It looks good in its Arsenal ribbons
I've held off from writing the annual season preview until after midday today as I wasn't sure if we would see an announcement of someone being signed in time for the Villa match tomorrow. With the injury news of Mikel Arteta being pretty disastrous I fully expected us to have done something over night. Despite what some would have you believe it is entirely possible to get business done at short notice. As it is we have done nothing at all. More on that in the preview that follows further down this post.
I was fuming last night, yet again, when I read Arsene Wenger's comments regarding Gervinho. Regular readers will know I'm not a defender of the Manager, and last night merely underlined why. Apparently Gervinho's generally awful displays were down to the pressure put on him by the supporters. What utter rot that is. If he thought he got a rough ride from us lot I dread to think what he'll make of those lovely gentlemen that make up the Ultras of AS Roma. According to our esteemed leader Gervinho was a very creative player. I suppose that was true to start with. Right up until defenders worked out he had one trick, and his only aim was to beat them on the outside and get to the byline. The trouble with one trick ponies is they don't get too far once they've been worked out. Gervinho got worked out by everyone very quickly.
According to Wenger the Ivorian found it particularly tough when playing at home. As it happens I don't think Gervinho had it too bad from the Arsenal fans. I would say that Aaron Ramsey got far worse than he did last year. The fact is that Gervinho simply wasn't good enough. I don't agree with the fans getting on a players back as it's no good to anyone. If you want to have a pop then do it at the Manager who keeps picking people who are either way off form, or way out of their depth.
I'd like to ask Mr Wenger how he explains Gervinho's display at Bradford City, and the worst miss I've ever seen from an Arsenal player, if it was home games that were the problem for him. At the end of the day Gervinho didn't have what it takes. For Arsene Wenger to have a go at the fans for his own shortcomings as a Manager is outrageous and shameful.
So the Premier League season starts tomorrow. I've been in two minds about whether to do the traditional preview this season. With the transfer window open for another two weeks the predictions I will make have every chance of looking even more stupid than they normally do. That being said, it is the traditional season opening piece on this site, so I've decided to go ahead with it. It's just a bit of fun, except the bit about Arsenal.
Our opponents tomorrow have a had a pretty decent pre-season. They've got a few wins, and scored a good number of goals. Most importantly they've got Christian Benteke to stay. For me he is just about the sole reason the Villans stayed up last term, and they will be reliant upon the big Belgian once again. Can he re-produce the form of his first year in England? I suspect he can, and Villa may well step up this season. I don't really understand the treatment of Darren Bent, and I wonder if it leaves them short should Benteke get a knock. Mid-table safety for Villa.
This is the first season in the Premier League for City. They won the Championship last season and their vociferous (violent?) support will follow them all round the country. As with all promoted sides they will need to get off to a good start and to have a great record at home. Thanks to that vocal following any visit to Cardiff will be uncomfortable for the opposition. Whisper it quietly, but they'd be more than happy to emulate Swansea City. Personally I wouldn't be upset to see the back of them at the end of the season, and they begin among the favourites to go down. Seventeenth position come May would be a massive achievement.
The Special One is back. Oh rejoice! All of English football is delighted to welcome Mourinho back to the Premier League. After all, it's been so dull without him. Or at least that's what Sky keeps telling me I should think. In the real World the only people happy to have Mourinho back are Chelsea supporters. His record speaks for itself, and you have to expect Chelsea to be up there challenging for just about everything. I suspect Lampard and Terry will move even further out towards the fringes at Stamford Bridge as Mourinho is happy to be ruthless. The surprise is that he's yet to strengthen his squad, apparently chasing Rooney at the expense of almost any other players. Is that folly? Something tells me Mourinho might have something up his sleeve, but quite why he's leaving it I don't really know. Top three for Chelsea, possibly Champions.
I like Crystal Palace. Selhurst Park might be a relic on three sides but it's a good away game to go to. The problem they have now is that they are managed by the self-publicist that is Ian Holloway. As with Mourinho Sky keep telling us to like Holloway because his public statements are always so funny. My aching sides are testament to that, I'm sure. I don't see any way that Palace can stay up, even though they've brought in goalscoring talent like Chamakh. Bottom place.
