EPL Season Preview – Part I

Arsenal

For the first time under Arsene Wenger’s stewardship the Gunners start a campaign without a Champions League last 16 drubbing from Bayern Munich to look forward to. Instead, the North Londoners will slog it out in the Europa League, which has historically been considered more hassle than it’s worth but United’s success in it last season combined with Wenger’s reluctance to move players on suggests Thursday night football could be a blessing in disguise in the long run. The Gunners boast a multitude of players such as Jack Wilshere, Lucas Perez and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain who are somewhat short of cracking the first team, but too good to be moved on.  Alexander Lacazette is likely to lighten the goal-scoring burden on Alexis Sanchez’ shoulders, without ever properly convincing fans he is the long term solution while Sead Kolasniac looks one of the signings of the season. Granit Xhaka has a big year in him and if team mates like Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi can figure out how to use their feet again, the Gunners will be hard bet. Arsene Wenger’s refusal to budge on the sale of Alexis Sanchez suggests he knows he’s on borrowed time and is determined to make one final tilt at the title. I’m expecting the Gunners to come flying out of the blocks and end the season in the top 4.

Key Player – Alexis Sanchez / Surprise Star – Granit Xhaka/ Weak link – Shkodran Mustafi

Verdict – 3rd

Bournemouth

While it’s unlikely the Cherries improve on last season’s ninth place finish, Eddie Howe certainly isn’t resting on his laurels. Jermaine Defoe has been brought in to fill the gap while Callum Wilson recovers from injury sparing supporters from suffering through 90 minutes of Benik Afobe lumbering around aimlessly up front. Afobe’s lack of ability came in handy for Eddie Howe’s side last season as desperation gave Josh King a chance up front. I can’t see King repeating last season’s form but with Defoe fighting for a seat on the plane to Russia next year, the Cherries won’t be short of goals. Only Jack Wilshere has left from last season’s first team squad while Nathan Aké is an excellent addition. Asmir Begovic has been signed to replace international dodgeball champion Artur Boruc which should knock something significant off the 67 goals conceded in the last two season’s. Another season of consolidation and player development looks on the cards for Bournemouth and without a marked improvement defensively, it’s hard to see them improving last season’s finish.

Key Player – Jermaine Defoe / Surprise Star – Nathan Aké / Room to improve – Jordon Ibe

Verdict – 10th

Brighton

Chris Hughton has added to a squad bereft of PL quality players by signing a host of imports from abroad without a single minute of Premier League action between them. Owner Tony Bloom uses the same approach in the transfer window as at the poker table, emphasizing statistical analytics to identify players such as Pascal Groß, the most creative player in the Bundesliga last season (stats never lie, right?). Matt Ryan has replaced David Stockdale in goal and the Seagulls will need the Australian to hit the ground running given it was their defensive efforts which saw them earn promotion. Up front, Glenn Murray simply isn’t a Premier League striker while the jury is still out on Anthony Knockaert at this level. Neither the new imports, or the existing squad have the luxury of an acclimatization period and come next May it’s likely Hughton rues Opta’s lack of stats on premier league experience.

Verdict – 19th

Burnley

The only drawback of last season’s excellent home form for Burnley is the difficulty and unlikelihood of repeating it. Not only that, but they’ll also have to do it without their two best players, who have been sold, and are so far without replacements. Dyche’s low risk strategy on the pitch is reflected in his dealings in the transfer market given his reluctance to take the risks necessary to bring Burnley to the next level. Consequentially, Burnley are looking at a second season of fighting relegation rather than following the route taken by the likes of Leicester, Southampton and most recently Bournemouth in investing the first summer after ensuring survival. Burnley are in dire need of reinforcements, so it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see Danny Ings return to Turf Moor this season, only to leave again as the Clarets return to the Championship next May.

