Will Arsenal's new boys shine as the Premier League returns?
Premier League preview: Van Persie is gone, but Arsenal in confident mood
IT'S BACK. Forget the Olympics, the Premier League kicks off this weekend. It's been a whole seven weeks since Euro 2012 finished and more than three months since the last campaign ended in high drama. But the waiting is finally over and it's time to run the rule over the new signings and make bold predictions about who will take the glory and who is facing relegation this term.
Probably the most eagerly anticipated match of the opening weekend is actually on Monday, when Manchester United take on Everton and that man Robin Van Persie struts out in United red for the first time.
But before that there is plenty to look forward to. And the Dutch striker's old club Arsenal will be at the centre of attention on Saturday at 3pm when they take on Sunderland.
It's been another turbulent summer at the Emirates and although they have lost their skipper the Gunners faithful have three big new signings to cheer. Last season they had to make do with the likes of Gervinho, Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun as Arsene Wenger embarked on a last-minute trolley dash, this season his new arrivals are rather more glamorous.
On Saturday the attack is likely to be spearheaded by a Frenchman, Olivier Giroud, and a German, Lukas Podolski, while Spanish wizard Santi Cazorla will weave his magic in midfield.
Despite the departure of Van Persie there is a strange sense of optimism among Arsenal fans, some even predict a title challenge. A win over Sunderland is essential if Arsene Wenger wants to maintain that fragile air of confidence.
The omens are good, Arsenal have lost just one of their last 17 league games against Sunderland and are unbeaten in their last 11 opening day fixtures.
The visitors are likely to begin with the newly arrived Louis Saha up front, but have problems at the back where Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley are sidelined. Martin O'Neill would love to start the season with a shock win, but he will be lucky to scrape a draw.
Liverpool begin their campaign with a trip to West Brom and there will be keen interest in how Brendan Rodgers' side perform. Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez are likely to start up front for the Reds and they have the potential to become a devastating double act. Joe Allen could get the nod in midfield alongside veteran Steven Gerrard.
West Brom's new manager is Steve Clarke, who quit as Liverpool's first team coach to head for the Hawthorns, so he will be keen to get off to a good start against his old employers. It will be a tough task for him though.
Saturday's late kick off between Newcastle and Spurs should also be a fascinating match up between the teams who finished fifth and fourth in the table last season.
On Sunday, new look Chelsea with the likes of Oscar and Eden Hazard in their ranks visit Wigan, who avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth in the spring.
Then, later on in the afternoon, the defending champions Manchester City take their bow as they welcome newly-promoted Southampton the Etihad. It is a daunting return to the big time for the south coast club, but one that their fans will relish.
The weekend's other games see Fulham welcome Norwich, QPR entertain Swansea, Stoke travel to new boys Reading and West Ham return to the top flight with a visit from Aston Villa. ·