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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Premier League Season Preview 2011-2012

 Not likely this season

I’m not going to pass comment on the Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri transfers until they go through and we have some genuine idea of the money they are bringing to the Club and what Wenger might choose to do with it. What I will say is that I am intrigued by what has been said by the BBC source (who appears to be an Arsenal board member) with regards to re-investing the money in to the squad. It indicates to me that this is the reason signings have been thin on the ground – the money we have been consistently told is there to be spent has not been there at all. In short I now believe that we are still in a position where players must be sold before new players can come in. This, of course, begs the question of where the money has gone from the Club. It’s a discussion for another day, but I am very worried that, if we have been lied to, then Arsenal’s finances are not as healthy as we have been told in the last couple of years. It seems we are going in for Scott Dann, once again shopping at Lidl when we should at least be at Tesco (Bolton have again confirmed there has been no bid for Gary Cahill), even if we accept that Harrods is a bit ostentatious.

On to today’s blog. The new season is now upon us so it’s time for the annual season preview. Below is my view of the season ahead for all the sides in the Premier League. I’ll deal with Arsenal last in some vain attempt to keep you interested right to the very end of the post.

Aston Villa
There have been massive changes at Villa Park over the Summer. They have lost their two first-choice wide men in Young and Downing and brought in N’Zogbia (who is better than Downing). They have also replaced the ageing Brad Friedel with Shay Given so that also looks good business. The bad news for Villa, of course, is their choice of Manager. I really don’t know what possessed them to employ Alex McLeish. Even if you leave aside his Birmingham City past it is hard to find an argument in favour of taking him to Villa. I think the Villans will be one of many sides involved in a relegation scrap this season (which they will survive), and I don’t see McLeish making it past May 2012.

Blackburn Rovers
I was listening to some Blackburn fans on 6-0-6 the other night and they sounded suicidal with the way things have gone at Ewood Park. It seems that the Indian owners will not, after all, be signing the likes of Ronaldinho and instead are bringing in players from Dundee United and Aberdeen. The loss of Phil Jones and, potentially, Samba could be catastrophic for Rovers whose Manager is also rather uninspiring. Relegation is likely for Rovers.

Bolton Wanderers
The signing of Nigel Reo-Coker is a big one for Bolton. I’d be a bit concerned at the signings of Eagles and Mears (unluckily injured already) from Burnley, although it was for a minimal outlay. They’ve managed to cash in on Matt Taylor and Ali Al Habsi but they certainly don’t look stronger than last season. The worst thing to happen at Bolton is the injury to Chung Yong Lee in pre-season – the victim of an evil challenge from a non-league clogger. Lee is top quality and Bolton will miss him badly. They have a good Manager in Owen Coyle and I can see him steering them to a comfortable mid-table (possibly top ten) finish.

This time last season I tipped Chelsea as the team to be beaten. Up until November they seemed to be running away with the Premier League and I couldn’t see how anyone would be catching them. Who would have thought that sacking Ray Wilkins could have such a seismic effect on their campaign? This season there is new management in place and you feel that Villas-Boas will need to hit the ground running – if they make a sluggish start then the press will be full of stories about the Manager failing. There has been unusually little transfer activity at Stamford Bridge and that surprises me. I can’t see Fernando Torres continuing to flop and I reckon he will come good in the grand manner. Chelsea will obviously challenge for the Title but I don’t think they will win it as things stand.

The natives are restless at Goodison Park. Yet again there has been no investment in the team. On the other hand they haven’t lost anyone (yet). Everton under David Moyes have been a very tough team to beat, especially at home, so there is little chance of them getting in to any serious trouble. In Tim Cahill they have a top finisher in the penalty area (for a small guy he is brilliant in the air) and they have a great talent in Jack Rodwell – if he can stay fit. Top half for the Toffees.

The decision to bring in a proven Premier League boss was a good one and Martin Jol will see Fulham okay this season. The early start they’ve had for the UEFA qualifiers could well come back to haunt a small squad after Christmas, though their head start might get them off to a flier. Mid-table will do them nicely once again.

King Kenny is back and Liverpool fans are as excited as they’ve been in years ahead of the new campaign. A lot of money has been spent on the team and this has created a buzz around Liverpool FC. I don’t think they’ve necessarily done good business in the money they’ve spent, but at least they’ve done some business and got things moving. Liverpool fans are as excited as they’ve been in years ahead of the new campaign. A lot of money has been spent on the team and this has created a buzz around Liverpool FC. I honestly don’t think Dalglish will be the saviour they hope for in Liverpool and a return to the top four is the best they can achieve this season. Liverpool remain dodgy at the back (they have no pace in the back four) and Steven Gerrard’s injury could hamper them still further. In Luis Suarez they have my tip for the Golden Boot - he is top class. They’ll finish anywhere between third and sixth.

Manchester City

The money continues to flow forth from Eastlands. Any team that can afford to have people like Adebayor on the payroll, but have no intention whatsoever of playing them, is in a different sphere to every other Club. Aguero may take some time to settle in, with Tevez unlikely to play, so I can see City getting off to a slow start. They may well have Samir Nasri on board within a week or two to further strengthen them in attack. Their biggest problem is the negative style of play – it is not expected in a team that believes it can genuinely challenge. I think Mancini will be replaced quite quickly if City make a bad start to the season – a new Manager with a new mentality to attacking football might just see them challenge Manchester United properly. Top four, possibly runners-up.

Manchester United
They remain the team to beat. David De Gea will be tested early on (not least by the press) and how well he replaces Van Der Sar will have a huge bearing on the Title race. Ferguson has bought well once again – Ashley Young will provide much needed pace down the left, though his final ball is not up to the standards set by Giggs over the years. It will take something big to beat them to the Title so I have to tip them as Champions once again (unfortunately).

