of viewers is Saturday's encounter between Arsenal and Newcastle United at St James's Park. The Gunners' are entering the 2011/2012 campaign with a lingering burden of six successive seasons without silverware. Furthermore, it has not been a convincing summer for the North London giants, with some disappointing pre-season displays and a distinct lack of activity from Arsene Wenger in the transfer window despite his promises.
Most of Arsenal's speculation has been dominated with the uncertain futures of captain Cesc Fabregas and key play-maker Samir Nasri. The duo have been linked with moves away from the Emirates and as each day arises, both departures look more and more certain.
Arsenal are hardly close for EPL favourites as the season approaches, with many pundits and critics believing Arsene Wenger's squad will struggle to secure a place in the renowned top four. However one can never write off a side like Arsenal, whose playing and managerial calibre exceeds many.
The Gunners' face a Newcastle side that is also in somewhat of disarray with a number of key players including Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton departing the Magpies. Alan Pardew's men got the better of Arsenal on both occassions last season: the first a surpise 1-0 victory at the Emirates followed by the notorious 4-4 draw in which Newastle came from 4-0 down to secure a point with 25 minutes remaining.
None the less, Arsenal are relatively fit entering the first game of the English season and despite the recent rumours, still boast a squad high in ability.
Bleacher Report predicts the Arsenal starting XI for their match against Newcastle United.
For the first time in several seasons, Arsenal will enter a campaign with sufficient and overwhelming goalkeeper depth. The emergance of Wojciech Szczesny last season has been immense, whilst Lukasz Fabianski also enjoyed a rapid rise in 2010/2011. Furthermore, exciting youngster Vito Mannone has overcame fitness woes that tainted his previous campaign, and the experienced Manuel Almunia is yet to depart despite rumours.
Szczesny is set to receive the first choice role after his strong form in the second half of last season. However, there is stiff competition for the starting role and an error could lead to immediate demotion. Fabianski is set to acquire the deputy role, whilst there are talks Vito Mannone could join a Championship side on loan in the coming weeks.
Despite the Frenchman's promises, Arsene Wenger is yet to confirm the much expected centre half signing that was promised following the dismal conclusion to 2010/2011. However the return of Thomas Vermaelen is equivalent to a new arrival, as the Belgian amassed just five games last season due to a persistent Achilles injury.
Vermaelen will lead the defensive line in the centre half with imposing Swiss Johan Djourou set to partner the 25-year-old, and Laurent Koscielny securing a bench role. Sebastien Squillaci is likely to miss out altogether after further poor form during the pre-season. Young gun Ignasi Miguel is likely to feature for the reserves.
Despite the arrival of youngster Carl Jenkinson, the renowned Bacary Sagna will begin at right back to make his 177th Arsenal appearance. Jenkinson is set to miss out altogether. However, the main defensive talking point will be the left back role.
With veteran Gael Clichy departing to Manchester City for £7 million, there is an opportunity on the left flank. Youngsters Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traore have been contesting for the role, with both performing admirably during pre-season.
Due to experience, England international Kieran Gibbs is set to start with French U-21 star Armand Traore on the substitutes bench.
The ever-present question, will Cesc Fabregas remain at Arsenal or will the Spaniard finally join Barcelona. It is said to be almost certain that the Gunners' captain will complete a £35 million signing to the Camp Nou in the next 48 hours.
Regardless, Fabregas was not expected to feature due to a calf injury. The captain will be relieved by Wales captain Aaron Ramsey, who will be relishing the opportunity to mitigate Fabregas's notorious presence.
Renowned defensive midfielder Alexandre Song is fully fit and will take on the holding role alongside increased leadership responsibilities in the Arsenal midfield. Furthermore, teenage sensation and 2010/2011 PFA Young Player of the Year Jack Wilshere has enjoyed a strong pre-season and will feature beside Ramsey in the midfield.
Imposing Frenchman Abou Diaby will not return to action until September after enduring ankle surgery. However, Tomas Rosicky and Henri Lansbury are both fit and vying for a place on the Arsenal substitutes bench alongside exciting teenager Emmanuel Frimpong, who has been highly impressive this pre-season.
Rosicky and Lansbury are the likely candidates for the bench roles. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Eboue still possesses an uncertain Arsenal future after being linked with a move during the summer. The Ivorian has barely featured during the pre-season and is not expected to feature against Newcastle. Denilson is on loan with Brazilian gaints Sao Paulo.
The major news is regarding Robin van Persie, who sustained an ankle injury after receiving a precarious challenge against S.L. Benfica in a recent friendly. The Dutchman and the soon to be new Arsenal captain has shone during the pre-season and fortunately is expected to start in the lone striker role.
Furthermore, Arsenal's marquee summer signing, Gervinho a £10.5 million signing from French champions OSC Lille, has also enjoyed a stellar pre-season and is expected to make his official Arsenal debut on the left wing. England international Theo Walcott has an ankle worry and is set to start on the bench.
This ensures Russian dynamo Andrei Arshavin will start on the right wing after enjoying a rejuvanted pre-season. Marouane Chamakh, Carlos Vela, Japanese teenager Ryo Miyaichi and new £15 million Southampton signing Alex Oxlade Chamberlain will all contest for bench roles.
Disgruntled striker Nicklas Bendtner has still not departed the Emirates despite stating his desires to leave immediately. The Danish sharpshooter will not feature against Newcastle.
However, a big talking point is over Samir Nasri, who reports suggest will join Manchester City before the weekend. Regardless, the Frenchman has a musclar problem and will not play.
Strong fitness level ensures a compacted bench in which a number of key players will miss out. However, Arsenal do face Italian outfit Udinese four days later in a vital UEFA Champions League qualification playoff.
Lukasz Fabianski will be the back up keeper, while Laurent Koscielny and Armand Traore will be the deputy defenders.