Arsenal - Fourth Place Again?
The new season is upon us so it's time to take a look at the three teams who are most likely to challenge for United's crown.
In the first part, we'll try to analyse Arsenal, on paper the weakest of all challengers. But of course on paper we wouldn't have won the title last year.
The Gooners are something of a dark horse this season. I don't think the loss of Thierry Henry is such a big deal: he's been injured for the bigger part of last season and his sulking did little good for some of the younger players. They might express themselves more effectively with Henry gone.
Another departure is Freddie Ljungberg, someone who was also of little use in his last season. He questioned Arsenal's ambition and he seemed to raise some valid points, if you look at the list of arrivals.
Lukas Fabianski might be a great promise for the future but this season he'll surely be second choice. Bakary Sagna can play across the defense though his strongest position is right-back. He's unproven at this level so hard to predict what to expect of him. Eduardo da Silva, the Brazil-born Croatian international is probably their biggest signing: his scoring record is superb - in the croatian league. Yet again, we don't know what to expect of him. He can't be worse than Baptista.
So what to expect from the team? Up front, they could have problems. Robin van Persie should have had a great last season but he hadn't been able to play beyond January due to a freak injury. Now, however, he must face something he had never experienced before: pressure. He's expected to be the main man of Arsenal's season, he must deliver now there's no Thierry Henry. If he can handle it, he can become a great player as the talent is there.
Emmanuel Adebayor gave us all sorts of problems at Old Trafford but his finishing is rarely as immaculate as it had been in that game. He must improve his distribution as well. Theo Walcott might step up and come of age and might be used on the wings where Arsenal are short in numbers.
But of course a team does not need its strikers firing on all cylinders - look at the way we coped with the loss of Ruud - if their midfield can provide the goals. And that's the problem at Arsenal.
Rosicky, Hleb, Fabregas, Gilberto - none of them seem able to provide 10+ Premiership goals and I can't see them chipping in the way United's midfielders did last season.
Lack of width could be another problem for Arsenal. Rosicky and Hleb love to cut inside - not surprising, as neither of them are natural wingers. Therefore, if a team can pack the midfield and field strong centre-backs, they can contain Arsenal. Emmnauel Eboue could play as right-winger this season and Theo Walcott might be used there - but one feels it's too much to ask them to solve the Gooners' problems there. They need a quality player there I think.
In defense, Toure and Gallas are supposed to be one of the strongest pairing of the league but the latter's constant moaning does no good for the team. They suffered from a lack of understanding last season but that should not be a problem this time. Gael Clichy is a very good player but, in my opinion, he's still not reached the level of Cole and Evra while Eboue's behaviour is too often close to unacceptable. He's quite irresponsible and one could consider him a liability. Sagna's yet to prove himself while Justin Hoyte is no more than a squad player. They suffer from a lack of defensive cover centrally, too: I do not rate Senderos, in my opinion he does not have the talent and the intelligence to be successful whereas Djourou is not bad but inexperienced and I do not consider him a spectacular talent.
To summarise: it's been a typical Wenger-summer, signing relatively unknown players while selling established stars. The team is getting younger and younger therefore enormous responsibility lies on the shoulders of Lehmann, Gilberto and Toure - and the latter is not exactly old either.
If Fabregas can keep up his magnificent form, if Eduardo da Silva proves an instant hit, if Rosicky and Hleb find their shooting boots and if Robin van Persie can really step up - then Arsenal will only need to stay clear of injuries and sort out their away form - last season they've scored fewer goals away from home than Spurs and even Villa - to mount a title challenge.
Too many ifs I'm afraid, however. It looks like fourth place again unless they produce an extraordinary season. They should secure a top-four finish, though, as their central midfielders are much better than Spurs' and Newcastle's so I'd be surprised too see them going down to fifth.