By Manish Pandey.
For the sixth consecutive season, Arsenal’s opening game is at home. They have only managed to win 1 of those matches. For Arsenal, a fast start is crucial. They lost at home to Liverpool early and ultimately lost out on a Champions League place by 1 point.
Arsenal’s aim this season has to be to get back into the top 4. They have made a good start with the much-needed signing of striker Alexandre Lacazette. It seems as though Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will remain at the club.
There remains a huge deficiency in midfield. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey performed well at the back-end of last season, but questions remain over their consistency in form and fitness. Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny are good squad players but neither are good enough to be starting. Jack Wilshere’s fitness will always be an issue and Santi Cazorla, whilst providing guile in midfield, cannot do it all himself. A midfield signing needs to be priority before the transfer window closes.
From a tactical point of view, it seems Arsenal will continue with the back 3 that Wenger introduced at the end of last season. New signing Sead Kolasinac should help reinforce the defence with his physical prowess and enthusiasm on the ball. He has already endeared himself to Arsenal fans with a goal in the Community Shield. Arsenal will also have to adjust to a new Thursday-Sunday schedule, which could go a long way towards deciding their domestic season.
The atmosphere around Arsenal should be far less hostile than last season, with the certainty of Wenger’s future, for at least another 2 years.
Key man: Alexandre Lacazette. As always, Sanchez will be an important figure, but it is Lacazette who will make the difference in the box. He has been bought to score goals, and it is goals Arsenal need.
Eddie Howe has shown an appetite to work, improve and constantly evolve. With Howe leading the way, there is no reason why Bournemouth cannot continue their rise since promotion.
They have bought well in the transfer market, with Asmir Begovic, Jermain Defoe and Nathan Aké strengthening the core of the team. Goals should not be an issue for this free-flowing Bournemouth team, with Josh King looking to improve on last season’s heroics and the arrival of Defoe adding more goals to the team.
Defensively, Bournemouth can always look fragile because of how attacking they are, but the arrival of Ake and Begovic should provide some more certainty and discipline.
Key man: Jermain Defoe. With his track record of goals, there is no reason why Bournemouth cannot finish in the top 10 this season.
Brighton and Hove Albion:
A wonderful story of promotion, Brighton and Hove Albion start off as favourites for relegation. With Chris Hughton, they have a smart manager leading the way.
The key to survival will be home form, and the need to make the Amex stadium a fortress, in a similar way to Burnley.
The signings of Mathew Ryan, Markus Suttner and Pascal Gross are low-risk but could potentially be turn out as smart buys. The loan signing of Izzy Brown from Chelsea provides pace in attack. The injury to midfielder Beram Kayal is a blow, as he is expected to be out for 2 months.
Glenn Murray, Steve Sidwell and Liam Rosenior will be crucial as they have experience of the top flight from previous clubs.
Key man: Glenn Murray. Newly promoted sides often struggle with goals, so the pressure will be on Murray to get the goals to keep Brighton up.
Sean Dyche is the key man at Burnley. He has created a template for his players to follow and last season was a high point. In order to improve on last season, Burnley will need to vastly improve their form away from home. Whilst being one of the best in the league at home, they were one of the worst whilst travelling.
The signings of Jack Cork and Jon Walters will provide further top-flight experience. Whilst the loss of Michael Keane and Andre Gray is a blow, the combined £43 million fee could be used to invest in an ‘X-Factor’ player who could make the difference in games Burnley should be winning. Burnley need to invest or else they could find themselves in trouble.
Burnley appear weaker than last season, but Dyche’s management style could once again be the difference.
Key man: Tom Heaton. He saved many points last season and will need to do the same this season.
The reining champions have it all to do if they are to retain their crown from last season. Chelsea were outstanding in Antonio Conte’s first season, but have had a shaky summer.
Recent history shows Chelsea are not as good defending a title. The summer has not been as good for Conte as he would have liked. The failure to sign Romelu Lukaku, the failure to sever ties with Diego Costa, the failure of Conte to keep Nemanja Matic and the failure of the boardroom to satisfy Conte.
Chelsea will have a much tougher fixture schedule with the addition of European football. This means they need to reinforce their squad. The arrivals of Alvaro Morata, Tiemoué Bakayoko and Antonio Rüdiger are a good start, but they need more. Faced with more games, Chelsea have let go of John Terry, Nathan Ake, Kurt Zouma, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, along with Matic and a probable departure of Costa.
