Arsenal v Sunderland – Emirates Stadium, 3pm
AFTER A BUSY transfer period, Arsenal will be looking for early success in their Premier League opener against Sunderland at Emirates Stadium.
The signings of Oliver Giroud, Lucas Podolski and Santi Cazorla add to an Arsenal team which finished third last season.
But the Gunners have been unable to fend off Manchester United’s bid for their captain Robin van Persie, who has sealed a deal that will see him move to Old Trafford.
Striker Giroud won the Golden Boot in Ligue 1, scoring 21 goals to lead Montpellier to the championship, and the Frenchman provides the Gunners with another attacking threat up-front.
Cazorla, manager Arsene Wenger’s third off-season signing, is part of Spain’s treble-winning national team and adds further prowess in the attacking third.
The re-signing of defender Laurent Koscielny is also crucial after the Frenchman impressed last season.
Arsenal were convincing in their last pre-season hit out, defeating German club Cologne 4-0 in convincing fashion.
Sunderland’s only close-season signing so far is Carlos Cuellar, a versatile Spanish defender who played for Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill at Aston Villa.
O’Neill has said he is also looking to boost his attacking stocks, particularly given Danish front-man Nicklas Bendtner has returned to Arsenal after completing a loan deal at the Stadium of Light.
Bendtner was a key source of goals at the Stadium of Light last term, managing eight, and his absence leaves O’Neill short up front.
Without a star striker in the line-up Sunderland will look to a balanced attack to provide offensive pressure.
Last season, Sebastian Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon scored seven goals apiece and are the likely duo to step up to the task.
O’Neill’s side have not recorded a win in their past three pre-season friendlies, losing to Leicester 1-0, York 3-0 and drawing with Derby 1-1.
Fulham v Norwich – Craven Cottage, 3pm
NORWICH CITY VISIT Fulham in their English Premier League opener, with Marc Tierney seeking an improvement on last season’s achievements.
Norwich, promoted automatically from the Championship in 2010/11, secured a 12th-placed finish during their first campaign back in the top flight.
Saturday’s match at Craven Cottage is where it all starts again, albeit without manager Paul Lambert, who left for Aston Villa and was replaced by former Birmingham and Newcastle United coach Chris Hughton.
Despite the loss of their impressive manager, defender Tierney is confident Norwich can continue to climb the table under the guidance of Hughton.
“We don’t want to just relax and stay where we are,” he said.
“We want to keep working hard. Normally when a new manager comes in they have to try and turn things around.
“I think it’s probably a bit different as we’ve done so well over the past couple of seasons so we’ve just got to look to continue improving.”
Leeds United’s Robert Snodgrass and Sunderland’s Michael Turner moved to Carrow Road during a pre-season which included a win against Scottish champions Celtic and a draw against Dutch giants Ajax.
Fulham meanwhile did not experience a change in manager, with Dutchman Martin Jol beginning his second season in charge, but he did see a number of players leave.
Veteran midfielder Danny Murphy joined Blackburn along with Dickson Etuhu, while Andrew Johnson (QPR), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Reading), and Orlando Sa and Bjorn Helge Riise (both released) followed the pair out of the club, leaving Fulham short on midfield and striking options.
Although free agents Hugo Rodallega and Mladen Petric have arrived at Craven Cottage, Jol would like to add two more players to his squad.
“We need at least a midfield player, in the midfield area,” he said.
“Up front, we lost four strikers – Orlando Sa went, Bobby Zamora, the Pog (Pavel Pogrebnyak), Andy Johnson went.
“We have got two, Rodallega and Petric, so at least we need one or two strikers as well.”
In the pair’s two meetings last season, Fulham edged Norwich 2-1 at home in April and earned a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road in January.
QPR v Swansea – Loftus Road, 3pm
QUEENS PARK RANGERS manager Mark Hughes will give his new look side their first chance to impress at home to Swansea City on Saturday.
The London club have made several shrewd signings since narrowly avoiding relegation last season and boast lofty ambitions moving forward.
South Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung joined from Manchester United for a reported fee of around two million pounds, while Brazilian defender Fabio da Silva also arrived on loan from Old Trafford.
England international goalkeeper Robert Green crossed over from West Ham United as Tottenham defender Ryan Nelsen and Fulham forward Andrew Johnson also signed on free transfers.
Hughes is likely to rely on the experienced heads of Green and Nelson to strengthen his defence after the team conceded an alarming 66 goals last season.
