While discussing the openness of the title race as predicted by Arsene, my thoughts were that the year end table will look like United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, City, and doesn’t matter after that. But I wanted to wait till the end of the transfer window before making my predictions for the season.
Now that we’ve seen a few games and a rather lacklustre transfer window is closed (thankfully), it’s time to put my neck on the line.
Broadly speaking, I expect the top three to remain the same as last year but not in that order. City, Tottenham and Liverpool will probably fight it out for the next three places although it will be a big challenge for Redknapp to balance the Premiership with the unchartered waters of the Champions League. Similarly, Roy Hodgson faces a big challenge as the club’s future is uncertain and some of his main players aren’t in the right frame of mind.
Let me take this club by club starting with our title rivals,
Chelsea: The reigning champions have lost five experienced players in the transfer window and replaced them with two. In terms of involvement in the League last season, Ballack had 26 starts and 6 substitute appearances. Carvalho 22 starts, Cole 14+12, Deco 14+5, and Belletti 4+7. That’s a lot of squad depth. They will need big contributions from Benayoun and Ramirez and will have to hope that their key players maintain their fitness. Essien can be a like a new signing for Chelsea!
The big positive for Chelsea is that they can defend really well, especially against the smaller sides. So even if they have some players missing they can always play a tight game and hope to nick a winner. Another advantage is that their key players have not had many injury concerns. But as we saw in the 08-09 season, if Drogba misses a large chunk of games they’ll fall just short.
I expect them to have some extremely dominant periods and some phases when they drop a lot of points. Second in the League is my prediction.
United: Contrary to popular belief I don’t think United are on their way down. I think Fergie understand the Englishness of the League better than anyone else and that will help them a lot. Berbatov looks like he will do much better this season and that should ease some burden of Rooney. United fans will also be hoping for more from Nani, Valencia, and the refs (their twelfth man, especially at home).
If they can keep Vidic and Ferdinand fit, United have a good chance of winning the league. If they have injury problems in defence they will be third. Prediction: first or third.
City: They have the squad for a title challenge but I’m not sure they have the manager. To be honest, I’m not completely convinced by their squad either because it’s loaded with defensive minded players. They have some creativity on the wings but when their most creative central player is Yaya Toure, it tells me they’ll struggle to break teams down away from home as we’ve already seen.
I think they’ll be fourth because of their squad that should help them see off the Spuds and Liverpool. They will only finish higher if one of the top three really make a mess of things.
Tiny Totts, Liverpool, and Aston Villa will have some good patches and will be tough games for the top teams but I don’t expect any of them to be serious title challengers.
That brings me to Arsenal.
I think we will toggle with United – first or third.
A lot will depend on injuries of course, but I think we’ve added good quality over the summer. I know some people will still talk about the Keeper but we made a mess of things in 07-08 when Almunia was hardly at fault. I think we can win with our present defence and Keeper but that will depend on how our midfield and attack works out.
I don’t think it makes any sense to separate defence, goalkeeping, midfield and attack when analyzing football games. So statements like, “we don’t have a defence to win the league” or “we can’t win the league with Almunia” sound really hollow. In a game like Cricket we can say batting and bowling are completely separate and the quality of one doesn’t normally affect the quality of the other. That is not the case in football.
I’ve always maintained that Arsenal defend well when we can play our football and attack well. It’s not that much about personnel in defence or between the sticks. Yes, those guys will make the occasional mistake and we will concede some stupid goals. We did that in 07-08, even in the early part when we were running away with the league. The difference was that in those days we had team that never accepted defeat and always found a way of coming from behind on rare days when we did go behind. Sadly, that didn’t last till the end of the season but that’s a topic for another day.
To me the fitness of Van Persie and Fabregas will be key this season. We need more than 30 league appearances from both. Once again, going back to 07-08, we had 32+4 appearances from Adebayor and 32 starts from Cesc. In 08-09 RvP had 24+4 while Cesc had 22, Last season Fabregas had 26+1 while Van Persie made 14+2 appearances. It’s not difficult to see the impact our best players have on the year end tally.
We will definitely benefit from the improved performances of Walcott, Nasri, and Arshavin. Also the arrival of Chamakh should add to our attacking strengths and will perhaps counter the absence of RvP to some extent. Even then, I’ve a feeling the fitness of Van Persie and Fabregas will make the difference between first and third.
Champions League and the Cups
I find it very hard to make predictions for the Cup ties and in many ways Champions League is a Cup despite its name.
A lot will depend on the draw. If we get some home games we should do well in the FA Cup. I don’t expect us to win the Carling Cup with our policy because many teams have invested so much that they desperately need something just so they can look in the mirror.
In the Champions League I expect we will have a real challenge if we draw United, Chelsea, Farca, or Madrid. We should get past all other teams including Bayern, although that could be a tight game.
Farca have Messi and with the system we play it’s tough to deal with a guy like him. Even if we manage to keep him quiet we might end up leaving space for others. Still with a fully fit first team I’d definitely enjoy a battle with the scumbags.
United, Chelsea and Real (now that they have the Dark Lord) will defend against us and stop us from playing. As I said before, once we can’t play the way we like our defensive issues are exacerbated. In Cup games I expect we will have a real challenge getting past these sides. That doesn’t mean we can’t do it. A lot will depend on the personnel available and the form on the day so it’s pointless to predict the results of Cup ties right now.
All in all, I think our best shot is at the Premier League title, second best would be the FA Cup or the Champions League depending on the draw.