It does not look like Chelsea are in a good way starting this season, however to count out an Antonio Conte team would be a mistake. He has shown a willingness to work, innovate and change. This Chelsea team will still be a force.
Key man: Eden Hazard. Once back from surgery, Hazard will be the key as a genuine world-class talent.
Frank de Boer is the new man in the hotseat after Sam Allardyce and he will want to find a working formula quickly. De Boer is intent on improvement in playing style and the players will need to make a tactical adjustment.
There is change on the way with the arrival of ball-playing defender Jaïro Riedewald from Ajax and a one season loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek. De Boer favours a 3-4-3 formation and will need another forward and wing-back to ensure his squad is sufficiently stocked.
Once again, the core from last season will be vital for Crystal Palace. The pace and skill of Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend, Mamadou Sakho at the back, the industry of Luka Milivojevic in midfield, and Christian Benteke’s power up front.
De Boer is here for the long-term, so he will need to be allowed time.
Key man: Wilfred Zaha. He is the maverick who makes things happen for Palace.
Everton have spent over £80 million in this window and look to have the determination to improve. Koeman made an impact last season with his tactical flexibility and ruthless management style.
The signings of Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klassen show a willingness to spend the big money, with £50 million rated Gylfi Sigurdsson also on Koeman’s radar. Bringing Wayne Rooney back to Everton on a free is a big move. Rooney, whilst not the player of old, still has the experience and ability to score/assist key goals.
The loss of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United leaves a void the size of 25 goals a season. It is unrealistic to expect Rooney or new signing Sandro Ramirez from Malaga to fill that gap, therefore Koeman will need to dip into the market for a proven striker.
Everton have a great core of players and have been strengthened this season numerically. In terms of quality, the players will need to show consistency in the league for it to be judged a successful season.
Key man: Wayne Rooney. So often the key man and it is no different this season. Where will he play and how well will he play are the two questions everyone has. He has a point to prove.
Huddersfield have the tag of underdogs, but through the years, they have come through spectacularly. One of the key reasons for this is the manager, David Wagner. Wagner has created a culture of togetherness between the players, fans and boardroom.
They needed to recruit big in the transfer window and they have done well so far. They brought in 9 players before pre-season and broke their own transfer record 4 times. The purchase of Steven Mounie and Laurent Depoitre offers goals and physicality.
Signing Aaron Mooy permanently offers smart possession in midfield and Tom Ince provides trickery and creativity on the flanks.
The big challenge for Huddersfield will be defensively. They will be tested more and will need to show more solidity. The signing of combative defender Mathias Jorgensen will help.
From a tactical perspective, Wagner prefers a high-press and possession game, much like his compatriot Jurgen Klopp. Yet, as the playoff final showed, Wagner can adapt to a more counter-attacking style.
Key man: Steven Mounie. Goals are the currency for any striker, and Huddersfield will need their record signing to score them to safety.
From the highs of winning the title to the lows of being in a relegation fight to the satisfaction of survival. This season will see a Leicester City aiming for a mid-table finish.
The transfer activity by Leicester suggests a need to be more comfortable than last season. The signings of Eldin Jakupovic and Harry Maguire from Hull City gives quality and depth. Vicente Iborra will bring technique and versatility. Kelechi Iheanacho brings pace and goals.
They have had a tough pre-season and Riyad Mahrez wants to leave. If they keep Mahrez, and Vardy, Wes Morgan and Danny Drinkwater can maintain a consistent level, Leicester should avoid relegation quite easily.
Key man: Jamie Vardy. He epitomises the spirit of Leicester and when he plays well, Leicester play well.
Playing a high intensity brand of football, Liverpool are a joy to watch when in full flow. Yet this was partly to blame for Liverpool falling away from a title challenge. In the busy winter period, Liverpool looked exhausted, owing to the lack of depth in their squad.
Liverpool are in good shape, stable and used to the manager’s methods and style. They have also bolstered options in the attacking department with the signing of £37 million Mohamed Salah. Much will depend on whether Philippe Coutinho will stay after strong interest from Barcelona. The prospect of Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Coutinho terrorising defences is frightening.
Deficiencies remain in midfield and defence. The lack of a proper holding midfielder and question marks over the fitness of Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana creates doubt over whether Liverpool can mount a consistent challenge. Andrew Robertson arrives to provide James Milner with competition at left-back, but there has been no centre-back arriving- Virgil Van Dijk has remained elusive so far. Liverpool need to bolster these two areas if they are to have any success.
With an increased number of games this season due to European football – provided Liverpool get through the qualifier against Hoffenheim- Liverpool will need a deeper squad to avoid the mistakes of last season.
