Arsenal and City thrown tough starts – United given West Brom

Gunners could pay the price of having to qualify for the Champions League / European fixtures will test Mancini's men
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The Independent Football

Arsenal's increasingly desperate quest for silverware has tended to fall away in the spring in recent seasons.

Click here to download PDF: Premier League Fixtures 2011- 2012

Click here to download PDF: Championship Fixtures 2011-12

This campaign it could be faltering before September unless Arsène Wenger's team hit the ground sprinting. That is one of two key observations to be drawn from the Premier League fixture list released yesterday.

The other is that any reservations Roberto Mancini has about the difficulty of Manchester City challenging for honours on twin fronts are likely to have been magnified.

As Wenger feared, Arsenal's failure to finish in the Premier League's top three, and so win an automatic Champions League qualifying berth, has given their August fixtures a daunting hue. They read Newcastle (away); Champions League qualifier, first leg (potentially involving a trip to Russia or Ukraine); Liverpool (home); Champions League qualifier, second leg; Manchester United (away). All in the space of 16 days (assuming the last fixture attracts the cameras).

It is a demanding schedule for a team which Wenger is seeking to retool significantly, and which this season will not have the benefit of a pre-season training camp after Wenger was persuaded to abandon his traditional Austrian base for a more lucrative tour of the Far East.

However, should Arsenal survive August with their ambitions intact, their fixture list settles down. During the Champions League group stages they have an even balance of home and away domestic fixtures, before and after each European tie.

Not so Mancini's team. The Italian is sure to be condemning a fixture list that commits City to away Premier League ties after all six group matches. And being lowly seeds their European fixtures, like Tottenham's last season, will not be the comfortable stroll Manchester United usually enjoy. Among their post-Europe fixtures are three visits to London, including Stamford Bridge, plus matches at Old Trafford and Anfield. If City are still in Europe, and in domestic title contention come Christmas, Mancini and his medical staff will have done remarkably well.

Incidentally, as the Mancunian rivals are "paired" for policing reasons, United enjoy six post-European home matches, though doubtless Sir Alex Ferguson will moan that every Champions League fixture is preceded by an away match, though only the October week which sandwiches a European tie between Liverpool (away) and Manchester City (home) looks problematic.

United start their title defence at The Hawthorns, which was one of their trickier fixtures last season, United winning only because West Bromwich missed a penalty, and Gary Neville avoided an obvious red card.

Manchester City host promoted Swansea, who definitely have the most attractive – and difficult – opening match of the promoted clubs; Norwich are at Wigan, QPR host Bolton. There will be new managers in both dugouts at Craven Cottage, where Martin Jol's Fulham face Alex McLeish's Aston Villa. The latter may be grateful for an away debut, and a winnable first home match against Blackburn a week later.

Chelsea go to Stoke, Everton to Spurs, Wolves to Blackburn and Sunderland to Liverpool, which means the latter's new £20m signing, Jordan Henderson, could face his former club. Sunderland host the first big derby the next weekend as Newcastle go to Wearside.

In the Championship, which begins a week earlier, relegated West Ham United start at home to Cardiff City, who will also be under new management. Hammers owner David Gold immediately tweeted he was "looking forward to it". Steve McClaren's first match with Nottingham Forest is at home to Barnsley. Brighton open their new ground against Doncaster Rovers, poignantly the last visitors to their old Goldstone Ground 14 years ago.

Uwe Rösler's first match in League One in charge of Brentford is at home to Yeovil. Another surprising management choice, Danny Wilson, faces his first Sheffield derby as a United man on 15 October, when Wednesday, whom he played for and managed, visit Bramall Lane. It will be the first Steel City derby at this level since 1979-80, the season 49,309 watched Wednesday's Terry Curran lead the 4-0 "Boxing Day massacre" at Hillsborough.

In League Two, Conference champions Crawley travel to Port Vale. Fellow newcomers AFC Wimbledon host Bristol Rovers.

Other Key Fixtures

England

Wed 10 Aug: Netherlands (h) (friendly)

Fri 2 Sep: Bulgaria (a) (Euro 2012 qual)

Tue 6 Sep: Wales (h) (Euro 2012 q)

Fri 7 Oct: Montenegro (a) (Euro 2012 q)

Club

13/14 Sep: Champions League Group Stage Begins

Sun 26 Feb: Carling Cup final (Wembley)

Wed 9 May: Europa League final (Bucharest)

5 May: FA Cup final (Wembley)

Sat 19 May: Champs Lge final (Munich)

Fri 8 June: Euro 2012 starts

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