Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Arsenal

arsenal-fa-cup-final.jpg

Image: mirror.co.uk

Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph at the end of last season papered over the cracks of what should be considered a very poor season for Arsenal. The Gunners dropped out of the top four for the first time under Arsene Wenger’s leadership, and given the activity of their rivals it will be a huge struggle to regain their Champions League place. So far, they have brought in former-Schalke left back Sead Kolasinac and striker Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon. Lacazette netted 28 times for Lyon in the league last season, so should lift the pressure on Alexis Sanchez, but it remains to be seen if the forward can adapt to a more competitive league, especially as 10 of those goals were penalties. Arsenal suffered a drop in form around the middle of the season last year, winning just two out of eight games from the end of January, including shock defeats to Watford, West Brom and Crystal Palace. This was indicative of Arsenal in recent years, as they buckled before picking up in form when they were no longer able to achieve anything. Arsenal fans will hope that the addition of the Invincibles keeper Jens Lehmann to the coaching staff will install a bit of backbone in to a very mentally fragile team.

Key Player: Alexis Sanchez. Alexis Sanchez was the main reason that Arsenal were able to challenge for a top four place last season. His 24 goals and 11 assists meant that he was involved in 46.9% of all of Arsenal’s league goals. The Chilean only has a year left on his contract, and if Arsenal want to return to the Champions League and keep hold of their stars, Sanchez’s contribution will be vital. The arrival of Lacazette means that Sanchez will probably be utilised on the left wing this year, but does offer another option up front.

One to Watch: Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The versatile midfielder made 7 appearances last season in all competitions, and will be looking to break in to the first team more often this time out. A part of England’s victorious Under 20 World Cup squad, Maitland-Niles has already been confirmed to have been promoted to Arsenal’s first team squad for this season and has started four of Arsenal’s pre-season friendlies.

Last Season: 5th

Predicted Finish: 6th

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Premier League 2016/17 Preview – Arsenal

Ozil

Mesut Ozil finished top of last season’s assists chart with 19. Image: ESPN

Arsenal’s summer started promisingly, with the £34m acquisition of Granit Xhaka seemingly showing their intention to really push for the title this time around. But with only youngsters Rob Holding and Takuma Asano joining the club since then it could be another nearly year for the Gunners. With Danny Welbeck expected to be side-lined until the New Year, Arsenal will again be relying heavily on the goal-scoring prowess of Olivier Giroud. Per Mertesacker will also miss the first few months of the season, and with the Gunners hosting Liverpool, Southampton and Chelsea in the first six games, as well as facing a trip to champions Leicester, Arsene Wenger’s side could be out of contention very early this season. The Gunners’ lack of activity compared to their rivals could see them left behind in the race for the title.

Key Man: Mesut Ozil. The German maestro topped the Premier League assists table last season with 19, but only three of these came in 2016. Ozil created 146 goal-scoring chances last season, a Premier League record, and only needs the addition of a top striker to propel Arsenal up the table.

One to Watch: Chuba Akpom. The England Under-21 international has reportedly been told by Arsene Wenger that he will not be going out on loan this season. Although he only scored three league goals on loan at Hull last season, his talent was on show with a hat trick at Bury in the FA Cup. Akpom has netted in Arsenal’s last three friendlies and looks set to be involved in the opener against Liverpool.

Last Season: 2nd

Prediction: 4th

Premier League Season Review: Part 1

This year’s Premier League is undoubtedly going to go down as one of the most shocking events in world football. Nobody, even the most ardent Leicester fans, predicted their incredible rise to the title, but with the traditional big teams faltering, they seized their opportunity. In the next few posts I will briefly review each team’s season and compare them to my preseason predictions. The first part of the review will focus on Leicester, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City.

Leicester City – Final Position: 1st – Prediction: 20th

leicester-city-lifts-trophy

Image: si.com

Even when it mathematically confirmed, it was still unthinkable that Leicester City would be crowned Premier League champions. Their consistency saw them lose just 3 games all season, Arsenal home and away, and away to Liverpool. This incredible record was certainly built on an incredible defensive record, especially in the second half of the season, having kept 15 clean sheets on the way to the title. Obviously they had the attacking flair to capitalise upon this, with Jamie Vardy netting 24 goals, including his record-breaking run of scoring in 11 consecutive games, whilst Riyad Mahrez weighed in with 17 goals and 11 assists. N’Golo Kante has to go down as one of the signings of the season, whilst the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Danny Simpson and Marc Albrighton have all stepped up from last season, so much so that Drinkwater was included alongside Vardy in Roy Hodgson’s provisional 26 man Euro 2016 squad.

