Charlie Scott looks ahead to the start of the English Premier League season by previewing Arsenal to Manchester United. Looking at their strengths and weaknesses, giving his predictions as well.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Southampton, £11m), Gervinho (Lille, £11m), Jon Toral, Hector Bellerin (Both Barcelona, undisclosed), Carl Jenkinson (Charlton, undisclosed)
Gael Clichy (Manchester City, £7m), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (Ipswich, £1.1m), Wellington (Levante, loan), Mark Randall (Chesterfield, free), Roarie Deacon (Sunderland, free), Denilson (Sao Paulo, loan), Samuel Galindo (Gimnastic De
Tarragona, loan), James Shea (Dagenham, loan), Thomas Cruise (released)
Despite the seemingly imminent departures of the influential midfield duo of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri the team remain strong in attack, where they boast Robin Van Persie, who, on his day is one of the most feared strikers around. If fitness permits the Dutchman to feature regularly for the club this season then fans can look forward to a mouth-watering partnership with Gervinho, the strong, pacy striker recently acquired from French champions Lille. The latter has looked promising in pre-season and appears to possess a clinical nature that the likes of Bendtner and Chamakh seem only able to dream of. Arsene Wenger has also reached for the chequebook to bring the highly-rated Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the club from Southampton after a lengthy courting period. In Jack Wilshere they have the best young midfielder in the country and after a remarkable season can expect his influence within the team to grow and grow.
While things appear rosy up top for the Gunners the rest of Wenger’s team is undecided as the futures of key players like Fabregas and Nasri remain unresolved. Should either or both of them leave Wenger will have little option but to delve into the transfer market once more with fan’s unlikely to accept anything less than a proven international. Juan Mata from Valencia has been sounded out as a possible replacement for either Fabregas or Nasri but the club’s hesitancy in completing a deal a couple of weeks ago means they will now have to fork out more than they would have to secure his signature, after his release clause rose.
Fans will hope that centre-back Thomas Vermaelen can steer clear of the treatment room this season and build on what was overall an impressive first year at the Emirates. Wenger needs someone he knows is going to play 40 odd games over the course of the season to provide some much-needed continuity at the heart of their defence and the rumours surrounding a potential move for Bolton’s Gary Cahill could be well-founded The manager is yet to rectify the hole left at left-back cause by the departure of Gael Clichy to Manchester City with Clichy’s understudy both inexperienced and injury-prone. Wenger’s remarkable continued refusal to sign an experienced goalkeeper confirms that Szechny has established himself as Arsenal’s number one and spells the end of Manuel Almunia’s colourful stay at the club, while
a number of other players at the club must feel they too are heading towards the exit door.
Young player to watch:
Ryo Miyaichi. The young striker has been granted a work permit after being farmed out on loan to Feyenoord last season, a time in which he scored 3 goals and provided 5 assists in just 12 games. Miyaichi is expected to feature for the first-team after impressing during pre-season, with Arsene Wenger including him in the club’s 23 man squad for their Champions League qualifier against Udinese.
Last Season: 4th
Shay Given (Manchester City, £3.5m), Charles N’Zogbia (Wigan, £9.5m)
Ashley Young (Manchester United, £20m), Stewart Downing (Liverpool, £20m), Nigel Reo-Coker (Bolton, free), Brad Friedel (Tottenham, free), John Carew (West Ham, free), Harry Forrester (Brentford, free), Moustapha Salifou, Robert Pires,
Isaiah Osbourne, Arsenio Halfhuid, Durrell Berry, Ellis Deeney, Calum Flanagan (all released)
Any disappointment at seeing Brad Friedel move on a free transfer to Spurs has been outweighed by the excitement at the signing of Shay Given from Manchester City. After being usurped at the Etihad Stadium by Joe Hart, Given’s career looked set to be in a decline but his move to Villa, with the promise of first-team football, is likely to prove a huge success for both the talented shot-stopper and the club. Another of Manchester City’s alumni could also prove pivotal for Villa this season despite a couple of seasons in the footballing wilderness. Stephen Ireland, was, once upon a
time, one of the best midfielders in the league and if the controversially appointed Alex McCleish can harness the fiery Irishman’s talents and temperament then he could have a large impact at the club. The arrival of Charles N’Zogbia from Wigan is an attempt by the owners to quell the considerable anger of the fans following the sales of Stewart Downing to Liverpool and Ashley Young to Manchester United, and while he is undeniably a tricky and talented winger he can be too selfish at times, a facet of his play that will be particularly evident following the unselfish play of
Downing last season. N’Zogbia brings flair and guile that will be a strength to the team but he does at the same time possess the potential to upset team-mates at times with his individualistic style of play.
