Premier League Predictions – Ed's Riposte

So the season’s back, and Sam’s Match Reports is once again writing articles like this one, where Sam made a load of predictions that I didn’t agree with.  So, I went ahead and wrote my own Premier League predictions, and then blackmailed him with videos of him doing the Per Mertesacker dance until he posted it.
So, here is how I think the Premier League will pan out this season, with a few notes about each team:
(NB, I must apologise for not knowing a lot about Leicester and Burnley.  Other than checking in on Watford every so often I really don’t follow Championship football, so I can’t honestly judge how well they’ll do).
1. Chelsea
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Mourinho is a great manager.  While some of his transfer decisions have seemed a little bizarre, such as the sales of Mata and Lukaku, they clearly show that he has a team and a style in mind, and is prepared to cut ruthlessly where players don’t fit with those plans.  His acquisitions over the summer have been fantastic.  Arsenal, City and Chelsea fans may have taken heart from the fact that Costa had a bad World Cup, but he was fantastic in Spain last year and could turn out to be the signing of the season.  Meanwhile it’s also worth remembering that his Atletico Madrid teammate, Thibaut Courtois, is back at Chelsea after some astonishing performances last season.  For my mind, Petr Cech has been up with the greatest goalkeepers in the world for the last few seasons, but for the first time in his Chelsea career he faces a real threat to his position as number one.
2. Manchester City
The champions last year haven’t had an explosively exciting transfer window, which is why I think Chelsea will pip them to the post, but they still have an incredible squad and some superb players.  Arsenal fans are right to celebrate the victory of the Community Shield, but I’m not convinced that City’s form from that game will continue into the Premier League season.  Other than their makeshift defensive lineup, the main reason that City were unable to impose themselves on the game was that Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri gave very poor performances.  Both were outstanding last season, and, cake issues aside, I expect them to be back to their best this season as well.  Up front Jovetic has looked good in pre-season in the absence of Negredo and Aguero.  2nd place, and a cup trophy.
3. Arsenal
I’m betting on Arsenal to come third this year.  If you’re reading this blog you already know what a blinder Wenger has played in the transfer window this summer, and I expect to see another central defender come in before the end of August.  The lack of a defensive midfielder doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and I’m not convinced that the benefits of having someone in that mould (and they are few and far between) would outweigh the advantages of having Arteta’s crisp, precise passing, his cool penalty-taking skills, and his well-timed professional fouls.  Unfortunately, even with the addition of Sanchez, I just don’t think we’ll finish at the top of the table – it’ll be close, but Chelsea and City do still have better teams. Another cup win would be lovely though (League Cup, just to show that we can mix it up a bit).
4. Liverpool
A lot of people I talk to seem to be betting on Liverpool to drop out of the top four this year.  I’m not convinced.  Yes, the loss of Suarez is a blow, but they still have a great team and a really talented manager.  Despite a lot of mockery on Twitter that they’re doing a “Tottenham” with the money gained from Suarez’s sale, it’s actually a very different situation.  Tottenham replaced Bale with nearly an entirely new first team who had never played together before.  Rodgers hasn’t done that.  Instead he’s kept a hold of most of the team that got him to second place last year, and brought in players to improve his squad and put competition on the first team places.  Don’t be surprised if they bring in another striker in the next couple of weeks, either.  Without Suarez they’re not good enough to win the title, but they’ll still get a Champion’s League spot.
5. Manchester United
Yes, Van Gaal is a better manager than Moyes, and there’s no doubt that that will improve United performances, but I can’t be alone in thinking that the weaknesses United displayed last season extended beyond the manager.  Despite their impressive attacking firepower, to my mind they are still lacking in quality midfield players, even with the addition of Herrera.  As for their defence, the loss of Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra has left them short-staffed and lacking both quality and experience, and so far Van Gaal’s first Premier League transfer window hasn’t exactly wowed me.  Give him time and I’m sure he’ll push them back to being title contenders, but this season I don’t see them getting into the top 4.
6. Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs have been relatively quiet this transfer window, but I expect them to be a very dangerous team this season.  Pochettino is a good manager, and the players that were bought in 2013 have now had time to get to know each other and learn to play as a team.  Even under Sherwood Spurs went on an impressive run in the second half of last season, and I expect to see a very exciting three-way scrap between them, United and Everton.