Key man: Philippe Coutinho. If he stays, he can catapult Liverpool to the next level.
Manchester City have only one problem: the defence. They score goals, they play attractive football, but last season, Pep Guardiola refused to focus on the defensive side of the game.
City have been very active in the transfer market, signing 3 full backs but letting 4 full backs leave. Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo replaced Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, A Kolarov and Gael Clichy. Bernardo Silva comes in to bolster an already strong attacking line up and Ederson comes in as the new first choice goalkeeper.
Despite this spending, Manchester City still look weak in defence. Only Vincent Kompany, John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi remain from last season’s defensive line. Kompany’s penchant for injury and the inconsistency of Stones suggests City have a long way to go before they are defensively ready to mount a consistent challenge.
City have spent plenty of money (£363 million by Guardiola across the last 3 windows) and Guardiola has had a full season with this team. With the likes of David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Jesus, Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva, this team should be winning trophies. There can be no more excuses.
Key man: Kevin de Bruyne. The midfield maestro is at the centre of most things good on the football pitch. His vision and creativity will guarantee goals.
After winning the League Cup and Europa League last season, Manchester United will want to vastly improve their fortunes in the Premier League. A 6th place finish is nowhere near good enough, and with further investment in the summer, United should really be challenging for the title.
The arrival of Romelu Lukaku for £77 million is aimed at getting more goals into a team lacking in goals. Although Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in excess of 30 goals last season, his conversion rate was very poor for a top-level striker. It will be interesting to see the dynamic between Lukaku and Marcus Rashford this season. Most United fans will not want to see Rashford shunted on the left.
The purchase of Nemanja Matic will give United a stronger physical protection in midfield, and will reduce the reliance United have on Michael Carrick. It should also allow Paul Pogba to flourish with Pogba now free to create further up field. Victor Lindelof will need time to settle in defence.
Tactically, Jose Mourinho has experimented with a 3-5-2 in pre-season although his likely formation is going to be 4-3-3. Mourinho, much like Guardiola can no longer make excuses. He has had a year with his team and spent plenty of money. Manchester United should at the very least, be competing for the title.
Key man: Paul Pogba. This can be Pogba’s breakout season. He has all the tools, he just needs to show consistency.
With Rafa Benitez in charge, Newcastle have every chance of staying up this season. However, obvious disagreements between the manager and board could hinder what should be a promising time for the club.
With the exception of Christian Atsu on loan from Chelsea, Newcastle’s transfer dealings have been underwhelming. This is perhaps demonstrated in the singing of Javier Manquillo, a former Atlético Madrid full-back who was on loan at Sunderland and ultimately lost his place to Billy Jones.
There is talent in this Newcastle squad with the likes of Jonjo Shelvey and Dwight Gayle, but they need more before the window closes or else they could be in for a long season.
Tactically, there will be much reliance on Benitez’s skill and hours he likes to spend on the training pitch. A more defensive style of play with the main mode of attack being on the counter-attack being the likely method for Newcastle this season.
Key man: Dwight Gayle. With Newcastle likely to be playing on the counter-attack this season, Gayle’s pace will be key. The question remains whether or not he has the ability to score enough goals to keep Newcastle up.
With a new manager in Mauricio Pellegrino, Southampton fans will be hoping for points and a far more exciting brand of football than they saw last season. However, this summer has been dominated by the transfer saga surrounding Virgil Van Dijk.
Van Dijk is one of the best defenders in the league, but he clearly does not want to stay and Southampton would do well to get rid of him for the £50 million fee, which they could then reinvest.
Southampton have only signed defender Jan Bednarek and midfielder Mario Lemina this season. They really need to sign a striker before the window closes considering the lack of goals last season. Although there is an argument to be made that it was down to the style of play rather than the individual qualities of the players.
As always, Southampton’s success will depend much on the youngsters they bring through. Players such as Jack Ward-Prowse and Jack Stephens will be vital this season.
Key man: Manolo Gabbiadini. He exploded onto the scene late last season, and his goals in a team lacking goals will be important for Southampton.
Stoke have transitioned from a physical unit under Tony Pulis to a far more expansive team under Mark Hughes. Last season, however, demonstrated a problem in the goals department and results department.
Stoke could only manage 44 points. Whereas the old Stoke would have been resolute against the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham, last season saw comfortable wins for both. The summer has seen Stoke’s squad losing talent rather than adding talent.