Darren Bent has proved that he will score for whoever he plays for and fans will hope that his tally will not be affected too greatly by the departure of Downing and Young and that the likes of N’Zogbia and Albrighton will step up to provide their number nine with the chances he needs.
The fact Young and Downing have left means that, Darren Bent aside, the club are shorn of their main attacking threats. Last season Downing provided 7 assists and 7 goals while Young helped himself to 9 goals and 14 assists in all competitions.
An inconsistent season at the back from centre-backs James Collins and Richard Dunne is a cause for concern as the new season approaches but the options available to McCleish and Randy Lerner’s obvious reluctance to spend mean there is little choice but to start with the same two players at the back.
There has been something of an exodus at Villa Park over the summer with Carew, Reo-Coker, Pires and Osbourne all being released on a free despite proving important members of the squad in the past. They are yet to be replaced and it is a worry that as the season progresses and inevitable injuries begin to take their toll whether Villa’s small squad will be able to cope without investment into new players.
Young player to watch:
Marc Albrighton. The young winger seized his chance last season and impressed on numerous occasions with his work-rate and first-rate deliveries. An England U21 international, Albrighton looks comfortable on either wing and it is his input that could be crucial in providing Darren Bent with goal-scoring opportunities this campaign.
Last Season: 9th
David Goodwillie (Dundee United, undisclosed), Myles Anderson (Aberdeen, undisclosed), Radosav Petrovic (Partizan Belgrade, undisclosed)
Phil Jones (Manchester United, £16.5m), Frank Fielding (Derby, undisclosed), Jason Brown (Aberdeen, free), Zurab Khizanishvili, Jordan Bowen, Michael Potts, Benjani Mwaruwari, Maceo Rigters (all released)
In Paul Robinson they possess one of the best goalkeepers in the league, while their midfield is well-rounded with the likes of Gamst Pedersen, Emerton and Hoillett performing consistently well over the course of the last campaign. If Chris Samba stays and Steve Kean manages to bring in the imposing Sol Bamba from Leicester, that amusingly named partnership of Samba-Bamba could prove pivotal to their success this season.
Their forward line contributed a paltry 16 league goals last season and is definitely an area that Kean will look to strengthen before the end of the transfer window. David Goodwillie has crossed the border from Dundee United and fans can expect goals from the young striker who averaged nearly one every two games in all competitions last season. The departures of Benjani and Diouf from the club leave Kean with just Roberts, Kalinic and now Goodwillie as his recognised strikers, and with Kalinic actively seeking a transfer it seems inevitable that Kean will delve back into the transfer market before September 1st.
Young player to watch:
Mauro Formica. After joining the club for £3.5m during the January transfer window the player once dubbed ‘the new Batistuta’ has impressed during pre-season and the tricky midfielder looks set to finally make an impact at the club.
Last Season: 15th
Darren Pratley (Swansea, free), Nigel Reo-Coker (Aston Villa, free), Chris Eagles (Burnley, undisclosed), Tyrone Mears (Burnley, undisclosed), Sanli Tuncay (Wolfsburg, loan).
Ali Al Habsi (Wigan, £4m), Matt Taylor (West Ham, undisclosed), Danny Ward (Huddersfield, undisclosed), Joey O’Brien (West Ham, free), Johan Elmander (Galatasaray, free), Sam Sheridan (Stockport, free), Andrew Burns (Bradford, free),
Jlloyd Samuel, Tamir Cohen, Maison McGeechan, Tom Eckersley (all released), Gavin McCann (retired)
Stuart Holden was one of the league’s outstanding performers before his horrible injury at Old Trafford in March. Before that Bolton were in seventh position in the league and had just reached an FA Cup semi-final. Without him they lost that game during a run of form that saw them 8 of their last 10 games, finishing in 14th place as a result. Fans will hope that the industrious midfielder maintains his fitness this season and his return from injury will feel like a new signing for his manager Owen Coyle. The midfield has been reinforced by the signings of Nigel Reo-Coker from Villa
and Darren Pratley from Swansea on free transfers, while the slippery Chris Eagles has joined the club from Burnley for an undisclosed fee. Kevin Davies continues to unruffled feathers across the league and this remains a key feature of their game as he creates space for those around him to exploit.