Obviously I got this prediction just about as wrong as you can get. Claudio Raneri did not have a good recent managerial record and I questioned whether he was what was needed to keep this squad up, let alone lift them to a Premier League title.

Arsenal – Final Position: 2nd – Prediction: 2nd

 

arsenal

Image: BBC Sport

Arsenal will consider this season a missed opportunity to lift the Premier League for the first time since 2004. The season started optimistically with the acquisition of Petr Cech, but the lack of other signings cost them dearly. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both suffered horrendous mid-season drops in form after being relied upon in the opening games. Question marks still sit squarely over the position of Olivier Giroud, whose 16 goals this season is not nearly enough for a striker with the service that he gets provided with. A late push saw them finish above rivals Spurs, but many people were left wondering why they could not capitalise on the momentum generated by their defeat of Leicester in LATE February.

Unfortunately for Arsenal fans their season has to be described as predictable. They are a good side, capable of beating anyone in the league, but lack the star quality to actually win any silverware. This season they were 2 or 3 players short, but whether the late snatching of second place will paper over the rather obvious cracks remains to be seen.

Tottenham – Final Position: 3rd – Prediction: 5th

harry-kane

Image: The Telegraph

If you only looked at the final Premier League table, Tottenham had an excellent season. Third place at the beginning of the season would have been brilliant, but their end of season collapse saw them collect less points than relegated Norwich in the final four games. Harry Kane and Deli Alli stood out this season, Kane topping the scoring charts with 25 goals and Alli chipping in with 10. A young English core has seen Spurs become more tolerable to neutrals, but the lack of squad depth combined with Maurico Pochettino’s high pressing style saw them fall from potential title winners.

Tottenham exceeded all expectations this season, comfortably finishing in the Champions League places. Deli Alli was afforded the playing time that he needed to develop, and they will look to go one step further next year with an additional season of experience.

Manchester City – Final Position: 4th – Prediction: 4th

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Image: The Independent

Manchester City’s season was summed up perfectly after the appointment of Pep Guardiola. It was really just indifferent. The owners did not back Pellegrini in the summer, and it showed on the pitch. The emergence of Kalechi Iheanacho was clearly one of the highlights of the season, alongside their Champions League run. Their form against the other top four sides was abysmal, with just one draw from those six games. Guardiola will need to overhaul this squad if they are to challenge for the title next season rather than limp in to the Champions League again.

Like Arsenal, City’s season was rather predictable. They failed to improve the side, instead wasting money on the likes of Delph and Sterling. Only the manner of their fourth place was surprising, as I thought that they would be a lot more consistent than they turned out to be.

Super Sunday leaves title race wide open

Sunday’s Premier League results have left this season’s Premier League title race open for all of the top four teams. Arsenal’s win at home to Leicester sees them move two points behind the leaders, whilst Spurs’ triumph at Manchester City sees them ahead of their North London rivals on goal difference, with City a further four points back.

With the situation as tight as it is, it’s time to look ahead to the final 12 games to see who has what it takes to survive the run-in and be crowned champions of England.

Leicester, 1st, 53 points

mahrez v city

Riyad Mahrez netting in the 3-1 win over Manchester City. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Leicester have defied belief by staying top of the table for this amount of time. Many expected the underdogs to simply fall away as we reached the new year, however their recent 3-1 demolition of Manchester City showed that they are genuine title contenders. The Foxes have arguably the easiest run-in of the four contenders, only having to face 3 of the current top 8, plus a trip to Chelsea. Being knocked out of the FA Cup means that Leicester’s 12 remaining league games are the only ones that they have to play, meaning more rest in the hectic Easter period and during the run-in.

Added to this, 7 out of their remaining 12 games are at home, more than any of the other contenders. However this may not be beneficial for their counter-attacking style, and it could see them struggle against teams that sit deep and let them have possession.