Newcastle United
The bizarre goings on at St James’ Park continue unabated. Money has been spent, albeit on little known players, while Kevin Nolan has left (and will surely be followed by the odious Joey Barton). I thought Newcastle would struggle last season and I think they could be in real trouble this time around. Alan Pardew is a no-mark of a Manager and Newcastle will survive this year by the skin of their teeth (though I can see them beating Arsenal this Saturday).

Norwich City
It’s good to see Norwich back in the Premier League where they belong. They’ve made one or two big money signings (though £2.5m on James Vaughan seems like a waste to me) and have a very promising Manager in Paul Lambert. They are going to struggle, without a doubt, but I hope they will survive the drop – I just can’t see it happening.

Queens Park Rangers
Another genuine Premier League Club back in the big time. They ran away with the Championship last season and the money their owners have should have made relegation a non-issue come May next year. However, they haven’t really invested in top players – in fact the new men are all Championship standard, rather than Premier League. Holding on to Adel Taraabt could be big for QPR, though how he reacts to not being allowed to leave will be interesting to see. I can’t see Neil Warnock making it past the end of the season (at the very most) but I think they will be the most likely of the promoted sides to stay up.

Stoke City
Hope they go down, but I think they’ll be comfortbale again. I’ll say no more about this horrible group.

All change at The Stadium of Light. Big transfers in and out of the Club have seen a virtually brand new team ready to take the field this season. This really could go one of two ways. Given the level of investment (though much of it is offset by the sale of Henderson to Liverpool) will put certain pressure on Steve Bruce to have success this year. I take Sunderland to be this years surprise package and possibly scrape a UEFA Cup spot – certainly top ten.

Swansea City
I was a very small child the last time Swansea were in the big-time. Losing Darren Pratley was a blow, but they’ve brought in some decent attacking talent – if they can create enough chances then Leroy Lita will score a few goals. There will be plenty of support from the neutrals as well as the locals, and I hope Swansea can provide similar entertainment to Blackpool last season. Having said that I think they will be joining Norwich on the return journey to the Football League.

Tottenham Hotspur

It’s a big season for the mugs from down the road. There’s not been a lot of business at The Lane so far, though that is not unusual with ‘Arry - he tends to do most of it late in the day. I do wonder, however, if the Chairman is not keen to spend out while Redknapp’s court case is in the balance. I think this could be a very interesting year for Spurs and particularly for their Manager. Should be top six, but who knows what upheaval could be just around the corner for Spurs.

West Bromwich Albion
West Brom will move up the table this season. Roy Hodgson is back at his level and his ability to organise a defence will see them comfortably in mid-table. Good players have been brought in at The Hawthorns while a lot of the dead wood has been shipped out. There will be no relegation battle for the Baggies this year.

Wigan Athletic

They’ve become the perennial survivors. Every year it seems they will finally drop from the Premier League, but they always find a way when it matters. The signing of Ali Al Habsi in goal is a good investment – he was crucial to the side when on loan last season. The big problem for Wigan is losing their best player in Charles N’Zogbia. Who is going to be able to provide his creativity and goals from wide? They will almost certainly be involved at the wrong end of the table again, but I see them escaping the drop once more.

Wolverhampton Wanderers
Another team that seems to be in trouble come April every year. The signings of Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara (who was there on loan last season) are very good additions. I can’t help thinking that Johnson is just the sort of player Arsenal could have done with getting – especially at £7m. If Wolves can make a good start they will be heading for a decent finish come May – not many problems this season.

So, we come to the only team that really matters. This is a season of make or break for Arsene Wenger. Throughout his time at the Club there has never been a greater pressure on the Manager. Signings were promised in May following the end to last season, but they have yet to materialise. Meanwhile two of our most creative players seem to be on their way out of the Club. It is unbelievable to many (me included) that Arsene Wenger has not made serious changes to his squad or his backroom staff. Too many players in the squad that were patently not good enough are still at Arsenal – a consequence of the wages they are paid, thus making it impossible for Arsenal to sell them right now.
I have never known such a sense of apathy towards the Club from the supporters. There is a serious sense of mistrust between the fans and those who run our Club. The pressure that will be put on to Arsene Wenger if Arsenal make a bad start will be immense. The early fixtures could well create a perfect storm which will see the end of Wenger’s reign – one point from nine, and out of the Champions League, would surely make his position untenable after a Summer of such inaction – in effect the season would be over after only two weeks.
Arsenal’s areas of weakness are well documented, but little has been done to address those positions. It is unacceptable to me that the business of the Summer has not yet been done. The argument that there are still three weeks left in the transfer window is a weak one – the last season finished in May, so the failure to add to the important areas of the squad is negligence on a grand scale.
The tactics remain the same and are entirely predictable – a well-organised defence becomes more and more difficult for this Arsenal team to break down. A change of focus is required for Arsenal to make it a successful campaign, but I just don’t see it right now. The best we can hope for is top four (which the Manager considers “acceptable”) but that is clearly not good enough for a Club like Arsenal. Worse than that, I see us finishing fifth or sixth and the consequences of that could be disastrous to our future.

The new season is here and I am vaguely looking forward to it. I have a very real fear that it will be a long and unhappy season for us Gooners. I don’t think Arsene Wenger will be the Manager this time next year, but I live in hope that I have it all wrong and that Arsene still knows. Time will tell. It’s going to be an exciting, enthralling, depressing and rewarding nine months. Strap yourselves in.

I’ll preview the Newcastle game tomorrow.

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