The impressive Chung-Yong Lee suffered a serious leg break during pre-seaosn training and will be a big loss to the team after he enjoyed a decent season on the wing for the Trotters. A similar injury then struck new signing Tyrone Mears ruling him out for the first 6 months of the season and prompting Owen Coyle to consider another defensive signing. If Gary Cahill does leave the club for one of the league’s top teams then there will be a huge hole at the centre of Bolton’s defence that Coyle will have to fill, and quickly. Johan Elmander has left the club whilst Daniel Sturridge has returned to Chelsea after his successful loan spell leaving the team slightly light up front. Coyle will be on the look out for a cheap striker or a raw young player to take on loan as he has done with Sturridge and Wilshere in recent seasons.
Young player to watch:
Mark Davies. The accomplished central midfielder thrived alongside Stuart Holden last season and his athleticism and composure on the ball make him a tricky opponent for anyone.
Last Season: 14th
Oriol Romeu (Barcelona, £4.35m), Thibaud Courtois (Genk, £5m), Lucas Piazon (Sao Paulo, undisclosed), Romelu Lukaku (Anderlecht, undisclosed).
Yuri Zhirkov (Anzhi Makhachkala, £13.2m), Michael Mancienne (Hamburg, £3m), Nemanja Matic (Benfica, undisclosed), Jeffrey Bruma (Hamburg, undisclosed), Jack Cork (Southampton, £750k), Danny Philliskirk (Sheffield United, free), Jan
Sebek, Bobby Devyne, Anton Rodgers, Ben Sampayo, Carl Magnay, Michael Woods (all released), Jacopo Sala (Hamburg, undisclosed); Gokhan Tore (Hamburg, undisclosed), Sam Hutchinson (released); Carl Magnay (released); Sam Walker
Chelsea can point to a bright future with a number of players and signings challenging for playing time this season. Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta, Romelu Lukaku and Oreol Lomeu will all have an eye on a place in the first-team and this competition for places should spur some of the older players in the team to play to their best to retain a place in the side. The experienced older players like Drogba, Lampard and Terry can also guide and advise the younger players as they are integrated into the first-team squad.
It is hard to identify many weaknesses within the Chelsea squad but one possible failing could be the lack of a truly world-class right-back. With the imperious Ashley Cole bombarding down the left it is a shame that Chelsea do not have a similarly adept player on the right-hand side. Also, while the older players do provide experience they also provide an uncertainty surrounding how many games they will complete and the intensity and level of their performances week-in week-out.
Young player to watch:
Josh McEachran. After being blooded into the first team squad over the course of the last season, in which he made appearances in all 5 competitions that Chelsea entered, the central midfielder excelled during Chelsea’s recent pre-season tour of the US, impressing the new manager Andre Villas-Boas whilst doing so.
Last Season: 2nd
Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon, loan)
James Vaughan (Norwich, £2.5m), Iain Turner (Preston, free), Kieran Agard (Yeovil, free), Hope Akpan (Crawley, free), Nathan Craig (released).
The consistency of players like Tim Cahill, Phil Neville and Leon Osman provides a strong core to Everton’s side, while the formidable partnership of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin at centre-back makes Everton a hard team to break down. Mikel Arteta and Jack Rodwell add creativity to their midfield which creates a balanced side that offers steel and flair. Their attacking full-backs add width down either flank, with Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman excelling in these roles last campaign. Louis Saha, when fit, is a clinical striker, and if he can spend more time on the pitch than
with the physio then Everton can look to him to finish off the chances created by those further back the pitch.
The ankle ligament injury that rules the impressive Seamus Coleman out of the first few months of the season is a cruel blow to David Moyes’ side and it is difficult to see who will fill the void left by the player down the right-hand side, with Tony Hibbert appearing far too defensive when tried there in recent years. The injury proneness of Everton’s already small squad could be the difference between a European qualification place and a finish in the top half of the table for The Toffees. Up front Louis Saha is at times brilliant but his lack of fitness contributed to the fact that
Everton scored just 51 goals last season, and for Everton to maintain their position nearer the top half of the table this must improve.