Much has been made of Leicester’s final three games, trips to Manchester United and Chelsea either side of hosting Everton. Despite claiming 7 points from the reverse fixtures, this tough end to the season could see them give up their lead.

Tottenham, 2nd, 51 points

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Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen have 21 goals and 12 assists between them this season. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Due to Leicester’s success, Tottenham’s progression has gone largely under the radar this season. Maurico Pochettino has cleared out a lot of the deadwood and replaced it with a hard-working core of young players. The key to Spurs’ success this year is that their squad contains no real superstars, no player that could walk in to a Champions League team, but instead they work hard for each other.

Spurs have five of the top 8 still to play, whilst also visiting Chelsea, so have the toughest run-in of the title contenders. They will also be facing Newcastle on the final day, which should be a guaranteed win, despite the Tynesiders potentially needing the points to avoid relegation. Tottenham have conceded the least goals this season, and their goal difference of +27 betters Manchester City’s +20, Leicester’s +19 and Arsenal’s +18. However, they will be sweating on the return of Jan Vertonghen after his recent injury. Although Kevin Wimmer has performed well in his absense, Vertonghen is one of the few Spurs players to have won a domestic title before, so his experience could prove vital.

A potential dent in Spurs’ title hopes is that they could potentially still have 27 games to play this season, according to Sky Sports. Whether the added Europa League and FA Cup fixtures will tire a relatively thin squad or boost the team’s morale by picking up win after win remains to be seen. Pochettino may attempt to solve this by rotating in the cup competitions, but he should be prepared to justify himself should that not lead to Spurs winning the league.

Arsenal, 3rd, 51 points

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Danny Welbeck’s winner against Leicester was his first league goal since December 2014. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Arsenal’s win against Leicester has brought the Gunners within two points of the Foxes, and arguably in to the strongest position to win the title. The squad is more experienced than either Leicester’s or Tottenham’s, with World Cup winners Mertesacker and Ozil, as well as title winners Sanchez, Welbeck, Cech and Giroud. Arsenal seem to have shaken the stigma of being ‘bottlers’, winning consecutive FA Cups, so it is really time for them to win their first title since 2004.

Arsenal only have to face four of the current top 8 sides, however all four of those are away from home. Having taken only two wins from those reverse fixtures will be a concern for Arsenal fans, however they have taken the most points from games against the other top four teams with 10. The Gunners’ strikers will have plenty of ammunition, with Mesut Ozil having created the most chances (106), the most clear-cut chances (23), and the most assists (17) in the league so far this season.

Arsenal’s last five games seem especially favourable, as they face Palace, Sunderland and Norwich, before a trip to the Etihad and hosting Aston Villa on the final day. With this in mind, should the title not be sewn up by the middle of April, Arsenal should be the favourites. It is also unlikely that they will have to worry about European games, as they face the seemingly unstoppable Barcelona in the Round of 16. A hammering in the Champions League could damage morale, however it didn’t seem too evident in the draw at home to Tottenham after the 5-1 loss to Bayern earlier this season.

Manchester City, 4th, 47 points

Iheanacho

Kelechi Iheanacho scored his third goal of the season as a substitute against Spurs, the joint highest from coming off the bench. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Manchester City’s late loss at home to Tottenham sees them sit in fourth, six points behind Leicester. City are no strangers to trailing in the league, with their previous title wins coming from a 7 and a 8 point deficit. However, this year’s side looks different. Manuel Pellegrini’s departure seems to have some players already on their holidays, with only a win at Sunderland to show for in the three games since the announcement that Pep Guardiola will take charge in the summer.

City haven’t been bad at either end of the pitch, but the midfield seems the problem as it comes to the business end of the season. Joe Hart has kept 11 clean sheets, one behind league leader Cech whilst Vincent Kompany is returning to full fitness, with City having kept 7 clean sheets in the 9 games that he has played. At the other end, Sergio Aguero’s 14 goals see him joint fifth in the scoring charts, despite only playing in 19 games. But Kevin De Bruyne’s absence in midfield has been felt, especially with Yaya Toure playing as if he knows that he will not be at the club next season. David Silva has 8 assists, but neither he, nor Toure, or even Raheem Sterling have chipped in with enough goals. The centre midfield duo that started the game against Tottenham, Fernando and Fernandinho, shows the lack of genuine quality in midfield that stops City from becoming a powerhouse.