The post-Moyes era will be starting, perhaps unexpectedly, with Fellaini and Baines still in place at Goodison Park. All credit to both of them for making no attempts to force transfers to more glamorous new surroundings. Roberto Martinez has taken over and is highly regarded, especially after the FA Cup win with Wigan. However, I would be very concerned about the inability to Martinez to put together a side that can defend competently. He has also brought players in from Wigan, and I'm never a fan of players who've been relegated. If he can consolidate Everton's position and challenge for a UEFA Cup place, and maybe have a good cup run or two, then Martinez will have done very well in his first year. I think they'll be top eight, but maybe not so close to the places that matter.
The addition of Darren Bent this morning could be massive for Martin Jol's men. They've been released from Al-Fayed's circus, but it remains to be seen how the new owner will invest in the Club. By bringing in Bent he's given a positive sign, albeit only a loan signing at the moment. Bent has scored goals just about everywhere he's been. Last season they really struggled and Jol was under a bit of pressure. Maarten Stekelenburg should be an improvement on the veteran Schwarzer in goal and I see Fulham not having half the troubles they did last time out. Mid-table mediocrity should be very welcome.
The last of the promoted sides is managed by Steve Bruce. They used to be managed by Phil Brown. I hope they get relegated, and I'll be surprised if they don't.
Liverpool have certainly spent money again this summer. They've also shipped out Stewart Downing. It's difficult to assess how they will go until Luis Suarez's situation is finally sorted one way or the other. Whatever happens he won't be able to play until well in to the season. Aspas has made a decent start in pre-season, but I would worry about a midfield still reliant on Steven Gerrard. Without Carragher at the back they should be a bit quicker (although bringing in Kolo Toure was absolutely bizarre), and they are trying to strengthen the squad in all areas. I believe Simon Mignolet is the best goalkeeper in the country right now, and he is a massive improvement on Reina who has been largely awful for at least two years. If I had a worry for Liverpool it would be Brendan Rodgers. The man is David Brent being a football manager, and his constant public pronouncements on Suarez, while criticising anyone and everyone for talking about it, has not been the behaviour of a Manager at a huge Club. Top six if Suarez stays and performs properly.
The practice of collecting centre-forwards has not stopped with a change of boss at City. Tevez may have moved on, but Jovetic and Negredo have arrived. Pellegrini has a reputation that seems to slightly outweigh his achievements as a Manager and it will be interesting to see how he goes. With the money he has behind him, and the players in the squad, Manchester City should be right up there once again. I can see Micah Richards being more involved under the new man, which should strengthen their back four. However, if Kompany is missing for any prolonged period again they will struggle. Joe Hart is overrated in the extreme, as he proved once again on Wednesday, while we know Clichy isn't up to much. The defeat to Arsenal last week should have had alarm bells ringing and there is much work to do. Top four only for City should be considered failure.
David Moyes has replaced Mumm-Ra The Ever Living and the Champions may well have reached the end of an era in more ways than one. If I was a Man Utd fan I wouldn't be overly impressed with Moyes performance since he took over. No signings to speak of and a very public falling out with Wayne Rooney (Moyes can deny it all he likes, but it's clear the pair do not get on). Rooney's own public display by doing extra training less than 24 hours after Moyes told everyone he wasn't fit to play sent a certain message. They weren't particularly successful on tour, and a narrow win over relegated Wigan at Wembley means little. The players that have been so used to Ferguson have only a similar Scottish accent to compare with Moyes. It must be incredibly daunting having to follow someone like that, knowing that only winning trophies straight away will buy you any credit. United have a tough opening few matches, and I can see Moyes under real pressure early on. Last season they walked the Premier League with their weakest side in many a year. Hopefully they won't have it so easy this season. Surely Van Stapleton is due an injury, isn't he? Hopefully it comes just after Rooney has signed for Arsenal. I don't see this side winning the Title again under a new boss. Fighting for a top four place with the others for me.
I'd love to see Pardew staring the down the barrel at a relegation battle. I think the man is a complete cretin. His squad is poor at the back and relies too heavily on Cabaye and Ben Arfa to do the business. The situation with Cisse and the sponsor on the shirt was a joke that threatened to de-rail the side. Bottom six for Newcastle.
They've bought pretty well and Gary Hooper should be a more than adequate replacement for Grant Holt, if he can keep fit. They have a very decent goalkeeper in John Ruddy who they missed badly at times last season. I've liked Hughton as a Manager in the past, but I went off him and his side with how they played at our place last season. Bottom half, but I don't think they'll go down - it might be tight for a while.