7. Everton
I really like Martinez, I love what he’s doing at Everton and I’m seriously impressed that he’s managed to get Barry and Lukaku on permanent deals.  I know I’m not alone amongst Arsenal fans in seeing him as a possible future replacement for Wenger, when Le Professeur finally retires (on a throne made of melted down trophies, held aloft by broken Chelsea players).  Unfortunately I think Everton are going to be undone by last season’s success.  Europa League games add extra fixtures that I’m not sure Everton have the depth to deal with, and Thursday night games are not ideal for Premier League clubs.  Still, I’ll be satisfied if Arsenal can get a point when we go to Goodison Park in a week’s time – Everton are a very good club, and they’ll finish comfortably 7th.
8. Newcastle
Pardew’s lost Loic Remy and Mathieu Debuchy, but he’s brought in some new talent and I think they’ll have a solid, if unexciting, season, finishing 8th.  Not a lot else to say, because I don’t really care.
9. Stoke
Am I a huge fan of Mark Hughes?  Not particularly.  And, like any Gooner, I can’t stand Ryan Shawcross.  However, Stoke have always been a tough team to beat, and Hughes has got them playing some decent football.  Their transfer window has involved grabbing good players from average teams around them, with Steve Sidwell and Phil Bardsley coming in, and I think they’ll be unlucky to not make the top half of the table.  Also, for some reason I can really see them making a good cup-run.  FA Cup semi-finalists, I reckon.  You heard it here first.
10. Swansea
Swansea make some really strange decisions.  I was never sure why they got rid of Laudrup as manager, and now I’m really not sure why Michu has gone out on loan.  I know he was injured for much of last season, but he was electric the year before, and a loan move seems to help nobody.  Either sell him for ten times what you bought him for, or keep him in the squad.  In any case, in 2013-2014 his goals were picked up by Bony, who I expect to perform again this season.  The loss of Davies,
Vorm and Flores will hurt, but Sigurdsson, Montero and, of course, Fabianksi will soften that blow.  Mid-table.
11. West Ham
I don’t understand people who are critical of Big Sam.  Sure, his philosophy is a little more pragmatic than those of Wenger or Rodgers, but he’s made West Ham a strong team and he’s bought well this window.  Sakho and Valencia are good attacking signings, and I’m sure Arsenal fans everywhere will look forward to seeing Carl Jenkinson tearing up the Hammers’ right flank.  They’ll be fine, easily clear of relegation.
12. Hull City
Up until the loss of Shane Long, I thought Steve Bruce was having a great transfer window.  Even with that exit, Hull are still a good team, although they, like Everton, could suffer from Europa League games.  Bottom half, but no difficulties.
13. Southampton
Southampton have made the papers for the “exodus” of Lambert, Lallana, Chambers, Shaw and Lovren, but stories of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.  If they can keep a hold of Schneiderlin and Rodriguez then they should be fine, although whether Koeman can replicate Pochettino’s quick-pass football remains to be seen.
14. Sunderland
Poyet was incredible last season, keeping an almost certainly doomed Sunderland in top flight football.  He’s gone on to demonstrate his strength as a manager in the transfer window.  Rodwell, Jones, Gomez and Pantilimon are all great signings for a club at this level, and give him some good depth to work with.  They’ll have no difficulty staying up this season.
15. West Bromwich Albion
Some decent, if unspectacular, signings have been augmented by the gamble of Brown Ideye for £10m.  I’ve not seen the man play, so I can’t judge whether this is a good purchase or not.  If it is, West Brom should be fine.  If Ideye turns out to be a flop then West Brom are once again going to be struggling desperately to find any goals.
16. Queens Park Rangers
I watched QPR against Derby in the play-offs at the end of last season in a pub in Derby, and I was struck by the number of rejects from other Premier League clubs that they have on their books.  Derby were the better team that day, but QPR got the goal, much to the chagrin of my fellow drinkers.  Redknapp has added to his number with Cardiff’s two best players and one of England’s best defenders, which is shrewd buying, and I don’t see them getting relegated this season.
17. Crystal Palace
Palace are now my local club, and I had them much higher on this list until today.  Pulis was superb last season, and it will be difficult to replace him.  Furthermore his reasons for leaving – the lack of money available for transfers – have limited the amount of talent they’ve been able to pull in.  They’ll definitely be in the relegation scrap until the end of the season, but with the right manager I think they might just nick it.
18. Aston Villa
Maybe I’m being too harsh on Villa by putting them all the way down here, but I just don’t rate them at all.  Their new signings leave me cold, and Lambert seems to be struggling to replicate the managerial skill he demonstrated at Norwich.  Time’s up, Villa.  You’re going down.
19. Leicester
I don’t know a great deal about Leicester, or most of their players, so this might be a bit unfair.  I do like Kasper Schmeichel as a keeper, but whether they’ll have enough to keep them up, I don’t know.