Marko Arnautovic, Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters have all left the club. Incoming players include Darren Fletcher, Kurt Zouma and Bruno Martins-Indi. These are three very good players but are not players who will push Stoke to the next level.
They look very thin in the attacking department. Xherdan Shaqiri as talented as he is, has fitness issues. Arnautovic has gone. Peter Crouch is 37. Ramadan Sobhi is inexperienced. Much will rely on Sadio Berahino and whether he can rediscover the form and confidence he had from a few seasons ago, before his issues.
Key man: Sadio Berahino. Stoke need goals and Berahino has to provide them.
Swansea survived last season thanks to a Paul Clement inspired revival. This summer though, has seen a long transfer saga around the future of Gylfi Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson is Swansea’s best player and is understandably wanted by clubs higher up.
Assuming he is sold, Swansea will need to use his transfer fee wisely to ensure they are able to fill the shoes of someone who has been involved in 53 of the 133 goals Swansea have scored in the last 3 seasons.
Swansea’s transfer business has potential. Tammy Abraham on loan from Chelsea provides pace and trickery. Roque Mesa is very smart in possession. Players already at the club will be crucial. The likes of Ki, Tommy Carroll and Fernando Llorente will be crucial.
Defensively, Swansea look thin despite the promise of Alfie Mawson. They will need to continue with the organisation and discipline that Clement has brought to the club if they are to have an easier time this season.
Key man: Fernando Llorente. Llorente’s goals kept Swansea up and Swansea will be desperately hoping for him to stay.
Spurs have had a shaky summer, although there does not seem to be much concern at the club itself. The departure of Kyle Walker, the unsettled and injured Danny Rose and the ligament injury of Kieran Trippier leaves Spurs desperately short at full-back.
Although they have not brought any players in – they will need to if they want to compete with the best- they have still managed to hold onto their 3 prized assets in Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli.
Spurs will have to adjust to Wembley Stadium, where they did not have a happy time last season. The bigger pitch will also make it much harder for the players to continue in the high intensity and high-pressing style of play.
Spurs have most things in place. With the likes of Kane, Lloris, Alli, Eriksen, Vertonghen, Son, Dembele and Wanyama, they are strong. There is not a lot to change at the moment, but the difficulties will come when the depth of the squad will be tested.
Key man: Harry Kane. His goal record is supreme and has the ability to single-handedly win Spurs the league.
With a new manager in Marco Silva who impressed in the league with Hull City last season, there is a renewed optimism at the club.
Watford have been smart in the transfer market so far. Andre Gray, Tom Cleverley and Nathaniel Chalobah will add quality and depth to the squad and starting lineup. Although the defence had a torrid time last season, with Silva’s coaching, it is nothing that cannot be fixed.
The reliance on Troy Deeney has been lessened with the arrival of Gray and also gives the attack more variety.
A Marco Silva team will be well organised, hard to beat and tactically sound.
Key man: Troy Deeney. He is the leader and main striker.
Tony Pulis has renewed his contract which should, in theory, guarantee survival for West Brom. They should have finished in 8th but for a terrible May finished in 10th.
The departure of Darren Fletcher was a shock. He will need to be replaced with another experienced midfielder or Jake Livermore will have to take up the mantle. Going forward, the signing of Jay Rodriguez should help with the goals, especially if he plays in partnership with Salomon Rondon. With Nacer Chadli and Matty Phillips, West Brom do have a threatening forward line.
As always, all eyes will be on Pulis in the final few days of the transfer window, where he historically does the majority of his business.
Pulis will have this team well-drilled and organised and avoiding relegation.
Key man: Jay Rodriguez. It will be intriguing to see how this promising youngster gets on in a new team and if he can stay away from injuries.
After a torrid first season at the London Stadium, compounded by a terrible 2016 summer transfer window, West Ham seem far more stable this time around.
They have signed players of genuine quality in Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Marko Arnautovic and Chicharito. In that group of players, there is an improvement in defensive solidity, creativity and goal-scoring. West Ham have signed proven players with very little unknown.
With Michail Antonio, Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini supplementing attacks, there is a good variety of skill and power.
Defensively, West Ham need to improve their discipline. Slaven Bilic has to take a big share of the blame, as he has looked defensively inept when setting up his team.
West Ham should have enough for a top 10 finish, if they do not, it will be the end for Bilic.
Key man: Chicharito Hernandez. Goals are what he lives by and goals are what West Ham need.
Champions: Manchester City
Champions League: Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Relegation: Burnley, Huddersfield and Brighton & Hove Albion.