No matter what the experts and pundits say, no-one (not even a psychic octopus) could even predict the outcome of a Premier League season. Everyone can make educated guesses, but even I was surprised that Tottenham got into the Top 4 last season, and Liverpool collapsed in spectacular fashion.
You can leave your own predictions in the comments section of this post, and we can look back here in 9 months time and see how accurate we were!
Here’s my 2 cents worth anyway:
Premier League Champions: Arsenal
I have to say this don’t I? The question is do I believe it?
Well the biggest news is that Cesc Fabregas is staying for at least one more season, whether he wants to or not. He’s always given 110% whenever he’s worn the Arsenal shirt so I don’t see that changing in this campaign, despite all the talk that “his heart isn’t at Arsenal”. We’ve made 2 signings in Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny and lost 5, in William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Mikael Silvestre, Sol Campbell and Eduardo da Silva. So on paper at least, the squad is weaker than last year.
And we still haven’t solved our goalkeeping situation, which for me is the biggest obstacle Arsenal need to overcome if we are going to have a successful season. Jens Lehmann was completely nuts but he was a top goalkeeper. Since his departure the simple fact is Almunia or Fabianski are not up for the task. When your own supporters are calling you Basil Fawlty and Flapianski then you know the fans don’t have confidence in their keepers.
But who do we need? Fortunately it’s not my job to scout and chase possible candidates but names like Mark Schwarzer, Joe Hart and Shay Given have been banded around in recently months with no real substance. Citeh would be insane to release one of their quality keepers to us, and besides, I don’t rate Shay Given at all. One of my closest friends is a Citeh supporter and thinks he’s rubbish on set-pieces and crosses because he doesn’t come off his line. A top shot stopper yes, the ideal solution, no.
Then again, anyone would be an improvement on what we’ve got, so I am praying that Wenger pulls out an 11th hour transfer out of the bag.
My heart says Arsenal will overcome the odds, stay lucky with injuries and somehow pull off one of the most surprising title challenges of recent years. Manchester United haven’t really strengthened, and the same goes for Chelsea. Liverpool have added but are still well off and I just see Tottenham struggling in the league with a possible Champions League campaign ahead of them. That leaves Manchester City, who have a great squad of players but is Mancini the man to gel the team and get consistent results and performances? People are comparing them to Chelsea when Mourinho arrived but along with the big name signings they had possibly the most ruthless manager leading them. And I just don’t think Manchester City have that.
So along with my completely unwavering pre-season optimism, I believe that Arsenal have a real opportunity to do something special this season, if they stay injury free for most of the season. But you ask yourself how likely that is looking at our recent track record!
We should have won the league in the 2007/2008 campaign, and last year we looked the real deal until we lost Robin Van Persie for the rest of the season. With Arsenal, you’re playing with fine margins and everything really needs to go for us if we want to get to the top of the table. Is it possible? Of course it is, and the belief from the squad and manager is there, we just need to keep fighting until the end.
My heart says first, but my head says third.
Runners Up: Chelsea
As I see it, the strongest rivals are Chelsea.
They have a squad of born winners. Winning is all they know and that is so valuable in this league, and they have it in abundance, along with Manchester United. I’ve talked about that winning mentality being so vital in the Premier League and Chelsea and United are streets ahead of the rest of the league in that respect.
People comment on Chelsea’s ageing squad, but that isn’t going to be a major factor for me. They have quality all over the pitch and have that ruthlessness instilled by Mourinho. You could argue that the trophy that they covet the most, the European Cup, could distract them but the depth of their squad is impressive. But like Van Persie for us last season, you wonder how they would cope if Drogba was injured for any decent length of time.
Third Place: Manchester United
Last season Wayne Rooney was immense, taking over as the focal point of the team in Ronaldo’s absence. Manchester United have a knack of essentially basing an entire team around their best player. and while it could be argued that makes them a one man team the fact is it is effective an not many teams can stop it. They do it so well and over the last 3/4 seasons they have been fortunate that Ronaldo and Rooney have both played injury-free for the whole season.
Wayne Rooney would be a bigger miss for Manchester United than Didier Drogba or Robin Van Persie for Chelsea and Arsenal.
And after a draining World Cup campaign, it is possible that Rooney might struggle for parts of the season, although in fairness that’s more of a hope than the likelihood it will happen. But if they pick up one or two injuries in key areas they might struggle to keep up. And the form of Berbatov is key - his inability to score even the simplest chances towards the end of last season cost Manchester United dearly and made the difference in United not winning the league - after all they were only a single point away from Chelsea.
Fourth Place: Manchester City
Manchester City are the unknown quantity really, some are tipping them for the Premier League Title, while others think they will sneak fourth. I just don’t think Citeh have the managerial set-up to win the league, although Roberto Mancini has won Serie A before.
For me, it takes someone special to bring all of those superstars together in such a short space of time and make them into a real force and that man isn’t Mancini, it’s Mourinho. The squad is far too good for them not to make the Top 4 but the title is just beyond them I feel.
Like Arsenal, belief is the key for Manchester City. If they get off to a flyer in August, they could surprise everyone and do it, but when the chips are down I think they’ll struggle. Manchester United and Chelsea always believe they will win whatever the situation, but for Arsenal and Citeh they need the momentum and belief to make it all the way, and that’s where I think Manchester City will fall short.
Plus, the sight of Adebayor lifting the Premier League trophy doesn’t bare thinking about…
Relegated: Birmingham, Stoke City & Blackpool
It’s not just because Birmingham and Stoke City tried to ruin the careers of two of our favourite players (okay, it is a little) and you might think I’m insane choosing teams that finished 9th and 11th last season but hear me out.
Birmingham won’t have Joe Hart and Stoke City… yeah f*ck it, I don’t think they get relegated I just hope they do. I’m not going to lie, I still hold a very strong grudge.
I could argue that they exceeded expectations last season and this year teams will be able to figure out how to play against them, and that the expectations for the new season will be unrealistic and they will struggle with that burden. There, some half decent reasons!
And I would love it if Blackpool managed to stay up, I really would. Everyone loves an underdog and Blackpool on paper are ridiculously out of their depth. But Ian Holloway is a great character and it will be entertaining to see them stay in the league. Who knows, a decent start to the league and they have a fighting chance.
Top Scorer: Wayne Rooney
Absolutely everything goes through Shrek and you can bet after huge disappointment in South Africa he will be hell bent on impressing this season.
He has added heading to his repertoire of goals so expect more of the same this season, and he was only 3 goals off Drogba last year as well.