Arsenal struggles to scoreless draw
Arsenal started life after Robin van Persie with a frustrating goalless draw against Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium.
Van Persie -- whose 30 goals had dragged the Gunners into third place last season -- completed a 24-million-pound ($37.66 million) move to Manchester United on Friday, having made it clear earlier in the summer he would not be signing a new deal.
Arsene Wenger's side, boasting summer signings Lukas Podolski, the German striker, and impressive Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla in the starting XI, enjoyed plenty of possession but lacked a killer instinct in the final third.
The Arsenal manager, however, rejected suggestions van Persie would have won the game for the Gunners.
"You can never check that. We have played some draws at home with van Persie, we have lost some games with van Persie as well," Wenger said. "However, it is true that last year in every game he found something special.
"I never denied that we lost a world-class player, that is very difficult to replace."
When a clear opening eventually came their way late in the second half, substitute Olivier Giroud, who netted 21 goals for Montpellier last season, fired wide.
While there were plenty of positives to take from the work-rate of his side, Wenger will know there must be an improvement in conversion rate if Arsenal is to challenge over the course of the season.
"We played with a good spirit, were serious and we put the effort in, but we lack sharpness and fluency at the moment to be dangerous in the final third," said Wenger. "The few chances we had, we could not convert them."
New skipper Thomas Vermaelen received a warm welcome from the returning Arsenal faithful, along with summer signings Cazorla and Podolski in the starting lineup.
It was a lively start by the hosts, but Sunderland remained dangerous on the counter through Stephane Sessegnon.
Spain international Cazorla, signed from Malaga, almost made himself an instant hero when he charged forward and unleashed a 20-yard effort that Black Cats keeper Simon Mignolet beat away.
"It is difficult not to be pleased with (Cazorla) because he played on Wednesday night, the whole game (for Spain) in Puerto Rico," Wenger said. "All the chances were created by him, basically."
Sunderland created another decent opening when the ball was worked to Jack Colback at the edge of the Arsenal area, but his low effort was straight at the keeper.
Gervinho skipped away down the left and rode a couple of tackles before cutting the ball back across goal, only for Cazorla to drill it wide.
Arsenal continued to press Sunderland deeper as Abou Diaby's low, 20-yard effort was touched around the post.
The visitors, however, set up with two banks of four and were hard to break down.
"Sunderland defended very well for the whole game, and we lacked something -- sharpness, also quality and accuracy in the final pass," Wenger said.
Sunderland also looked to get forward, with the best success again coming down the left flank though Sessegnon.
Arsenal finally pulled some passes together as Theo Walcott was played into the right and his cutback to the near post was hacked behind before Podolski could get there.
The second half opened with the same pattern, as the hosts were left frustrated by some stern defending as much as their own poor choice of final pass.
On 57 minutes, Kieran Richardson upended Walcott some 25 yards out. Podolski took the free-kick, but the German's effort flew just over.
As the hour mark passed, Sessegnon was replaced by Louis Saha, signed on a free transfer after he left Tottenham.
The Gunners also made a change when Giroud came on for his debut for Podolski.
Wenger then aimed to inject some fresh ideas into midfield as Wales captain Aaron Ramsey -- part of the Great Britain Olympic squad this summer -- came on for the hard-working Diaby.
"The formula didn't work with three strikers up front and we were not well balanced, we did not create enough because they blocked our midfield," Wenger said.
Sunderland continued to sit back, but Arsenal failed to make the most of their possession heading into the final 15 minutes, when Walcott was replaced by Andrey Arshavin, the Russian whose future remains uncertain following a loan spell at former club Zenit St Petersburg last season.
With nine minutes left, Cazorla played in Giroud, but the French striker, so clinical in Ligue 1 last season, fired wide from 10 yards.
Arsenal pressed in search of a winner during four minutes of stoppage time, but had to be content with just a point -- which was greeted by boos from some home supporters.
For Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill, it was a point earned on the back of what had been an energy-sapping display in sweltering temperatures.
"We were very tired from about 65 minutes onwards, but that game will bring us on immensely," said O'Neill, who hopes to bring in some more new players ahead of the transfer deadline. "We have not been able to get our squad up to strength and I knew coming here was going to be difficult. We ran out of energy towards the end and we hanging on, but at least we are off the mark."
Information from Press Association was used in this report.