Good day Ladies and Gentleman, and welcome to the first part of my Premier League Preview. Over the next few days I’ll be looking in detail at all of the twenty teams that will compete in the Premier League this season, with a view to providing a comprehensive preview to what should be an exciting season. First up today are Arsenal, Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers.
For each team I’ll be looking at where they finished last season, and what their aims for the forthcoming campaign might be. I’ll then analyse how successful I think they might be with regard to their strengths and weaknesses, an analysis of their summer transfer activity so far and by picking out one key player per club. Finally, I’ll make a prediction as to where they shall end the season, come next May.
Last Season: 4th.
Target: Arsene Wenger has firmly established Arsenal as one of the Premier League’s ‘big four’ during his time at the club, but in recent seasons they’ve been a little off the pace, not really mounting a serious title challenge, and failing to pick up any silverware of note. Still, ask any Arsenal fan what their target for the season is and they will tell you: quite simply, Arsene needs to deliver another Premier League title.
Squad Analysis: Since the ‘Invincibles’ of 2005, Wenger’s squad has been gradually depleted. The departures of Henry and Vieira seem to have signalled a period of instability for Wenger’s squad, and this summer has been no exception, with Adebayor, Toure and seemingly Senderos set to depart. He has finally spent some money though, bringing in Thomas Vermaelen, but you feel Wenger really needs to invest heavily in midfield and attack if Arsenal are to be a threat.
Key Player: Without a doubt Cesc Fabregas is the key to Arsenal’s play. A mercurial midfielder, he will be at the centre of everything positive that they do, and will conduct and direct their famous flowing football. If Fabregas gets injured again like last season, the title won’t go to the Emirates.
Ttiao… Prediction: They’ll struggle with not enough strength in depth. 6th.
Last Season: 6th
Target: O’Neill’s men threatened to break into the top four for much of last season, they played well but were fortunate on many occasions and ultimately they didn’t have enough quality to maintain their push and slipped to 6th. Still, it’s a good foundation to build on and Villa fans will hope that they can once again try and break the top four, as well as putting together a run in the Europa League.
Squad Analysis: They’ve lost Gareth Barry which will be a big blow and leave them with a large gap to fill. He’s been their main man for many years now and someone like Steve Sidwell is going to have to step up to fill the gap. O’Neill has continued to bring in young English talent though, with Stewart Downing and Fabian Delph the latest additions, joining the likes of Milner, both Ashley and Luke Young and Agbonlahor in giving Villa a young and hungry spine. He needs very much to sure up the defence though with Martin Laursen sadly forced to retire.
Key Player: I think that James Milner will be key to their fortunes this season. After emerging as a tricky winger at Leeds he has become a more complete player in recent seasons, moving more into the middle of the park. He will have his work cut out to replace Barry, but if he can step up he could well put himself in contention for a World Cup squad place.
Ttiao… Prediction: 7th. I think Villa will do well again but will slip behind an improved Man City.
Last Season: 2nd in Coca Cola Championship
Target: The primary target for any promoted side will always simply be survival. Though every Birmingham fan would love to see their side push on to establish themselves in the comfort of middle table or beyond, they will be realistic enough to know that safety comes first, after all they’ve been here a number of times before.
Squad Analysis: Having not seen them play at all last season, I can only look at Alex McLeish’s side on paper, and on paper what I see is a whole lot of experience. The likes of Lee Carsley, Maik Taylor and Kevin Phillips have played at Premier League level before but will not be getting on a bit. However, they also have quality players like James McFadden and Sebastien Larsson and have bought well, with the experience Barry Ferguson and the promising Christian Benitez adding to last season’s squad, they may have struck a good balance of experience and quality.
Key Player: They look to be fairly strong through the back and in midfield, but many promoted sides struggle to get goals and Birmingham don’t have anyone who has a really proven record at this level, except the ageing Phillips. Thus I think new boy Benitez will need to fire on all cylinders if Birmingham are to survive this season.
Ttiao… Prediction: A long, hard season, but I think they’ll just about survive: 16th.
Last Season: 15th.
Target: After the highs of life under Mark Hughes, Rovers came down to earth with a bump under Paul Ince last season, but were rescued by the arrival of Big Sam. They would have been pleased to survive last season after the start they had, and I think this season for Rovers will be all about consolidation. Sam will (unfortunately) make his mark on the way the team plays and they’ll be happy to finish comfortably mid-table, with anything more a bonus.
Squad Analysis: Last season they struggled for a regular goal scorer as Roque Santa Cruz was clearly unsettled and McCarthy and Roberts certainly weren’t up to the task. To alleviate that problem Sam has secured highly rated Chelsea youngster Franco Di Santo on loan, as well as a host of his usual unknown signings to add to the squad. I fear there will be a lack of much genuine creativity in the squad with Pedersen the only player of whom you can expect the unexpected. They’re very solid at the back though.
Key Player: Morten Gamst Pedersen. As I said, he’s their only real flair player, he can take people on and deliver really dangerous passes and balls into the box, as well as scoring a few himself. Sam’s teams will always be solid but they also need a spark, and Pedersen must step up for Blackburn.
Ttiao… Prediction: Mid-table mediocrity. A safe but not very pretty 13th.
Last Season: 13th.
Target: I get the feeling that Megson is still trying to stamp his authority on this squad. They were, like many others, horrendously inconsistent last season, but there’s no doubt that they do have some quality players. Like Rovers I think they’d settle for mid-table but if they don’t see any visible progression then the fans could turn on Megson very easily.
Squad Analysis: Theirs is what you would call a spectacularly solid squad. Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies make it very clear that their plan of attack will be quite direct but in Matt Taylor and Fabrice Muamba there are certainly some players who can play good football there too. Defensively they may struggle, because though Gary Cahill is very good, the likes of Steinsson, O’Brien, Samuel and Shittu provide no guarantees at this level.
Key Player: For years now Kevin Davies has epitomised Bolton Wanderers, and he had arguably one of his best seasons last time around, even earning talk of an England call up. He’s a great presence up top, will unsettle any defence with his power but he can also finish nicely and is better than you think with the ball at his feet. As usual, Wanderers need him on form.
Ttiao… Prediction: 14th. Solid enough to survive, not good enough to progress.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two of the Premier League Preview when I’ll be running my eye over Burnley, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham and Hull.
To read Part Two, click here.