Key Player – Tom Heaton/ Surprise Star – Jeff Hendrick / Weak link – James Tarkowski

Verdict – 18th

Chelsea

Antonio Conte’s pleas for reinforcements aren’t without foundation. Only 16 players started a league game for Chelsea last season before the final day, and of those 5 have already left, with Costa on his way. Morata for Costa was a forced change but not necessarily an immediate upgrade given Costa’s suitability to Chelsea’s style of play. Morata may work harder, be technically superior and own a toothbrush, but Costa facilitated a lethal counter attacking style which saw Chelsea win the league. Replacing Matic with Bakayoko wasn’t forced and seems a completely rash and unnecessary move, especially given the Serb was sold to a direct rival. Conte will be aware Chelsea don’t need many changes to the first team. Rudiger is far from the finished article and won’t be an immediate starter but he is a versatile option who can provide cover and competition. A lack of European football minimizing the need to rotate last season allowed Chelsea to get away with having only one genuine option for most positions, but if they are to compete on multiple fronts and put up a genuine title defence, Conte should be looking to welcome 3-4 more players of Rudiger’s ilk. I couldn’t see Chelsea winning the league this time last year, and I’m taking the same position now. Expect a challenge but if Man City click, I expect a large gap between the two.

Key Player – Eden Hazard / Surprise Star – Cesc Fabregas / Weak link – Gary Cahill

Verdict – 4th

Crystal Palace

There is a cautious optimism around Selhurst Park following the appointment of Frank De Boer. On one hand, he was one of the most in demand coaches in Europe during his stint at Ajax. On the other, he’s only managing Palace because he was such a dismal failure at Inter. The Dutchman has been brought in to do what Pardew couldn’t – implement a more pro-active, possession based style of play throughout the club. He inherits a talented squad, but one which isn’t necessarily suited to his style of play. Coaching the Allardyce out of them will be his biggest task and De Boer should be wary of doing anything too quickly. The jury is very much out on the new manager but the squad is too good to go down and Palace fans are right to be excited. The fixture list has been kind to the Eagles, lessening the chance of a slow start while the players find their feet. The transition won’t be overnight, the club are going from one extreme to the other and Palace fans might be in store for a tough few months but by the season’s end, De Boer should have the foundations laid for Palace to build upon next season.

Key Player – Wilfried Zaha / Surprise star-  Ruben Loftus Cheek/ Weak link – James Tomkins

Verdict – 13th

Everton

Goodison Park was the place to be in June with a wealth of new signings passing through the gates. Just for a second it looked as if Everton were building something special, but Romelu Lukaku ended all that by leaving for Manchester. Bar David Moyes getting his hands on one of the current top 6, it’s highly unlikely Everton better last season’s finish. A siege through Europe is not beyond the stretch of the imagination though and with a few more additions, the Toffees could go a long way in the competition. First and foremost, they need a striker. For £6 million you can’t go wrong, but Sandro isn’t a Lukaku replacement. The only thing they have in common is a painful first touch and an infuriating ability to use it to put themselves on the back foot. Sandro does have a thunderous long shot in his locker but realistically Everton can’t rely on that. Rooney on the other hand adds sentiment, leadership and about 30 stone to the Everton dressing room but probably won’t make any significant impact on the pitch. Koeman would have taken glee in van Gaal falling for Rooney’s name and shoehorning him into the side, no matter the position, but he must be careful not to make the same mistake. Pickford and Keane solve 2 of last season’s problems but the squad is still short of some natural width and genuine excitement. Koeman certainly doesn’t have a poor squad at his disposal but there is no-one to blow you off your feet. The team boasts an enviable wealth of leaders which is critical in European competition. Add Sigurdsson, a striker and some natural width and the Toffees could well be on for an exciting European adventure if a rather disappointing domestic campaign.

Key Player – Seamus Coleman / Surprise star – Michael Keane / Weak Link – Rooney

Verdict – 9th

EPL Season Preview Part II

EPL Season Preview Part III

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