With Dynamo Kiev in the next round of the Champions League, it can be expected that City will have to negotiate at least four extra games on top of the League, the FA Cup and the Captial One Cup Final. In the league they face four top 8 opponents, as well as a trip to Chelsea. Fortunately, they only have 5 home games left this season, as four of their 7 defeats have come at the Etihad this season, more than in Pellegrini’s previous two seasons combined (3). They face trips to Manchester United and Southampton in their final five matches, as well as hosting Arsenal, so if Manchester City are to recreate the highs of 2011 and 2014, they will have to do it the hard way. It is worth noting that City have the poorest record against the other top four sides, amassing only one point so far.

Forster to Challenge Hart for England Spot?

After nine months out of action this summer’s European Championships may have seemed a distant dream for Fraser Forster. However five clean sheets in his first five games back have seen him demonstrate why he was being talked about as a real challenger to Joe Hart.

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Forster’s 10 saves at Arsenal was a personal high in the Premier League. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Southampton hadn’t looked particularly weak defensively so far this season, aside from the early 3-0 defeat to Everton and a hefty 6-1 loss against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup, however the return of Forster has seen a more confident back line.

The Englishman had very little to do in his first three games back, but a sensational performance to almost single-handedly hold Arsenal to a goalless draw drew the media spotlight. Forster denied Arsenal time and time again, making ten saves as he kept a fourth clean sheet. His latest performance in the 1-0 against West Ham saw him become the first Southampton goalkeeper in 15 years to keep five consecutive clean sheets.

What makes this record even more remarkable is that Forster has made almost half as many saves (14) in his five games as his stand-in, Maarten Stekelenburg, made in 17 matches (30 saves). Forster’s record of not conceding in five also reflects favourably compared to the Dutchman, who conceded 19 goals in his 17 league games, and managed just once to keep three consecutive clean sheets.

Many have called, myself included, for Jack Butland to be rewarded for his excellent form this season with international recognition, and the addition of Forster to this mix can only be a good thing for the national side. As well as being in a rich vein of form this season, Forster looked an almost certainty to pick up the ‘Golden Glove’ award last season before his injury, accumulating 13 clean sheets. He also has the bonus of having European experience from his time at Celtic, with his performance in the 2-1 win against Barcelona seeing him nicknamed ‘The Great Wall’ in the Spanish media. This could prove vital should Joe Hart suffer an injury or a drop in form, especially if Roy Hodgson is not comfortable throwing in the younger Butland.

Perfect weekend on Merseyside as Chelsea slump continues

Jurgen Klopp has his first Premier League victory after his Liverpool side came from behind to beat Chelsea 3-1. Chelsea had taken the lead through an early Ramires goal, but Philippe Coutinho equalised just before the break. Coutinho put Liverpool in the lead with a deflected effort, and substitute Christian Benteke sealed the win. Both sides could have had a man sent off, with Lucas committing a professional foul whilst already booked, and Diego Costa kicking out at Martin Skrtel.

Philippe Coutinho's brace ended a run of 710 minutes without a Premier League goal. Source: dailymail.co.uk

Philippe Coutinho’s brace ended a run of 710 minutes without a Premier League goal. Source: dailymail.co.uk

The Blue half of Merseyside will be equally happy, after their 6-2 demolition of Sunderland. Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone put the Toffees 2-0 up. Sunderland pulled level though, as Jermain Defoe’s shot deflected past Howard and Steven Fletcher headed the equaliser. Everton then took the points with three goals in quick succession, as Sebastian Coates diverted a cross in to his own net, Romelu Lukaku scored a fine individual goal and Kone added his second. Kone completed his hat-trick late on with a header to complete the rout.

Manchester City remain top after a nervy win over Norwich. Nicolas Otamendi gave them the lead with a powerful header, but Joe Hart spilt a routine cross for Cameron Jerome to tap in with just minutes to go. But there was still plenty of drama left, as Russell Martin was sent off for handling the ball with John Ruddy well out of position. Yaya Toure converted the penalty, a feat the Aleksandar Kolarov could not equal as City were awarded a second penalty in stoppage time.