Young player to watch:
Ross Barkley. The young midfielder looked set to break into the Everton first-team last year before a horrible broken leg whilst playing for England U19s meant he has had to wait for his chance. The club have high hopes for the player, who has been at the club since the age of 11, and Moyes looks set to involve the versatile midfielder with his first-team squad this season.
Last Season: 7th
Pajtim Kasami (Palermo, £4m), John Arne Riise (Roma, £2.4m), Marcel Gecov (Slovan Liberec, undisclosed), Dan Burn (Darlington, undisclosed), Csaba Somogyi (Rakospalotai, free).
Jonathan Greening (Nottingham Forest, £670,000), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Crystal Palace, undisclosed), Zoltan Gera (West Brom, free), Diomansy Kamara (Eskisehirspor, free), John Paintsil (Leicester, free), Eddie Johnson (released), Pascal Zuberbuhler (released), David Stockdale (Ipswich, loan).
Playmaker Danny Murphy makes Fulham tick and with him in the side they are bound to create chances. The return of Bobby Zamora from injury at the end of last season coincided with a decent run of form for The Cottagers and after looking
relegation candidates before Christmas they ended the season in a respectable 8th place. Zamora’s goals will be key to the side this season, as will the strength of Brede Hangeland at the back. The tall defender put in some fantastic performances last season and fans will hope there are more to come this term as they push for a European qualification place. Their new manager Martin Jol looks to play an attractive style of attacking football and players like Murphy, Dempsey and Zamora will be key to his side’s success in achieving this.
Chairman Mohammed Al-Fayed’s failure to inject any real transfer funds into the club means Jol must manipulate what is already at his disposal rather than going out and buying players to improve his squad. Mark Hughes did a fantastic job at this last season and it will be interesting to see how Jol handles the similar group of players.
Young player to watch:
Moussa Dembele. The young Belgian has struggled to make an impact at Craven Cottage during his stay so far, but the indifferent form of Andy Johnson, and a well-timed return from injury could see him support Bobby Zamora up front. The pacy frontman must apply his considerable talent to turn his undoubted potential into actual ability.
Last Season: 8th
Stewart Downing (Aston Vila, £20m), Jordan Henderson (Sunderland, £20m), Charlie Adam (Blackpool, £9m), Alexander Doni (Roma, undisclosed), Jose Enrique (Newcastle, £6m).
Paul Konchesky (Leicester, undisclosed), Chris Mavinga (Rennes, undisclosed), Tom Ince (Blackpool, undisclosed), Gerado Bruna (Blackpool, undisclosed), Peter Gulacsi (Hull, loan), Stephen Darby (Rochdale, loan), Martin Hansen (Bradford, loan), Jason Banton, Deale Chamberlain, Alex Cooper, Sean Highdale, Steven Irwin, Nikola Saric (all released)
Following the signings of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll in January, and Carroll’s subsequent return from injury Liverpool now boast arguably one of the best attacking partnerships in the league. The signing of Stewart Downing, despite his inflated fee, is crucial to the way Dalglish wants his side to play, and it will be interesting to see how
quickly it takes him, Suarez and Carroll to gel. Suarez in particular has been in superb form in recent months particularly during the Copa America whilst representing the eventual winners Uruguay. The recent acquisition of Jose Enrique from Newcastle is a huge coup, and adds sturdiness and reliability to a sometimes flaky back four. Jose
Reina, arguably the best keeper in the league will no doubt be relieved by Enrique’s arrival in front of him.
In what can be perceived as both a strength and a weakness the club have picked up the habit of collecting central midfielders. At the time of writing the following are on the club’s books; Steven Gerrard, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, Raul Meireles, Lucas Leiva, Jay Spearing, Alberto Aquilani, Christian Poulsen, Joe Cole and Jonjo
Shelvey. How Dalglish plans to accommodate so many players in anyone’s guess and the decision on who to play from this plethora of names is going to be a difficult one for the manager. Some will be gone by the time the transfer window closes but not enough to make it an easy decision for the Scot. As Jamie Carragher shows no signs of getting younger a lack of depth at centre-back will also be troubling the manager, as Daniel Agger, whilst looking brilliant at times, is far too susceptible to injury and players like Kyrgiakos not looking good enough for the Merseyside club.
