Here we are once again. After being the given summer off, The Durham Times once again came a-calling for more SAFC opinion - which we were obviously happy to provide them with for this season again.
We're delighted to have our own column in one of the North East's best newspapers, so the least you can do in return is head on over to the Durham Times website and check out all their great articles on a daily basis by heading here - www.durhamtimes.co.uk
The paper comes out every Friday, which is why this article might seem slightly out of date, but that's your own fault. You should have bought it and helped keep the incredibly valuable local press in business, and giving them a platform to provide insight on Sunderland AFC.
Without further ado though, here's our first column of the season for them. Enjoy!
Preseason is often an anxious time during the most active of transfer windows, but conflate poor performances - the lack of goals are of far more concern than the four defeats - with the nails-on-a-chalkboard pursuit of Steven Fletcher, and the trip to the Emirates to face an Arsenal side refreshed by new additions looks far more desirable than a weekend consisting of more transfer sound bites.
As much as Fletcher seems, for all intents and purposes, like the ideal fit, the three-month courtship of one man has left every Sunderland fan on a carousel; viewpoints and the merits of Fletcher's efforts in a team that was relegated last season have gone full circle. The only constant is that he, as yet, is not on Wearside. Each twist and turn has been played out in the media by Jez Moxey, Wolverhampton Wanderers' chief executive officer, to such an extent that facing the Gunners without a striker of the calibre desired by Martin O'Neill has actually become an attractive proposition. It has got to a point now where football, even the real possibility of an opening day defeat, is an escape from the Fletcher-watching that has stopped us doing our day jobs.
As frustrating as the transfer window has been for Sunderland, it is not alone; Mathieu Debuchy remains in transfer purgatory, whilst Manchester United, although adding Shinji Kagawa, extended its unwanted run of missing out on its top targets as Eden Hazard joined Chelsea. Whereas the first-one-to-flinch aspect of trying to sign Fletcher is becoming insufferable, there is almost inevitability about the deal which is consoling whenever Moxey brings forth another formal statement. Yet, it would seem that all intentions have been focussed on one area - admittedly the most pressing area for improvement. O'Neill last week intimated that there would be ‘more [new recruits] than people expected' which, if to be believed, makes a refreshing change from the grind of luring Fletcher to the Stadium of Light as the others are not only being played out in the media, but as yet have seldom been mentioned. Traditionally, new signings were ready to go by the first game of the season but another idiosyncrasy of modern football is that September 1 - rather than the first weekend of August - is the time to judge your squad, one that appears weaker than O'Neill inherited due to the lack of an experienced front man.
As much as Nicklas Bendtner was more spoon than spearhead, he still contributed more than what Sunderland have laboured through pre-season with. A tricky opening six games confront O'Neill and after that awaits Manchester City and the Tyne-Wear derby. Due to the nature of this transfer window thus far, new arrivals are going to have to settle in Darren Bent-style. Facing Sunderland this weekend is a team that has managed to acquire not one but two forwards - and that is before Robin Van Persie's fate is sealed. Enviable eyes will look towards the Arsenal line-up and bemoan our own centre-forward fate at present, but the Black Cats have only suffered one opening day defeat since its return to the Premier League - not to mention Sunderland has actually taken far worse teams to the Emirates than the one that will be named this weekend and almost won.
On Saturday, the worries, the will-he-won't-he's and the who-do-we-play-up-front's will be put on hold as football wrestles back the tiara and takes centre stage. The rational concerns of an off-season that has frustrated all - including the manager - are replaced by the nation's favourite escape.