Warning: apc_store(): Potential cache slam averted for key 'w3tc_blogs.thescore.com_object_9ee1addf54ad00867451ed4d367f2c40' in /opt/blogs/wp-content/plugins/w3-total-cache/lib/W3/Cache/Apc.php on line 41 Tea & Toast — August 18th matchday primer | Counter Attack | Blogs | theScore.com

Excitement. Dread. Lowered expectations. Title aspirations. Avoiding relegation.

It’s not a long off-season, but even with the European Championships and Olympics to tide us over, the start of the club football season couldn’t have come soon enough. Well it’s here. Put on your kit, head to the bar and scream at each other.

Arsenal – Sunderland | 10:00 am | Emirates Stadium | RDS2, TSN2

Injury concerns: Theo Walcott (thigh), Stéphane Sessègnon (ankle)

Not available – Arsenal: Koscielny, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sagna, Frimpong and Wilshere. Sunderland: Vaughan, Bardsley and Brown.

What to watch: Once again the football world looks at Arsenal in confusion after a promising transfer period went off the rails this week. Lukas Podolski will not be afforded time to find his way – the Gunners will need him and fellow new boy Olivier Giroud to score and do so often. Sunderland supporters are understandably antsy after a dry transfer window that saw the arrivals of Carlos Cuéllar and Louis Saha. Martin O’Neil has asked for trust as the manager and Wolves continue to haggle over Steven Fletcher.

Super stat: Sunderland have not won at Arsenal in any competition since May 1983.

Fulham – Norwich City | 10:00 am | Craven Cottage | Sportsnet

Injury concerns: Simon Davies (neck), Aaron Hughes (ankle), Wes Hoolahan (Achilles),  Anthony Pilkington (hamstring)

Not available – Fulham: Frei, Senderos, Grygera and Dempsey. Norwich City: Butterfield, Fox, Ward, Garrido and Whittaker.

What to watch: Martin Jol’s squad will have to overcome the absence of their best player in a game they should (and need to) win. Clint Dempsey awaits a transfer to a Champions League club – if Deuce is relying on Liverpool he may be in trouble. Jol has put his faith in new signings Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega to fill the void. Chris Houghton’s side will be in tough if Hoolahan and Pilkington cannot play today. The question everyone wants the answer to (a slight exaggeration): Can Grant Holt continue to play ugly, brutish yet successful football.

Super Stat: Fulham were the only club in the premiership last season to not have a player sent off.

West Brom – Liverpool | 10:00 am | The Hawthorns | Sportsnet World

Injury concerns: Steve Morrison (ankle), Jonas Olsson (thigh), Marcus Rosenberg (match fitness), Joe Cole (hamstring)

Not available – West Brom: Dorrans (personal reasons). Liverpool: None

What to watch: New bosses, new players and a bit of beef. Steve Clarke claims Liverpool fired him, Brendan Rodgers says he wanted Clarke to stay on. Liverpool has an incredibly difficult start to the season – playing City, Arsenal and United in their first three home games. A road victory at the Hawthorns would be just the start Rodgers is looking for. Hopefully – for neutrals at least – we’ll get see Joe Allen and Fabio Borini in action today.

Super Stat: The Hawthorns saw more goals scored in the opening 15 minutes than any other Premier League stadium in 2011-12 (11).

West Ham – Aston Villa | 10:00 am | Upton Park | No TV

Injury Concerns: Kevin Nolan (toe)

Not available- West Ham: Morrison. Villa: Delfouneso, Agbonlahor, Albrighton , Dunne and Petrov.

What to watch: The Hammers make their return to the first division – and they brought gifts! By gifts of course I mean the sometimes loveable and always surly Sam Allardyce. The Hammers manager wont have new signings Modibo Maïga and Alou Diarra in the starting lineup due to lack of match fitness. What a difference a year makes for Aston Villa. People seem to actually like  Paul Lambert – after the Alex McLeish fiasco that’s an excellent start.

Super Stat: Villa conceded the highest percentage of goals from set pieces in the 2011-12 Premier League (47.2%).

QPR – Swansea City | 10:00 am | Loftus Road | No TV

Injury concerns: Samba Diakité (knee), Alejandro Faurlín (match fitness), Jamie Mackie (calf), Bobby Zamora (knee), Garry Monk (back), Scott Sinclair (unsettled)

Not available – QPR: Traoré and Bosingwa. Swansea: None.

What to watch: Swansea were the surprise team last season, playing the sort of attacking football that everyone could love. Though Brendan Rodgers is gone, expect the same sort of style under new manager Michael Laudrup. The Danish legend reads his press apparently – hitting out at critics who have pegged Swansea to be relegated. Scott Sinclair had an excellent Olympics for Team GB, hopefully he’s fit to play.

Super Stat: Swansea have never won away at QPR in any competition, losing 10 and drawing nine.

Reading – Stoke City | 10:00 am | Madejski Stadium | No TV

Injury concerns: Jem Karacan (broken leg), Robert Huth (meningitis), Jermaine Pennant (thigh)

Not available – Reading: Kébé and Roberts. Stoke City: Cameron

What to watch: Wish I could be at Madejski Stadium today. Site of the awesome pitch invasion after Reading won promotion to the top flight, the place will surely be rocking for the side’s first priemer league game in four years. Still not sure whether Jem Karacan will play, there’s talk of putting a “seal” on his broken leg. That sounds incredibly painful.

Super Stat: Reading have scored a penalty in each of their last three games against Stoke in all competitions.

Newcastle – Tottenham | 12:30 pm | Sports Direct Arena | Sportsnet One

Injury concerns: Hatem Ben Arfa (knee), Yohan Cabaye (match fitness), Papiss Cissé (hamstring), Demba Ba (calf), Gomes (ankle).

Not available – Newcastle: None. Tottenham: Parker and Giovani Dos Santos

What to watch: Surely this is the MOTD. Alan Pardew’s injury sheet resembles that of an all star team. Pardew’s ability to manage his roster will be huge as the season wears on. This is a club with champions league talent, but whether they have the depth required remains to be seen. Highly regarded arrivals Jan Vertonghen and Gylfi Sigurdsson will make their debut for Spurs while Luka Modric waits at Heathrow, presumably eating funyuns.

Super Stat: Danny Simpson  made more clearances off the line than any other player in the 2011-12 Premier League (6).

Stats via Opta Sports