When they sacked Nigel Adkins it looked like one of those decisions that owners take that see their side get relegated. However, they went from strength to strength under the new man. Ricky Lambert had a huge impact on his England debut the other night, and Saints will again be reliant on his goals. I see them struggling this season, perhaps more than last year. A relegation battle looms, but I think they'll be okay as there is plenty of dross still in the Premier League.
Pulis is gone. Hooray! Hughes has replaced him. Boo! Still hope they go down.
Paolo Di Canio is a character that could either make or break his side. He's been backed in the transfer market where he's made a number of signings. He's clearly tried to use his contacts and knowledge with regards the continental market, but has he signed players of the requisite quality? If he believes Vito Mannone is an adequate replacement for Mignolet then I would argue that his choice is flawed. Could be relegated, with Di Canio out of the door fairly quickly. On the other hand they could finish top half.
They certainly didn't suffer from second season syndrome last time out. Michael Laudrup took them to a whole new level, with Michu the signing of the season in the Premier League. They look to have held on to their star man, and the addition of Wilfried Bony should bring even more up front. I watched the first leg of their European qualifier the other week and they looked excellent. Ashley Williams may yet be lost to Arsenal, but if they hold on to him and Michel Vorm the Swans will continue to impress. Top half, if they hold on to their players.
This is their year. And it's 1-1 at Newcastle.
West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies got off to a flier last season, and it sustained them until late on. A weaker record after Christmas maybe gave a better clue as to their overall quality, and they need to get by without the power of Romelu Lukaku. The signing of Nicolas Anelka is guaranteed to bring goals, provided they can create the chances for him to put away. Bottom half, but I expect them to be safe.
West Ham United
Liverpool is fast becoming the feeder club to this lot. A fit Andy Carroll (which is easier said than done it would seem) will cause enough problems for goals to be scored at the right end. At the back I'm not convinced by West Ham at all. They will rely heavily on the combative nature of an Allardyce assembled midfield, but I see them struggling overall. They should be relatively safe in mid-table, but it won't be pretty.
The only team any of us are actually interested in. I'll start by saying I expect us to finish within the top four at the end of the season. The side showed enough battling qualities at the end of last season to show they've developed a very good will to win. However, that wasn't enough to get us even remotely close to a poor Manchester United side.
We were told by Ivan Gazidis in May that this was the year the finances would be used on the squad. I urged caution on this very site due to the timing of Gazidis' comments, coming just a day before the season ticket renewals were due. It gives me no pleasure to have been proved right to this point. We have that same group of players that couldn't get close to the top of the table last season. However, we are now missing Mikel Arteta for at least a month and he was just about the most crucial element in the improved results.
We are relying on Olivier Giroud for the goals to win us matches up front. I don't mind Giroud. I think he's a battler, a strong front man. But he's not prolific. He misses too many chances to be really top class. The sight of him looking skywards with his hands clasped together in front of his face after missing another one is still all too familiar. The positive side is that he has had an exceptional pre-season campaign and can hopefully hit the ground running. Theo Walcott will need to chip in with more than his fair share from out wide.
The lack of signings can still be offset with new arrivals before the deadline passes in early September. The problem with that is that the season begins tomorrow. We will be well in to the season by the time we reach that stage. We could make some really big signings in the next two weeks, yet miss out on the Title having dropped early points. We could be out of the Champions League too. Not having got business done is negligent. The current injury problems in the squad merely underline the issue.
Not every signing has to be a star player, and the squad is awfully weak right now. Why risk missing out on the Title by dithering when you have the money to spend? We might still challenge for it. Obviously I hope we do. Fourth place is not enough. Football has moved on from the time when anyone could win the league, so fourth is not an achievement - it is the minimum requirement.
Regardless of the signings that may or may not be made tomorrow marks the beginning of another long season. We will have highs and we will have lows. We will win games and we will lose games. Obviously we all want a good fast start tomorrow against Aston Villa. I'm not going to hold my breath but I live in hope. Whatever happens early on in the game I hope the fans stay behind the players. It's not their fault we are so thin on the ground as the season begins. They deserve our support because they'll be wearing the red and white tomorrow. Let's give it to them loud and proud. We are THE ARSENAL.
COME ON YOU GUNNERS!