Throw former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Junior Hoilett and loan capture Samba Diakite from Nancy into the mix and the fans at Loftus Road have cause for optimism ahead of the new campaign.
Swansea stunned the Premier League with their style of play under former manager Brendan Rodgers last season – finishing 11th with 12 wins, 11 draws and 15 losses – and will be out to prove their efforts were no fluke.
Rodgers has since moved on to Liverpool, with former Denmark international Michael Laudrup taking the reins at Liberty Stadium.
Promising young talent Joe Allen followed Rodgers to Anfield, but has Laudrup moved swiftly to bolster his stocks with three foreign additions.
Villarreal midfielder Jonathan De Guzman penned a season-long loan, while Spanish duo Jose Manuel Flores from Genoa and Michu from Rayo Vallecano completed transfers.
QPR ran out 3-0 winners last time the sides met at Loftus Road in April this year.
QPR’s Nedum Onuoha, left tackles Scott Sinclair of Swansea. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/Press Association Images
Reading v Stoke City – Madejski Stadium, 3pm
READING PLAY HOST to Stoke City on Saturday as they resume life in the English Premier League after four seasons in the second tier.
Under the eye of former coach Steve Coppell, Reading spent two years in the top division before suffering second-year syndrome, which led to their relegation.
They spent four seasons in the Championship and despite losing a number of key personnel, manager Brian McDermott guided Reading to promotion.
And in the wake of their promotion, McDermott wasted little time adding reinforcements.
Nottingham Forest duo Chris Gunter and Garath McCleary, Adrian Mariappa (Watford), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Fulham), Danny Guthrie (Newcastle) and Nicky Shorey (West Brom) all made the move to the Madejski Stadium, while number one goalkeeper Adam Federici has committed his long-term.
“I’ve been delighted with all the new signings since we’ve brought them to the club,” McDermott said.
“They’re all good guys who work hard and want to get better. They’ve got undoubted quality, and add that to their desire you’ve got a good recipe.
“We’re just trying to gel the group, we’ve got two players for each position which is what I wanted of course.”
Reading wrapped up their pre-season preparations with a comfortable 2-0 win against Championship outfit Crystal Palace.
Stoke have also tried to add depth to their squad, signing Michael Kightly form relegated Wolverhampton for an undisclosed fee.
“There is nothing better than to have strong competition in all areas and Michael’s arrival gives us that in the wide positions,” Stoke manager Tony Pulis said.
“I’ve long been an admirer of Michael, not only in terms of him being a provider, but also the fact he gets his share of goals.”
United States international defender Geoff Cameron has also made the switch, following the departures of Danny Collins (Nottingham Forest) and Jonathan Woodgate (Middlesbrough).
Pulis’ side was another of the Premier League contingent to jet out to the States and play three matches against Columbus Crew, Orlando City and Sporting Kansas City.
Saturday’s encounter is the first ever Premier League fixture between the two clubs.
West Brom v Liverpool – The Hawthorns, 3pm
LIVERPOOL TRAVEL TO West Bromwich Albion for their English Premier League opener on Saturday with both sides represented by new mangers.
Brendan Rodgers has taken over for the Reds after leaving former club Swansea City to replace Kenny Dalglish, who was sacked at the end of last season by the Anfield club.
The move came after Liverpool finished eighth in the English top flight, and was made despite Dalglish steering the side to the Carling Cup title and the FA Cup final.
Midfielder Joe Allen has made the journey with Rodgers from Swansea to help the club establish a new possession-based brand of football.
The new style of play has earned early success with Liverpool winning their Europa League qualifying tie against FC Gomel comfortably, as well as beating Leverkusen 1-0 in their August 12 friendly.
Liverpool have also aquired Italian striker Fabio Borini from Serie A club Roma.
Notable exits over the close season include Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani and Fabio Aurelio.
Another crucial piece of business was the re-signing of Uruguay international Luis Suarez, who will spearhead a Reds attack that could be trimmed if reports linking Andy Carroll with an Anfield exit eventuate.
For West Brom, new manager Steve Clarke, a former Liverpool first-team coach, replaces Roy Hodgson after the latter took charge of the England national team.
Two new additions to Clarke’s line-up are Swedish striker Markus Rosenberg from Werder Bremen and Belgian counterpart Romelu Lukaku, who arrives at the Hawthorns on loan from Chelsea.
Rosenberg scored 10 goals and recorded five assists in 33 Budesliga appearances for Werder Bermen last season.
Departures for West Brom from last season include Nick Shorey and Irish International Keith Andrews.
