O'Neill previews curtain-raiser

by Stuart Vose

Boss casts eye over season's first game.

Martin O'Neill says Sunderland will open the 2012-13 season against a new-look Arsenal side he considers amongst the league's most formidable.

The Gunners have been busy in the transfer market over the summer, with manager Arsene Wenger presiding over a busy close-season period.

Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla have all arrived at the Emirates Stadium, bolstering a Gunners outfit who finished third in the Barclays Premier League last time around. 

The players have stepped up to the mark before and it's up to them to do it again

- Martin O'Neill

"Arsenal are a fine side," O'Neill said ahead of his first trip to the Emirates as Sunderland manager.

"They've added two or three quality players to the squad, so they mean business again, but they've meant business for the last 15 years.

"They have really good players and quality all over the field, so it will be a real battle for us."

The Northern Irishman also believes the Gunners are capable of making a quick start to the season this time having begun the campaign slowly in 2011-12.

"If you asked me if they were in transition a little while back I probably would have thought that, but you're talking about real quality players who can settle in immediately," he said.

"I don't think they would have spent the type of money they have done without looking at results immediately."

But O'Neill's focus remains on his own side as he sets out on his first full season in charge on Wearside.

And he's confident his group of players can make a good start to the campaign and go on to build on the progress made last time around.

"I might be going over old ground, but I really felt that last season the players were up for the challenge from day one and some of the results we were able to pull off were magnificent," he said.

"It's up to us to improve, and in order to do that there's two things.

"One, improve the quality of the squad by getting some quality players and also for the players who are here to improve.

"They stepped up to the mark once and they have to do it again."