The path on the road to a first Premier League title since 2004 begins at the Emirates Stadium for Arsenal this Sunday as they kick off their campaign by hosting West Ham United.

The Hammers - under new manager Slaven Bilic - undoubtedly harbour less ambitious targets but a shock win could set the tone for an encouraging maiden season for the Croat.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and the Gunners will look to put their best foot forward on Sunday in the long and treacherous trek toward ending 12 years of hurt.

Having followed up their FA Cup success by beating Premier League champions Chelsea in the Community Shield on Sunday, optimism is rife in the red half of North London that Arsene Wenger's side can kick on by winning a first title since his Invincibles went all the way during the 2003-04 campaign.

Wenger's men finished third last season but it was the way in which that they ended the campaign which has given rise to suggestions that better days lie ahead once again.

Indeed, it was a case of what could have been yet again as Arsenal lost just one of their last 14 Premier League games - winning 10 of them. It was arguably title-winning form but a disappointing first half of the campaign meant that those points accumulated simply helped consolidate a top-four spot.

A number of Arsenal players have been forthright in their assessment that they can ill-afford another sloppy start to the campaign if they want to end their barren spell, and Sunday throws up the opportunity for them to put weight behind their words with what they hope will be a routine victory.

Their pre-season outings could hardly have gone better. Five games. Five wins - a run of form that will surely make Wenger less inclined to add any further talent before the September 1 deadline.

Sunday will not tell us whether or not Arsenal will be successful on the long road back to the big time of Premier League titles, but come May, an opening-day victory could prove key to providing the feel-good factor to aid them in their early-season travels.

Recent league form: DWLDDW

Pre-season form: WWWWW

West Ham United

After being knocked out of the Europa League on Thursday, a buoyant Bilic said: "We have a big season ahead of us which starts on Sunday and we are going to be good in the Premier League. I am very confident about that."

Losing on Sunday is unlikely to dampen his enthusiasm, but the Emirates Stadium is the perfect arena for West Ham to justify their manager's confidence by proving themselves to be an opening-day banana skin for the hosts.

Defeat is a possibility - and a likely outcome according to the bookmakers - but there is plenty of reason to be cautious from an Arsenal perspective given that West Ham, under Bilic, remain something of an unknown quantity.

Consequently, it is difficult to gauge how the East Londoners will fare throughout the season but the 46-year-old has certainly strengthened their chances of a fruitful campaign with a host of stellar signings during the summer.

No fewer than 10 new faces have joined the Upton Park club, but it is perhaps the arrivals of Dimitri Payetand Angelo Ogbonna for a combined £19m that have caught the eye the most. In his pre-match press conference, Wenger admitted his affection for Payet - who signed from Marseille - and Ogbonna helped Juventus to two successive Serie A titles.

In Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia, Bilic will also count on some of the squad he inherited from Sam Allardyce to fare better than his predecessor. By December last season, Allardyce's troops were in contention for a Champions League spot but a rotten second-half of the campaign saw them slip away and ultimately finish 12th.

Consistency is paramount for the Irons this time around and victory in North London may just set them on their way to the "good" season that Bilic has planned.

Recent league form: LDWLLL

Pre-season form: WWWWDL

Team News

Wenger confirmed that midfielder Jack Wilshere could miss up to eight weeks following his latest setback in a series of ankle injuries.

He is Arsenal's only injury, but their Player of the Year last season Alexis Sanchez is expected to sit out, having only returned from his extended holiday recently after helping Chile to Copa America glory in June.

New boy Cech is expected to start between the sticks, while Wenger faces a dilemma over whether to begin withTheo Walcott or Olivier Giroud as his main striker.

Meanwhile, visiting the Emirates come too soon for West Ham striker Andy Carroll, whom Bilic claimed could be back in action by the end of August.

The Croatian manager is also without the services of right-back Carl Jenkinson, who is ineligible to face his parent club whilst being on loan...


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