Greetings and salutations fellow Gooners and Goonerettes, and a warm round of indifference to fans of other teams. At long last, the international break has ended and we can get back to real football.

Before I begin, this blog is about Arsenal, the English Premier League and European CLUB football. This is neither a FIFA blog, nor a France blog, nor an Ireland blog, so I will not be responding to any comments on those topics. I will state for the record that Henry cheated, I still love him because of all he did for Arsenal, and the blowup over this whole thing has been reactionary and out of proportion. This is another glaring example that video review is long overdue. Finally, if you are a fan of both Arsenal and Ireland, you have my condolences, but let's move on. This has NOTHING TO DO with what Henry did with Arsenal, and letting this cloud your memories of him as a Gooner legend is the height of foolishness. So fuck FIFA, fuck France, fuck Ireland, Fuck Platini and Blatter. I'm an American, but I bleed the red and white. Chelsea can have the blue, and fuck them too. If you want to read a more thoughtful account of this whole debacle from an Irish Arsenal fan, I direct you to Arseblog's post from yesterday.

Ok, now that all that's out of the way, Arsenal, as you've all heard by now, come back from this particular international break stung even worse by the everpresent injury bug than is even usual for us. A tackle in the box on Robin van Persie by Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini, which would have been considered harsh-but-fair in any real competition, caused a rather severe ankle injury for RVP. When I say "real competition," I mean just that. This was a MEANINGLESS FRIENDLY between Holland and Italy, two teams that had already qualified for the World Cup. Now, that this match was completely unnecessary is beside my point. When the term "friendly" is used to describe a match, shouldn't this be treated as an exhibition?

The outcome of this match had zero bearing on Anything. The participants in said exhibition should conduct themselves accordingly, should they not? To what end do Chiellini and Italy truly benefit by making a semi-rash challenge and thereby denying a goal? Were the goal scored, would the player or the Italian FA lose face, and if so, does that justify the outcome? I just can't see the logic behind playing an exhibition match with the same intensity as one would a competitive fixture. There is no discernible benefit from winning or losing such a match, yet the risks (injury, suspension, fatigue) are all entirely the same. Perhaps it is a matter of perception; therefore, I will henceforth no longer use "Friendly" to descibe these shitshows. I will only use the term "Exhibition." I implore you all to do the same.

So Robin van Persie, who has been on the form of his LIFE for Arsenal this season, especially lately, will miss out for at least six weeks. I can realistically hope for him to be back shortly after christmas, which would certainly prove to be a wonderful gift. But in the short-term, we are left a bit thin up front, with Bendtner already injured, and I assume having his meat-and-veggies nursed back to health by his hot-ass royal cougar girlfriend, Baroness Caroline Luel-Brockdorff.

Also, Carlos Vela is either hurt or has given up football to pursue a career as Zorro. The good news in that area of the pitch is that THEEEEEOOOOOOO is back and will be included in the sqaud this weekend for Sunderland away. I wouldn't expect him to start, but I could certainly see him coming on in the second half to terrorize a tired Sunderland defense with his pace, and build up some match fitness for Chelsea next weekend.

At the back, Arsenal look to have a few more troubles. Kieran Gibbs, who has deputized quite well for the injured Gael Clichy, picked up what appeared to be a broken metatarsal bone in his foot while on international duty. You may remember this is the same injury that RVP suffered three seasons ago against Manchester United that kept him out from January through the rest of the season. On a positive note, x-rays showed this to be merely a bad bruise on Gibbsy's foot, so he should be back later this month. In the short-term, however, Arsenal have three matches in the next 9 days, so Arsene is left to choose from among our few uninjured players to play left fullback. The most likely candidates are Silvestre and Armand Traore. Based on history, expect the more experienced Silvestre to get the start, despite Traore having by far the more pace and physical ability. Also, don't be surprised if Eboue and Senderos "Phil-in" for Sagna and Gallas, who played 120 minutes for France on Wednesday (am I still talking internationals? JEEBUS!).

In midfield, we can welcome back Denilson and his terrifying alter-ego, The Shadow, about whom a major motion picture is currently in the works.

I would expect to see Arsene trot out a starting XI of Almunia; Eboue, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre; Song, Fabregas, Ramsey; Arshavin, Eduardo, Nasri. Perhaps not the strongest Arsenal side we've seen this season, but certainly capable of winning. I'm anxious to see what Eduardo can do given a run in the central stiker role. He's shown before how good a goalscorer he can be, and hopefully he's fit enough to display that fantastic form once again. We all know what Eddie's capable of when he's on form:

Plenty of other action in the league going on this weekend as we return to real football. Let's have a look at what's on tap:

Liverpool v Man City
Liverpool 2-2 Man City
Neither of these teams was on great form leading up to the break, so the trendy picks for winning the league and cracking the top-4, respectively, don't look so trendy right now. I'd pick City to win, but the Scousers are at home with their "famous atmosphere" *dismissive wanking motion*, and City can't seem to beat anybody. Additionally, Ade has apparently reverted to form, loping around lazily and missing golden opportunities in front of goal. You were warned, powder blue ball-sniffers.

Birmingham v Fulham
Brum 1-1 Fulham
Birmingham play better at home, but still have trouble scoring. Fulham also have trouble scoring. Frankly, I think predicting two goals in total for this match might be a bit hopeful.