20. Burnley
No idea.  Always liked Marvin Sordell but he’s now 23 and hasn’t progressed as much as he promised to.  Would be impressed to see them stay up.

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Each season has a seminal moment

It’s ten years since the Invincibles season. Yes, I’m slightly horrified by that thought too. It makes me feel a bit old and only reinforces the fact Arsenal have been in a ‘transitional period’ for an uncomfortably long time. However, despite not winning the league since 2004, being an Arsenal fan isn’t dull or unexciting. In every season since that incredible unbeaten campaign, there have been matches that have made the season feel worthwhile.
Even if it’s just one or two matches a season, there have always been games that make you want to continue supporting the club because the moments of euphoria and excitement they bring about are nigh on impossible to recreate in any other situation in society.
It might seem strange to be thinking quite as deeply about this before a Capital One Cup third round match away to West Bromwich Albion. However, this competition last year produced my seminal moment for the 2012/13 season. Given that away match tickets can be like gold dust, going to Madejski Stadium to see Arsenal play Reading in the fourth round seemed like a great idea. At least it did until Arsenal were 4-0 down before half time.
The first 40 minutes of that match were the worst I’ve ever seen live from an Arsenal team. Fans were still adapting to the loss of Robin van Persie, and had things got worse in that match, the atmosphere could have become really volatile. However Theo Walcott pulled a goal back just before half time to give the away fans the faintest glimmer of hope. The talk amongst supporters was that the Walcott goal could be crucial by the end of the game, before we all laughed it off. Someone was overheard saying, “I’ve never been to one of these big comeback games.” Again, we all dismissed it as a random burst of optimism just to keep spirits up.
Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld entered the fray in the second half and changed the game. Eisfeld gave Arsenal control and creativity in midfield, whilst Giroud showed signs that he could become the player he now is. His excellent header halved the deficit to make it 4-2.
With two minutes of normal time left, most fans were fairly content to at least have avoided the completely humiliating result that seemed likely at 4-0. Then Koscielny headed in Walcott’s corner. 4-3 with four minutes of added time. One chance, Arsenal just needed one chance.
Walcott got the ball on the left side of the area, flashed it across goal and agonisingly wide. That was it, the away fans assumed that was the chance gone. That was until Jason Roberts took the art of slow jogging to new levels when he was substituted to waste time. The referee correctly added on the time for the substitution, and there were just enough seconds for Coquelin to pump the ball in the box, Chamakh to head it down, Walcott to have a shot that just crossed the line before Jenkinson stuffed it home anyway to make sure.
I’ve not known celebrations like it. Did I care that I might miss the last train out of Reading because of extra time? Not a chance. In the excitement of it all, one man near me got a split lip such was the pandemonium that ensued.
Extra time was just as exciting, with Arsenal going 5-4 up before being pegged back to 5-5. Having gone through the elation of coming back and taking the lead, to concede late on and head towards penalties was tough to take.
Then Laurent Koscielny intercepted the ball and Andrey Arshavin found his first proper burst of energy in about two years to speed towards goal despite playing 120 minutes of football. His shot was cleared off the line, but Theo Walcott slammed in the rebound to spark more mental celebrations. Everyone had forgotten it was a Capital One Cup fourth round match. This game had turned into its own epic. Everyone was caught up in the moment.
Incredibly, the celebrations were elongated when Marouane Chamakh broke away and lobbed the goalkeeper to complete the craziest game of football I’ve ever been to. 120 minutes, 7-5 winners having been 4-0 down.
That match at the Madejski was proof that any match has the potential to become a seminal moment. A moment that, whilst it doesn’t always compensate for winning trophies, is a memory you’ll remember for as long as you support the club. For some fans, because of that game, they will be making the journey to the West Midlands on Wednesday evening to watch Arsenal at the Hawthorns against West Brom. It could be a boring game, and with the changes Arsenal will make, they could go out. But, it might not be. That’s what keeps us going and supporting the Arsenal.
One man that is set to appear on Wednesday is Nicklas Bendtner. For all the negativity surrounding his return to the first-team fold, it’s easy to forget that he has provided Arsenal fans with one of those seminal moments from a season. Think 2007/08, the North London Derby against Tottenham. Bendtner came off the bench with the scores at 1-1, ran straight into the box and scored with his first touch to win the game.
That alone shows that even the unlikeliest people can have a hero in them.
Honestly, I’m not expecting too much from the West Brom game because of the patchwork team that Arsene Wenger is likely to field. However we shouldn’t discount the game and we shouldn’t discount Bendtner. A Capital One Cup tie in one of the early rounds might seem innocuous enough, but seminal moments can appear from anywhere. You don’t want to miss them when they do.