by Luke Irelan-Hill

Arsenal v Sunderland

If Arsenal are going to qualify for the Champions League this year then they will need to make The Emirates a fortress. Any hopes of improving on last year’s third place finish have all but evaporated with the sale of striker and captain Robin Van Persie.

However I expect the Gunners to come out strong on the opening weekend and make a statement that even without RVP they are still a force to be reckoned with this year. A solid win would reassure Arsenal fans that the departure of RVP is the start of a new era. But if you think about it, it also feels like they have to sell their star play every year.

RVP aside Arsene Wenger has gone about his transfers differently this year. There has been no last minute panic buying and with this they have stenghthened their squad quite considerably. Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud on paper can both replace the goals that RVP guarantees over a season – but the pressure is on to deliver.

For Sunderland, they are still trying to put the finishing touches to their squad, with the focus still very much on their strike force. Bids for Fletcher have been turned down numerous times but I think they will eventually sign him before the end of the month. Louis Saha is a proven striker and could fit in well with Connor Wickham and Stephane Sessegnon.

Sunderland are set-up well for a good season under the leadership of Martin O’Neill but Arsenal will be raring to get out the blocks and start the season positively. They will pass Sunderland out of the game and should win without any major scares.

Prediction: 2-0

Fulham v Norwich City

Fulham have brought in new attacking threats over the summer in Hugo Rodallega and Mladen Petric, both should assure that goals are aplenty at Craven Cottage this year.

Norwich, however, have a new manager and I think they will fall foul to second-year syndrome in the English Premier League.

The Canaries will need to win a lot of home games this year as they could struggle badly on their travels and it is difficult to see them taking any points away from London tomorrow. The current Norwich set-up was very much built by Paul Lambert who has now left and I believe they will struggle to keep their Premier League status come May.

Fulham have lost Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson over the summer, but the key for Martin Jol is to keep Clint Dempsey. If he can achieve this then Fulham can look forward to another solid season.

If Norwich are to survive then they will need Grant Holt and Steve Morison to fire like they did last year – but this will be very difficult.

Fulham are very good at home and will complete a professional job against the Canaries to get their season up and running.

Prediction: 2-1

QPR v Swansea

QPR will feel that they have grabbed one of the bargains of the summer in Park Ji Sung and I find it hard to argue with this. Add with this the loan signing of Fabio da Silva and they have had a successful summer in the transfer market.

The complete opposite can be said for Swansea who have had a terrible off-season and one that does not set them up to compete in the Premier League this year. They have lost their manager and Joe Allen to Liverpool as well as Gylfi Sigurdsson to Totteham.

I cannot see them being at all ready to take on an ever improving QPR side that also have the home crowd behind them at Loftus Road.

Rangers should control from start to finish and find the back of the net numerous times because of the number of chances they will create. Plus with the capture of Robert Green in goal, QPR should manager a lot more clean sheets this year which will make accumulating points much easier.

The only thing that worries me with QPR this year is the expectation placed on Mark Hughes by the board and fans. The big picture for QPR is to turn them into a competitive team in the Premier League, but it is important they do not expect this to happen too quickly. The board and fans must remember they only stayed up on the last day of the season.

Prediction: 3-0

Reading v Stoke City

Reading were fantastic in winning the Championship last season, but often the winner is the team to struggle the most.

The biggest question is whether they have enough quality to stay in the Premier League? At the moment they look a little bit short to me. The biggest problem for newly promoted clubs is that they will spend a lot of time near the bottom of the table so persuading players to come and join them is difficult.

However the signings of Chris Gunter and Pavel Pogrebnyak strengthen the side considerably and Danny Gutherie could prove to be a very good bit of business. Home form is key to their survival hopes.

Having said all that, Stoke are not the best team on their travels and will have to make sure they start brightly. A draw it is.

Prediction: 2-2

West Brom v Liverpool

King Kenny is long gone now but I don’t think that all Liverpool fans will forget him just yet. However they must start to realise that their future is without Dalglish, they need to start again and move forward.

Starting again has definitely been achieved as Brandan Rodgers is a very different man to Dalglish. There is no doubting that.

Liverpool will play a different style of football under their new manager, but the real question is whether it will yield any success for the Reds this year.

The changes will not be as big as people think though. Liverpool have always played good football but they have struggled in the final third. If Suarez can hit the ground running and the service is good to him then they could do well. It is yet to be seen though how long Steven Gerrard can keep pulling Liverpool out of trouble. They have to keep going as a team and not rely on one man.

