By Chris Harris
From a downward spiral to upwardly mobile, Portsmouth have been transformed on and off the pitch in the last 18 months.
Bold plans for a new stadium are pushing the club forward away from the action, while a bevy of new signings have transformed Pompey from relegation scrappers into a side harbouring realistic ambitions of European football.
Behind it all is Harry Redknapp, the old-school wheeler dealer who has uncovered a number of gems since returning to Fratton Park after a brief dalliance with Portsmouth's south-coast rivals, Southampton. The fans have forgiven him now and as well they might. Without Redknapp, Pompey would surely be plying their trade in the Championship.
We spoke to Jordan Cross of the Portsmouth News ahead of Sunday's clash at Emirates Stadium. Read on for his views on Redknapp's latest batch of new signings, the new face who has impressed him most, the possible starting line-up against Arsenal and last season's draw in north London.
THE STORY SO FAR
"Expectations are certainly higher now. Things progressed last season and Harry has spent some pretty serious money in the summer. He would probably argue that in terms of the Premier League it is about middling but it's big money by Portsmouth's standards, in the region of £22-23 million. They have strength in depth all over the pitch now.
"Europe is a realistic aim, whether that's through the league or a domestic trophy. The fans are looking for progress and stability. Harry would argue that he wants to secure Portsmouth place in the Premier League again especially with the money flying around after the latest television deal. It's the place to be. I personally would like to see stability in terms of league position. You have to go back to 1992 for the last major cup run when Portsmouth reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, so it would be great to see them reach a big final."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Perhaps the most exciting new signing has been John Utaka, he cost £7 million from Rennes. Utaka is a Nigerian international and Kanu played a big part in attracting him to the club. He's had an exciting couple of games, against Derby on the first day and then the goal he scored against Bolton where he burst clear from his own half, burned off the two defenders and really got the fans on their feet and excited about what lies ahead. The last time I remember that happening was when Portsmouth signed Yakubu. Hopefully Utaka can kick on and do as well as Yakubu did here."
"He spent £6 million on David Nugent, Harry has taken a gamble there which many others wouldn't and believe he can make it in the Premier League. He spent £7.5 million on Sulley Muntari from Udinese who Harry has tracked for 12 months or so. He's settled in now and is a combative midfielder. Sylvain Distin could be the best bit of business Harry has done all summer, he got him for nothing from Manchester City when a lot of other clubs were after him. He's got fantastic experience and is arguably the quickest defender Portsmouth have ever had. You rarely see him beaten for pace, he reads the game extremely well and he's picked up the captain's armband in Sol's absence in recent weeks so Harry clearly rates him as a leader. Hermann Hreidarsson, you know what you will get with him, a good, solid defender who can play in the centre or on the left. Arsenal fans will know about Lauren, he's rock solid too and is coming into his own now."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"There is progress off the pitch as well as on it. The stadium plans are bold to say the least. There is a major budget for it, it looks the part, architecturally it looks very impressive. There's a long way to go yet, there have been one or two planning issues. They will be sad to leave Fratton Park, it's been such a great home and an intimidating place for visitors to come, but people call it progress and we have an ambitious chairman at the club. Things are happening on and off the pitch to push the club forward."
"The one person who definitely will be missing is Linvoy Primus with a knee injury. He had an operation over the summer and has just played a reserve game, but he won't play on Sunday. Linvoy has been a rock for Portsmouth alongside Sol Campbell last season. Their partnership and David James in goal were fundamental to the club's success. Linvoy's absence is a blow but Portsmouth have brought Distin in and they have options now. In the past it would be panic stations but now there is a greater depth to the squad.
"Harry has been flexible in his approach so Kanu might be given a rest. Utaka has been used up front and out wide so perhaps he will partner Benjani up front. Going through the team James will be in goal, Lauren could be in the back four with the likes of Sol, Distin and Hreidarsson. Muntari has been used on the left and in the centre of midfield. He was outstanding at Chelsea last week so he might partner Sean Davis, although Pedro Mendes is pushing for a place too. Gary O'Neil and Matt Taylor might play out wide."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"It was dreamland for the away supporters when Pompey went two up at the Emirates last season with Matt Taylor's superb goal. Noe Pamarot scored a rare goal in the first half. It is a fantastic place, a world-class stadium, it's a massive asset and it's up there with the best in the Premier League and even the world."