Burnley v Aston Villa
Burnley 1-3 Villa
Villa have quietly put together another nice season. Meanwhile, Gareth Barry is getting paid more than he's worth. Poor Clarets... that's a Premier League dream that's dying. I'd certainly rather keep Burnley and their fans up than get back some crap team like Boro.

Chelsea v Wolves
Chelsea 3-1 Wolves
The Chelsea rentboys should stomp a mudhole in Mick McCarthy's team, at that mudhole they call Stamford Bridge. Hopefully Wolves will at least put up the fight against Chelsea that they did against Arsenal. Actually, seeing as we won by 3 at Molineux, forget I said that.

Hull City v West Ham
Hull 1-2 Hammers
Both of these sides are scrapping to get out of the relegation zone, and Hull should have the advantage being at home at the KC, but I just hate that orange-fake-tan-having, headset-wearing, Allardyce acolyte Phil Brown far too much to pick them. And Nevadas would be so much to poorer for West Ham's relegation that I have to root against that.

Man Utd v Everton
Man U 2-0 Everton
Everton have proven a real Jeckyll & Hyde team this season. They SHOULD be good enough to qualify for Europa Cup or whatever they're calling it these days. They just aren't. United shouldn't have much of a problem dispatching the Scouser Blue at Old Trafford.

Bolton v Blackburn
Bolton 1-1 Blackburn
Two crummy teams toil for a boring-ass draw. Enjoy this brief collection of Ralph Wiggum moments.

Tottenham v Wigan
Spuds 2-1 Wigan
What do you know, two MORE crummy teams! As shit as sp*rs are, they're at home and Wigan are that much worse. But I don't think Tottenham's stay in the top-4 will go on for much longer.

Stoke City v Portsmouth
Stoke 2-1 Pompey
Tony Pulis will go with his best weapon, Rory Delap's arms. Pompey will counter with their best weapon, uh... hmm... David James? Christ that's sad. The difference is Stoke's 'keeper and erstwhile member of metal band Dethklok, "Toki" Sorensen.

Hull City v Everton
Hull 1-2 Everton
Both these teams double their pleasure (and the misery of the viewing public, for Hull at least) with a second match this week. Everton look to get back on track in another away match. They SHOULD have enough to knock around Hull. And they should do just that. However, now that I wrote that, they'll probably beat United and lose to Hull. Jeckyll and Hyde, man.

Fulham v Blackburn
Fulham 1-0 Blackburn
Fulham are like a poor man's version of Arsenal under George Graham: Low-scoring, defensive, but reasonably successful. I don't see any Michael Thomas moments for them, but Blackburn are pretty terrible, so they ought to win this one.

Arsenal come back from an injury-riddled break to face a well-rested and talented Sunderland team at the Stadium of Light, which has to be one of the coolest names for a stadium that I've ever heard. Sunderland have been very good so far under the management of Steve Bruce, who persuaded the ownership to open the pursestrings again and brought in some talented players like Michael Turner, Lorik Cana, and leading goalscorer Darren Bent, all of whom have contributed this season alongside stalwarts such as Kenwyne Jones, Steed Malbranque, and Stephen Reid. This is a squad that drew with United at Old Trafford a few weeks prior, and could have won if not for a terrible call to send off Kieran Richardson with a second yellow. Sunderland do have the worst disciplinary record in the Premiership this season with 24 yellow cards and 2 reds, and fortunately for Arsenal, while Cana will return from his suspension, Turner and Jones will miss out on their own, meaning that Bent will have to do without his dynamic strike partner. And keep an eye on Jordan Sunderland; the young midfielder has looked awfully good every time I've seen him this season, and he's now getting a run of matches in the first team.

What can we expect? Well it's not ALL reputation when your team has the most bookings, and everyone's favorite tactic when playing Arsenal is to keep kicking them until they fall, so there'll be plenty of that. Arsenal will need to move the football around and keep the Black Cats chasing after it, and will need to play the possession game while relying on the skill of Cesc and others to create chances and put them away. The state of the back four, especially if Gallas misses out due to fatigue (FUCK YOU, RAYMOND DOMENECH!), is cause for concern, meaning that Vermaelen will need to be everywhere at once to make up for it, or try to play along with the similarly aggressive style of Phillipe "Swiss Tony" Senderos. But with Cesc and (hopefully) Ramsey pushing the attack and Song keeping the defense protected, Arsenal ought to have enough to take all three points, but it won't be easy. Remember, in this fixture last season, Arsenal only squeaked out with a point from an injury-time header by Cesc, and that Sunderland team was inferior to this one.

Prediction: Sunderland 1-2 Arsenal.

Before we go, I need to recognize the fantastic play of our own Aaron Ramsey in Wales' 3-0 victory over Scotland over the break. Setting up two goals, he also scored a beauty. And keep an eye out for the typically skillful defensive play by United's Darren Fletcher:

That's all I've got for now. It'll be good to get back into the swing of things and making noise for the Arsenal while knocking back pints, so I hope to see plenty of you out at Nevadas. These are the times that try men's souls. Keep the faith y'all, and as always, you stay classy, Gooner Nation.

- B, a Gooner.