Young player to watch:
Danny Wilson. As Dalglish struggles with problems at centre-back the young Scottish international may be called into action. Signed from Rangers last summer, the composed defender failed to impact on the first-team last season but after performing well for both the reserves and the Scotland national team, he may get more of a look-in at Anfield this season.
Last Season: 6th
Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid, £38m), Gael Clichy (Arsenal, £7m), Stefan Savic (Partizan Belgrade, £7m), Costel Pantilimon (Poli Timisoara, undisclosed)
Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich, £17m), Shay Given (Aston Villa, £3.5m), Scott Kay (Macclesfield, free), Shaleum Logan (Brentford, free), Andrew Tutte (Rochdale, free), Donal McDermott (Huddersfield, free), Michael Johnson (Leicester City, loan), Ryan McGivern (Crystal Palace, loan), Ben Mee (Burnley, loan), Kieran Trippier (Burnley, loan), James Poole, Javan Vidal, Patrick Vieira, James Wood (all released)
City possess a remarkable strength in depth despite the host of departures from the club over the summer. Mancini appears to have dealt well in the transfer market, bringing in the wonderful Argentine Sergio Aguero to provide flair up front while also shoring up the defence with the centre-back Stefan Savic and left-back Gael Clichy from Arsenal. City are now strong throughout their team with David Silva, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany being the outstanding performers during the last campaign. The pantomime villain Mario Balotelli has enjoyed a successful pre-season
(backheel drama aside) and will look to justify Mancini’s trust and perseverance with him this season. After finishing just behind second-placed Chelsea last time round Mancini and his men will have title ambitions this season and from the look of their squad they look like genuine challengers to Manchester United’s crown.
If there is a weakness in Mancini’s squad it is Mancini himself. The Italian must embrace some of the attacking players at his disposal and work out when to allow them the freedom to play their own game rather than adopting a defensive style that characterised the team at times, particularly against the top teams.
Young player to watch:
Mario Balotelli. It is hard not to be captivated by the young Italian what with his unfathomable behaviour both on and off the pitch, but on it, this could be his year. Mancini has shown patience and belief in the temperamental striker, now is the time for him to repay his mentor.
Last Season: 3rd
Phil Jones (Blackburn, £16.5m), Ashley Young (Aston Villa, £20m), David De Gea (Atletico Madrid, £20m), Pierluigi Gollini (free, Fiorentina)
Wes Brown, John O’Shea (both Sunderland, undisclosed), Bebe (Besiktas, loan), Gary Neville (retired), Edwin van der Sar (retired), Paul Scholes (retired), Owen Hargreaves (released), Ryan Tunnicliffe, Scott Wootton (both Peterborough, loan), Conor Devlin (released), Joe Dudgeon (Hull City, undisclosed), Nicky Ajose (Peterborough, undisclosed), Robbie Brady (Hull, loan)
Alex Ferguson has instilled in his squad an unerring belief that whatever they score, they are never beaten until the final whistle. The remarkable comeback in the second half of last week’s Charity Shield game against Manchester City epitomised this. This, coupled with a supremely talented group of young players on the brink of the first team, make Ferguson’s men a force to be reckoned with. Phil Jones and Ashley Young have completed seamless moves into the squad with both impressing in the victory last weekend. Ferguson has told Jones he expects him to challenge Ferdinand
and Vidic for a starting berth this season and the young Englishman appears well equipped for the challenge. Wayne Rooney looks to be approaching top form again, and looks set to have a fantastic season after disappointing before Christmas last time round, while the young and effervescent Javier Hernandez is raring to build on the back of his superb debut season at the club.
Uncertainty surrounding Ferguson’s central midfield pairing remains, with a number of players vying for a starting role. His patience with Michael Carrick appears to be wearing thin, while the robust Tom Cleverly looks set to force his way into Ferguson’s thoughts after a strong pre-season. Interest in Wesley Sneijder is long-standing and his signing could be the one that solves Ferguson’s midfield dilemma.
Young player to watch:
Javier Hernandez. The Mexican hit the ground running after an impressive World Cup last summer and the feeling within the club is that the clever forward will go from strength to strength. A remarkable eye for goal and exceptional movement make him nightmare for defenders, and a wonderful partner for Wayne Rooney.
Last Season: 1st