Arouna Kone netted his first Premier League hat-trick against Sunderland. Source: dailymail.co.uk

Arouna Kone netted his first Premier League hat-trick against Sunderland. Source: dailymail.co.uk

Arsenal kept up with City with a 3-0 win over Swansea. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring, and Laurent Koscielny doubled the lead despite Swansea claiming that Fabianski was impeded. Joel Campbell sealed the win with his first goal for Arsenal. Leicester moved up to third with a thrilling 3-2 win at West Brom. Solomon Rondon headed the hosts in front, but a Riyad Mahrez brace gave the Foxes the lead. Jamie Vardy made it 8 consecutive games in which he has scored, joining Ruud van Nistelrooy and Daniel Sturridge, with a well placed finish. Rickie Lambert ensured a tense finish with a late penalty, especially as Christian Fuchs appeared to commit three late fouls in the area which all went unpunished.

Southampton overcame Bournemouth in a South coast derby. A Steven Davis volley and a Graziano Pelle header gave Saints the lead in the first half, but Victor Wanyama was sent off in the second half for picking up a second yellow card. Odion Ighalo scored both goals as Watford beat West Ham. In a game of shocking defending, his first came courtesy of Andy Carroll failing to clear his lines, whilst his second was an impeccable finish after an error from James Tomkins.

Crystal Palace and Manchester United played out a goalless draw, United’s third consecutive stalemate, whilst Jack Butland almost single handedly held Newcastle at bay, producing six saves to keep the game goalless. On Monday night, Tottenham host mangerless Aston Villa, although Remi Garde will be in the stands prior to his expected appointment.

Hammers pile on misery for Mourinho

West Ham continued their impressive record against the top sides as they beat Chelsea 2-1 at Upton Park. The match was a heated display, as Chelsea had Nemanja Matic sent off, had five other players pick up bookings, as well as having Mourinho and his assistant sent to the stands. Mauro Zarate gave the Hammers the lead as Chelsea failed to clear a corner. Chelsea came within centimetres of equalising, as a Zouma header was scrambled off the line. Cesc Fabregas also had a goal ruled out before Matic recieved his marching orders. Gary Cahill equalised in the second half with a powerful finish from a corner, but Andy Carroll headed the winner with just ten minutes left.

Source: Daily Mail

Source: Daily Mail

Harry Kane will hope his hat trick against Bournemouth will kickstart his season. Moussa Dembele and Eric Lamela also scored as Spurs recovered from a first minute Matt Ritchie goal to win 5-1. Sunderland continued their fine derby form, smashing 10 man Newcastle 3-0 at the Stadium of Light. Adam Johnson opened the scoring from the spot just before half time after Fabricio Coloccini was controversially dismissed. Billy Jones and Steven Fletcher completed the rout in the second half, lifting the Black Cats above their rivals.

Source: Daily Mail

Source: Daily Mail

Arsenal beat Everton 2-1 at the Emirates. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring with a deft header, and Laurent Koscielny doubled the lead two minutes later. Ross Barkley pulled one back before half time with a heavily deflected strike, but Arsenal saw the game out comfortably. Gareth Barry was sent off in stoppage time for a second booking.

Both Ayew brothers scored as Swansea beat Aston Villa. Jordan Ayew gave Villa the lead, but Gylfi Sigurdsson equalised with a free kick. Andre Ayew scored in the 87th minute to give Swansea the win, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Villa boss Tim Sherwood.

Zouma's header was just millimetres from crossing the line. Source: bbc sport

Zouma’s header was just millimetres from crossing the line. Source: bbc sport

Troy Deeney netted his first of the season as Watford shocked Stoke. Almen Abdi completed the scoring as he took advantage of Mark Wilson being caught in possession deep in his own half. Jurgen Klopp is still searching for his first win as Liverpool boss after a 1-1 draw with Southampton. Christian Benteke thought that he had won it for the Reds with a powerful header, but Sadio Mane bundled in to equalise late on. Mane was subsequently dismissed after picking up two needless bookings in stoppage time.

Jamie Vardy has now scored in seven consecutive games, helping Leicester to a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. Salomon Rondon’s close range header saw West Brom to a 1-0 win at Norwich. The Manchester derby ended up goalless, a result that saw City stay on top of the table on goal difference.