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Which games should you be watching?

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The 2012-13 Barclays Premier League begins this weekend. Are you ready?
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Rob Stone

A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter.

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The 2012-13 Barclay’s Premier League season kicks off Saturday, and odds are it will once again come down to Survival Sunday. There are plenty of exciting match-ups on display in the opening weekend, but here is where you should be focusing your attention.

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Arsenal vs. Sunderland, Emirates

The Gunners begin the season without their shining star from last year’s campaign. Captain Robin van Persie has been sold to rivals Manchester United in a long-awaited transfer. Is this a good move for Arsenal?

Well, where would they have been last season without RVP? Certainly not third place. Have they spent some money this season? Yes. But some of their recent moves, particularly on the offensive side, have failed to make the desired impact. I like Lukas Podolski, he’s had great success with the German national team, but the pressure that’s going to be put on him to essentially fill the RVP-sized void is unfair to put on any new BPL player. If I’m an Arsenal fan, I am eagerly looking forward to letting “The Ox” run all season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, to me, is a guy who is going to have to become more of a focal point for Arsenal if they’re going to have any shot of getting back into the top three.

Yes, ridding themselves of RVP has freed money up for Arsenal, but who do you pursue to fill that huge void in the goal scoring department? From all I’ve heard, Clint Dempsey is a logical pick: he wants to stay in London and go to a bigger Champions League club. It seems like it might be a nice fit with the Gunners, but clearly they have to do something NOW to address where they are offensively, because their depth chart up top is wafer thin.

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Everton vs. Manchester United, Goodison Park

Manchester United lost the title last season because they did not score enough goals—plain and simple. City outscored them, beating them on the goal differential, thereby winning their first premiership title.

So what did Manchester United do about it? They responded by doing what any club in the world would have loved to have done: they snagged Robin van Persie, the hottest ticket on the transfer market. So now, you have the top two goals scorers from the BPL last season together in a lineup—a scary scenario for any opposing defense.

If anybody doubted Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson's desire to continue winning titles, and questioned if they were still amenable to dropping huge sums of coin to fix a hole, all you need to do is look at the actions of Wednesday, August 15th. And you know United is back for real.

On the other hand, if you’re an Everton fan, looking ahead to Monday’s match, you’re probably saying to yourself, “It’s a good thing Tim Howard had a surreal evening at Azteca, because odds are he’s going to need another one.” The American goalkeeper will have the unenviable task of trying to keep the Rooney-RVP combo (can someone help me give them a nickname?) off the board. That being said, if there’s any keeper in the BPL that can do it, I think it is Howard and his athleticism.

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Manchester City vs. Southampton, Etihad Stadium, FOX Soccer, Sunday, 10:30 AM ET

As much as fans on the Blue side of Manchester may want to continue the celebration from their historic title last season, they’ve got to be a little down going into the campaign. Roberto Mancini is already lamenting that his club isn’t going out and spending, making those necessary positive moves. I think they’re in great shape with Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko in the goal-scoring department. I’m especially curious to see what Balotelli can do this campaign.

We’ve ridden the “Why Always Me?” player hard, and deservedly so. He continues to show both sides of his talent, pro and con. I expect real positive things from him this season, and a major maturation step for him. However, if that doesn’t happen, I think the Balotelli time in Manchester will be limited.

Despite a lack of off-season moves, a satisfactory result for City on Sunday could erase the early jitters amongst fans and even Mancini himself. But should the Citizens struggle with newly-promoted Southampton, expect Roberto to storm the owner’s box and demand that the wallet gets opened.

Clearly they are in the title conversation, but I think the RVP signing has relegated them to a top three spot, rather than the “team to beat” label.

West Brom vs. Liverpool, The Hawthorns, FOX Soccer, Saturday, 10 AM ET

This is an opening match-up featuring two new bosses with two different goals.

Brendan Rodgers faces a difficult task with Liverpool: play with the big boys, just don’t spend like them. Last year they dropped plenty of coin, but the moves didn’t sufficiently pay off. Now you’re seeing guys leave Liverpool at a rapid rate. The Reds have picked up Fabio Borini, who is definitely a nice acquisition, and again the talk of Clint Dempsey is still swirling as the Fulham star has yet to make a move.

For West Brom, they were perfectly placed in the middle of the pack, and new boss Steve Clark looks like he has the tools to keep them there, at worst. One thing to remember going into Saturday’s match: Clark’s ties—he was Kenny Dalglish’s old number one at Liverpool—I’m sure an opening win over the Reds would go a long way to a positive campaign for West Brom.

Wigan vs. Chelsea, The DW Stadium, FOX Soccer, Sunday, 8:30 AM ET

These two clubs’ managers, Roberto Martinez and Roberto Di Matteo, are already under the microscope.

The big questions: will Martinez rue his decision to return to Wigan with so much interest in him from other clubs, in particular Liverpool? And will Di Matteo’s magical run be able to continue in the early stages of this Premiership campaign?

We’ve all seen how quick Roman Abramovich’s trigger finger is, and I would imagine he wouldn’t hesitate to pull the plug on Di Matteo if his success doesn’t continue immediately. For me, the daunting task for Chelsea is whether Fernando Torres has enough to fill most of the void left by Didier Drogba's departure for Shanghai Shenhua in China.

And while we weren’t on the subject…

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The US men’s national team did the unimaginable and nearly impossible Wednesday night: beating Mexico at the famed Azteca.

I’ve re-watched the last 10 minutes a few times already, and I still get the goose bumps and a rush of adrenaline and pride watching the goal and Howard’s big saves.

However, I walked away from this not as exuberant as I felt I should be for the US team. Yes, the first win in 75 years at Azteca is massive, and versus their biggest rivals, who by all accounts were widening the gap between the two. But it was a win where the US was dominated. Mexico knows they should have had two or more goals, and the US possession and creativity was minimal. So I’m reluctant to be doing cartwheels right now—while certainly still enjoying it.

A lot of US fans have been alarmed by what is a perceived to be a weak talent pool underneath the established stars. Well guess what? We saw what Brek Shea, Terrence Boyd and Geoff Cameron (Stoke City has to be stoked after the performance the newly-signed Cameron put on) did in the Azteca. These are young guys with immature international careers——and for me that says the future still has some positive forces going forward for the US.

You can always ask me a question via my Twitter account @RobStoneonFOX using the hash tag #askStone. Each week I’ll pick a few and we’ll give you a shout-out right here. Enjoy the game this week and I’ll see you right here on FOX Soccer this weekend!

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