Welcome to another season, and a new start to the Beautiful Groan – after two years away, this is something of a return, and what better day to kick off? The Premier League has begun, our campaign opens against Liverpool on Sunday, and it is time to make some predictions. Let’s get straight to it:
Premier League – where will we finish?
I love these predictions, particularly in the press. If you look back over twenty years, you can find members of the print media who have predicted ten or more league titles for Liverpool, and more that fifteen occasions that Spurs would finish above Arsenal. Every single one of them has been woefully wrong (although the latter has been hilariously close on occasion, none more so than last May).
Of course, last season confounded everyone – I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I expected anything other than relegation for Leicester, or anticipated a complete Mourinho/Chelsea collapse, but even in a bonkers season some things were as predictable as ever. We still finished in the top four, and ended up looking down on Spurs. Oh, and those who plumped for Liverpool (yes, they still did) were as wrong as ever.
This season is one of the hardest to call in recent memory, for two reasons. One, an unprecedented number of new custodians of the big clubs, and we genuinely have no idea how they (or their signings) will settle, and two, it feels like so many squads are yet to be finalised, not least our own. Having spent all season clamouring for a new striker, our need for a centre half flew under the radar a little until they started dropping like flies. For tomorrow, we’re left with Chambers and the newly arrived Holding as our only options, unless one of the full backs moves inside. Ouch.
Nevertheless, I do expect these gaps to be filled (how effectively is another question), so I’m plumping for third place. Some will read that and think it optimistic, but having scraped into second last time out it doesn’t strike me as unrealistic.
Who will come above us?
This is where my prediction becomes a little dull, as I agree with many observers on this one – the two Manchester clubs. City have had the best squad in the league for some years without making the most of it, and I expect them to go up a couple of gears this campaign, while Mourinho has a habit of starting well in jobs, and also has a lack of Champions League football to worry about (I think he’ll rotate heavily for the Europa). That is a big advantage, although I don’t think it’ll be sufficient to pip their neighbours.
Rounding out the top four – Liverpool. I think they’ll be decent this season, and edge out Chelsea, who still have squad problems that a new manager and light fixture list won’t easily fix. As for Leicester, I think they’d take top eight right now and some fun in the Champions League.
What about Europe?
Always tough to predict cup competitions but I see little difference from previous years. I think we’re as good as bet as any to get out of the group, but our Arsenal-y tendencies may mean we drop daft points and come second, leading to a behemoth in the first knock out round. Would be nice to break that particular pattern, as I think we’re all bored of it.
A big season for?
There are a number of players for whom this campaign is a big one, and perhaps therein lies the key for Arsenal. Get the best out of those players and we’ll be strong, see them struggle and we’ll frustrate. So who are those key men?
Aaron Ramsey – let’s start with the big one. Ramsey is a remarkable footballer, and has shown such in an Arsenal shirt before. But the overriding feeling with him is that he is shunted into the team because of his talent, but in positions that do not suit him. He needs to prove that he can be at his best with Ozil in the team – right now there is a suspicion that it is an either/or situation. Granit Xhaka may well be a puzzle piece to aid the Welshman. We all know what can happen if Ramsey clicks.
Jack Wilshere – just stay fit, man. A victim of ‘build ’em up, knock ’em down‘ syndrome in the press, his injury woes and combative nature have allowed many to point fingers at him, labelling him an example of wasted English talent. I still think this is astonishingly harsh, given his performances when able to string a run of games together. He just desperately needs a full season.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – not for the first time, the Ox has impressed in pre-season, but those performances will count for nothing if he looks as lost as he did at times last season. Needs consistency of performance as well as fitness.
Alexis Sanchez – WHAT?? I hear you cry. Unlike the others, this isn’t a big season for him because he has flattered to deceive in prior campaigns – far from it. Instead, this relates more to his position – he has the chance, starting against Liverpool, to make the number nine role his own. He has all the attributes, Wenger clearly wants to deploy him there, and it helps our squad balance enormously if he succeeds. I have high high hopes that Sanchez can take his performances to new heights this season, in an adjusted role that gives us a myriad of options around him.
Player of the Year – Mesut Ozil
Most Improved – Calum Chambers
Will this be Wenger’s last season? – Yes, by his own choice
What colour is North London? Red.
What do I think of Tottenham? Shit.
What do I think of shit? Tottenham.