Impact of Bale and Ozil on their new teams among factors to consider
All eyes will be on Ozil this weekend, but Sunderland will not make life easy for Arsenal
The first international break of the new season is unfortunately timed for followers of the English Premier League and Europe's other top divisions. Just when the form is becoming established after the opening handful of games, the club scene is put on hold and everyone goes almost back to square one.
On top of that, the closure of the transfer window on September 2 means there are significant new factors for punters to weigh up. The impact of Gareth Bale and Mesut Ozil, at Real Madrid and Arsenal respectively, will be keenly anticipated, while other clubs have to deal with the fallout from missed opportunities. How, for instance, will Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye mend the bridges he seemed so intent on burning in his efforts to force a move that never happened?
Ozil, the assists king of European football, is one of the most exciting arrivals ever in the Premier League, and not simply because of his £42.4 million (HK$520 million) price tag. The German midfielder spent three seasons at Real Madrid and in that time only Lionel Messi could match him for assists in the big European leagues. Last season he had 13 assists in La Liga, as well as nine goals, and he created 92 chances, at a faster rate than any other player in the top leagues.
The doubters will point out Ozil was in a top-class team at Real Madrid, who scored 103 league goals last season. That means Ozil scored or assisted in 21 per cent of their goals, which is an impressive figure but not as good as his new Arsenal teammate Santi Cazorla, who scored or assisted in 32 per cent of the Gunners' goals last season.
Ozil, however, has shone wherever he has played. In his final season at Werder Bremen before his move to Madrid, at the age of 21, Ozil's figures were strikingly similar to last season's - 12 assists and nine goals - and that meant he scored or assisted in 30 per cent of Werder's goals. For Germany he has six goals and seven assists in eight competitive games in the past year.
A more legitimate question mark over Ozil - although it hardly seems fair considering he has yet to kick a ball in English football - is whether he has the physicality to stamp his class on the Premier League. Arsene Wenger clearly has no doubts, but Ozil is more slightly built than Cazorla and the stats suggest his impact in terms of assists is greatest when the game is won or virtually won. A relatively small number of his assists produce the opening goal.
Ozil is likely to face a physical test when Arsenal go to Sunderland tonight. On paper it looks an easy game for Arsenal, with Sunderland having started poorly, but the situation will appeal to the fighting spirit of Sunderland boss Paolo di Canio and the home fans.
Struggling teams don't go on losing forever and it is worth remembering that, as bad as Sunderland were last season, they had home victories over Manchester City and Everton from the top six. Arsenal haven't relished their trips to the Stadium of Light since Sunderland rejoined the Premier League in 2007, with only three wins in seven visits.
On the plus side for Arsenal is that they have won nine and drawn one of their last 10 games away to teams from outside last season's top six, although it is worth noting that seven of those 10 games had under 2.5 goals and their favourite winning scoreline has been 1-0 (five times). Statistics more associated with George Graham than Wenger.
Under 2.5 goals and a 1-0 win look the best ways to play, with Arsenal looking too short for the straight win.
Another standout goals stat for today's games is that all seven of Manchester City's visits to the Britannia stadium since Stoke's promotion have had under 2.5 goals. The big question is whether the summer's managerial changes at both clubs will have any influence, but at the odds under 2.5 goals looks a decent bet.
It won't be much longer before the form settles down, but at the moment it is difficult to find solid bets in the Premier League and it would not be a surprise if one or two of the big clubs were turned over this weekend.
Two bets to consider are Hull on the handicap at home to fellow new boys Cardiff and Fulham at home to West Brom, who are goalless as well as being rock bottom.
Fulham, Hull, Watford, Peterborough, Crawley, Leyton Orient, Athletic Bilbao, Udinese.
10pm unless otherwise stated: Manchester United v Crystal Palace (7.45pm), Aston Villa v Newcastle United, Fulham v West Bromwich Albion, Hull City v Cardiff City, Stoke City v Manchester City, Sunderland v Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur v Norwich City, Everton v Chelsea (12.30am Sun)
Southampton v West Ham (11pm)
Swansea City v Liverpool (3am Tue)
1 Hull on handicap Home advantage gives them the edge over Cardiff
2 Watford home win Easier task than in recent games
3 Crawley home winThe riskiest bet but have the scoring power
4 Leyton Orient home win League One leaders show no sign of stopping
5 Udinese home win Going for sixth straight home win in Serie A