West Brom have been busy themselves in the summer with their biggest signing being their new manager, Steve Clarke. Clarke was Liverpool’s first-team coach last season and knows the players well, but he does not know Rodgers well.

I think Clarke will do well at the Hawthorns and he has inherited a strong team and set-up from Roy Hodgson. A good start is imperative for both sides for a good season.

Prediction: 1-1

West Ham v Aston Villa

Sam Allardyce has his critics, a fair few of them actually, but I believe he has created a side that is in the best shape to stay up out of the three newly promoted sides.

Big Sam has been round the Premier League circuit a few times now and his top-flight ‘know-how’ means that they will win the really important games and also take points from games that they are not expected too. They should safely stay up.

Villa have had a quiet summer but can put the debacle of Alex McLeish behind them. The villains were largely disappointing last season, so they will try to turn out a strong performance to start the new season in the right way.

Judging from what Norwich achieved under Paul Lambert, Villa will do a lot better than they did last season and the players and fans will start believing in the club again.

Should be a competitive game that sees both teams walk away with a hard-fought point.

Prediction: 1-1

Newcastle v Tottenham

There is no arguing that Newcastle United were the biggest surprise package of last season. The question is: Can they repeat their success this year when the expectations are much higher than last year?

Alan Pardew will keep expectations in check but will know that the pressure will grow if his side get off to a slow start.

The Magpies star strikers Demba Ba and Papess Cisse will no doubt be a handful for Tottenham, but Spurs are more than capable of handling whatever Newcastle throws at them. If Andre Villas-Boas can rekindle the magic that he created at Porto, and forget the nightmare of Stamford Bridge, then Tottenham will be very hopeful of a top four finish. The addition of Jan Vertonghen into defence will be a direct replacement for the retired Ledley King.

Both sides will want to impress their fans and attack is going to prevail over defence. At times this season both teams might initiate the ‘we will score one more than you’ tactic. Expect goals.

Prediction: 2-3

Wigan Athletic v Chelsea

A changing of the (old) guard appears to be happening at Chelsea and there is a good vibe coming from Stamford Bridge. However Roberto Di Matteo is faced with a very different task this year than when he took over last year. The Premier League trophy is top of Roman Abarmovichs’ shopping list and this expectation could be too much for the Chelsea manager.

Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin strengthen the Chelsea side and will change the way that Chelsea play. However a lot relies on how Fernando Torres fills the very big shoes left by Didier Drogba, as besides Torres Chelsea do not have anyone to lead the front line.

Chelsea will finish in the top-four regardless of how Torres plays but they are still a long way from challenging for the Premier League again.

Wigan have made a couple of shrewd signings, none more so than Ivan Ramis from Real Mallorca, but I cannot seen them carrying on from their spectacular end to last season that guided them to safety.

They will no doubt be in the bottom 8 for much of the next 9 months but I think they will be safe before the final day.

Prediction: 1-3

Manchester City v Southampton

The defending champions have started their title defence in the perfect way by clinching the Community Shield with a 3-2 win over Chelsea.

City welcome newcomers Southampton and could not have asked for a better way to open the new season. Jack Rodwell is the only signing of the summer but City still have a stronger side then all of their rivals, but winning the league back-to-back can be a big ask.

The Citizens won 19 and drew 1 of their 19 home Premier League games last season and should have no problems getting off to a winning start here too.

However I do not expect them to manager a repeat of that amazing home record because everyone wants to beat you that little bit more when you are champions.

In contrast, Southampton will be in a survival battle from the first whistle and their biggest worry will be where their goals are going to come from. They will be a bottom eight club and they cannot rely on Rickie Lambert to do all the work.

A few more signings are needed if they can realistically hope to stay up.

Prediction: 4-0

Everton v Manchester United

United have signed Robin Van Persie and Nemanja Vidic is back to full fitness. This means straight away that they are much stronger than they were this time last year. And that year they only lost their title on goal difference.

Phil Jones and Chris Smalling both have another year of Premier League experience under their belts and will only get better over the next 9 months. Ferguson has to be careful as to how many more times he can keep asking Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes to roll back the years.

United will challenge City and it could come down to who comes out with more points when they play each other. United will look for the positives; City will find things harder as champions – people want to beat you. Also they have Sir Alex Ferguson who is driven on even more when things don’t go his way. He will once again drill this into his players.

Whenever United have finished second in the Premier League, they have always come back the next year and won it. Again there is a reason for that and it is the manager. This could be a big factor in what colour Manchester will be painted come May.

United will need to shake off the label of slow starters as they know they have to keep City in their sights. You can’t win the league before Christmas but you can lose it.

Prediction: 0-1