West Brom won all three of their friendlies in August, defeating Nottingham Forest, Walsall and Sheffield Wednesday.
They also defeated the Reds 1-0 in the last meeting between the sides in April.
West Ham v Aston Villa – Upton Park, 3pm
PAUL LAMBERT KICK-starts his managerial tenure at Aston Villa with a trip to newly promoted West Ham on Saturday.
The former Norwich coach has been handed the task of guiding Villa up the table after the club endured a horrific campaign under Alex McLeish, which saw them avoid the drop by only two points.
The signings of Feyenoord pair Ron Vlaar and Karim El Ahmadi and Brett Holman from AZ Alkmaar will add a much needed boost to the squad.
And despite conceding six goals against Nottingham Forest and Werder Bremen in their final two games of pre-season, Lambert is pleased with the side’s performance throughout the offseason.
“It will be a tough game at West Ham, but I’m looking forward to playing for real,” he said.
“I can’t ask for any more from the players in terms of effort.
“There’s been some tough games and they’ve done well.”
Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce may split opinions among fans and pundits alike but the manager has proven his worth at Premier League level.
Allardyce has kept Bolton and Blackburn in the Premier League and West Ham will be hopeful of a similar performance beginning at Upton Park on Saturday.
West Ham’s pre-season has been less than impressive, consisting of two losses, two draws and just one win from their past five outings.
However, the recent influx of players has played its part.
Allardyce signed a staggering eight players, while seven have headed for the exit doors.
Known for his wheeling and dealing, the former Newcastle manager has attracted Jussi Jaaskelainen (Bolton) and Mohamed Diame (Wigan) on free transfers, with the likes of Alou Diarra (Marseille) and Modibo Maiga (Sochaux) joining for a combined total of seven million pounds.
Prior to West Ham’s relegation in the 2010/11 season, goals from Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor lifted Villa to a 2-1 win at Upton Park on April 17.
Newcastle United v Tottenham Hostpur – Sports Direct Arena, 5.30pm
NEWCASTLE AND TOTTENHAM meet in the opening round of the English Premier League season for the first time since the league was formed.
A Tottenham side managed by Osvaldo Ardiles earned a narrow 1-0 victory in the inaugural round of the Premier League in 1993 and they have enjoyed bragging rights in recent times.
After a 2-1 loss at St James Park in 2008, the Spurs have gone on to win three out of the past five, including a 5-0 thumping last season courtesy of two goals from French striker Louis Saha, who is no longer at the club.
However, fast forward to August 18 at St James Park and a lot has changed at both clubs.
Newcastle fended off interest from various European clubs to retain the services of Senegalese target man Demba Ba, while Alan Pardew signed Curtis Good (Melbourne Heart), Gael Bigirimana (Coventry) and Romain Amalfitano (Reims), with Ajax midfielder Vurnon Anita set to join.
And in terms of departures, Leon Best (Blackburn), Fraser Forster (Celtic), Danny Guthrie (Reading), Peter Lovenkrands (Birmingham), Alan Smith (MK Dons) and Tamas Kadar (Roda JC) all moved on.
Pardew’s men had a solid pre-season with victories over Monaco and Braga, as well as draws against Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce and Olympiacos, but their final match was a disaster as they lost to Championship side Cardiff 4-1.
As for Tottenham, they have endured a far more eventful pre-season, with Harry Redknapp stood down in place of former Chelsea coach Andre Villas-Boas.
The Europa League-winning manager signed a three-year deal at White Hart Lane but will have his work cut out trying to eclipse Redknapp’s achievements.
Despite Ajax captain Jan Vertonghen joining in a 10-million pound deal and Gylfi Sigurdsson turning down Liverpool in turn for a move to London, Villas-Boas’ task has been made difficult by Croatian midfielder Luka Modric, who has his heart set on a move to Real Madrid.
But while the transfer is at a crossroads, Villas-Boas is fighting hard to reinforce his attacking stocks.
Saha is no longer at the club, while Spurs attempts to make Emmanuel Adebayor’s loan move permanent has yet to materialise, meaning Jermain Defoe is the only recognised striker at the club.
Steven Pienaar (Everton), Niko Kranjcar (Dynamo Kiev) and Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow) were all sold during the club’s tour of the United States, which saw them face the likes of Liverpool, Valencia and the LA Galaxy.
And on the injury front, both teams have some concerns.
Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Harfa (knee) will not play, while Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Fabricio Coloccini, Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye are either suffering from knocks or short of fitness.
Meanwhile, Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker faces up to a month on the sidelines due to an Achilles injury.