Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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5 Observations From Week 2 of the EPL Season

Back in the USA for the second week of the Premier League season, I’ve come to appreciate how good NBC’s coverage is across the board. Aside from the Mesut Özil bashers in the studio, they do a tremendous job both pre and post match and in game coverage. Especially with games now being shown on USA Network, we can have no complaints stateside. This past week we were treated to four days’ worth of games. Here are five things we learned. For my analysis of Arsenal’s win over Crystal Palace, click here.

One team is standing above the rest

To this point, four sides have all six points. However, of the four, one is standing well above the rest thus far. A week after handling West Brom, Manchester City dismantled the title-winners Chelsea, handing them an embarrassing 3-0 loss. I’ll get to what it means for Chelsea, but for City, this was a dramatic statement that they can win the league. Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany both look to have reverted to their form from two years ago, and Sergio Agüero showed in minutes why he is the league’s best player. However, what is impressing me the most is their ruthlessness. Right from the opening seconds yesterday, they laid siege on Asmir Begovic’s goal. Agüero never stopped attacking. There was added excitement from the addition of the new stand in the stadium, and massive hype for the match, but nonetheless, they were miles better than Chelsea. City is not messing around.

Chelsea have serious problems to address

Where City looked full of options, Chelsea seems to be stuck in a one-track style of play, unable to succeed without Eden Hazard playing his best. As I’ve pointed out before, their lack of depth, especially without Oscar, gives them no plan B to turn to. And that was clearly an issue as Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic couldn’t contain City’s midfield. However, Chelsea’s main issue seems to be off the field. All of the stuff about Eva Carneiro being replaced as team trainer is disguising some sort of issue with Mourinho. He’s clearly upset. This week his victim was his captain John Terry, taken off at halftime. Without the squad depth he had at Real Madrid, I don’t think he can afford to take out his anger on his players, even if they aren’t in form. If this is the squad Chelsea will have this year, Mourinho will need to do a better job of supporting his players and staff should he hope to turn things around.

Stoke expose Tottenham’s issues

Another team with a lone point from two games is Tottenham. Despite being two goals up at home against Stoke – who I might add will only get tougher when Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri are in the lineup – they coughed away their lead. The penalty was silly, but the defending on the second was equally pitiful. When Stephen Ireland can come on and rip the defense apart that doesn’t speak well to the quality on the field. Bringing off Harry Kane for Erik Lamela seemed odd, but the degree to which Spurs fell off after the switch will be startling. If Kane goes down with an injury, they will be terrible. For me, the only player of real quality other than Kane on the pitch is Christian Eriksen, who can hit a mean free kick. As an Arsenal fan, I can only hope their meltdown is a sign of things to come.

Leicester stay hot

Over the summer, one of my tutors was a man from Leicester, who told stories of many years in the car listening to pained sports talk radio shows bemoaning Leicester City’s frequent demise. Staying up in the Premier League a year ago was for them a true achievement. Two weeks into the season, Leicester City are sitting in second place, with all six points. Going to West Ham this week looked a tough task, but the upstart group continued their stunning goalscoring form under new manager Claudio Ranieri, going up 2-0 early. However, what was most impressive was their ability to keep the scoreline at 2-1 after Dimitri Payet had taken one back for West Ham. Leicester’s defense was dialed in from that point on. They won’t stay this far up the table for long, but wins like this on the road are vital to a team hoping to avoid a relegation fight. Should Riyad Mahrez continue to dominate, the nice people of Leicester might have many more pleasant car rids home.

Despite another win, United lack something

The other two teams on six points are a more familiar name than Leicester City. But unlike the other two teams, Manchester United and Liverpool are not firing on all cylinders. For Liverpool, it’s down to quality and quite a bit of luck from the referees. But for United, it’s a little more complicated. After an own goal saved their blushes in a 1-0 win against Spurs, this week they won with a lone goal from Adnan Januzaj at Villa Park. Yet again, there was very little built through their midfield filled with high-profile signings. In the back Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian have looked terrific, but ahead of them, Memphis Depay and Wayne Rooney are just two of those struggling to make a positive impact. Back in his striker’s role, Rooney has been almost invisible. Maybe they need time to get their new attacking players in sync with one another, but in the meantime, United need to lean heavily on their defense. Don’t be fooled by their perfect record to this point.

Predictions for Week 3
Manchester United 2 – Newcastle 1
West Ham 1 – Bournemouth 1
Sunderland 0 – Swansea 2
Norwich City 2 – Stoke City 2
Leicester City 1 – Tottenham 1
Crystal Palace 3 – Aston Villa 0
West Brom 1 – Chelsea 3
Watford 0 – Southampton 1
Everton 1 – Manchester City 4
Arsenal 3 – Liverpool 1

I’ll be experimenting with different types of Premier League related content in the coming months to determine how I want to write this school year. If you have any ideas, please let me know, either in the comments or on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust).

 


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2015-2016 Premier League Predictions From 1 to 20

There’s always something magical about the start of a new season. Be it Opening Day at Fenway, a TNT double-header headlined by LeBron or Week 1 in the NFL, there is nothing quite like it in sports. For this one day, everyone is even. However the offseason went, I can never help but smile at the start of another odyssey with my teams. This weekend, I get the joy of experiencing opening weekend in the Premier League in person. Saturday afternoon, I’ll be at Goodison Park for Everton’s opener against Watford, before returning to welcome back Arsenal against West Ham. I simply cannot wait.

Despite a relatively soccer free summer globally with only the Copa America and Women’s World Cup, it feels like only yesterday that Chelsea was lifting the Premier League trophy. Yet here we are, mere days away from yet another campaign. Maybe it’s living in England for the summer, but I’ve never been quite so excited for kickoffs across the board.

With Chelsea standing pat in the transfer market compared to the other big clubs, this year’s title race is especially tough to predict. I have been going back and forth on my choices all summer. Even the middle of the table seems to be up an entire notch. When has a team like Crystal Palace been able to buy someone like Yohan Cabaye? For me, teams I have ranked 5-12 are quite similar in talent levels. Injuries and infighting could be the decider. And on the back end, I see seven teams in danger of relegation. By all standards, this year looks to be extremely compelling from top to bottom.

Without further ado, here are my predictions for how the teams will look in the standings after all 38 matches.

Predictions

1. Chelsea – Repeating in the Premier League has proved incredibly difficult in the recent era. However, Jose Mourinho might just get it done this year. This isn’t such a bold prediction, but I think Eden Hazard will win player of the season by a wide margin. When Diego Costa is fit, Chelsea will hit record numbers. I want to overreact to the dreadful performance in the FA Community Shield and slot Arsenal above the Blues, but I can’t bring myself to do the good deed. Arsenal will keep the title race close through April, but Chelsea’s defense will prove superior as John Terry is showing no signs of slowing down. What could derail the Blues is injuries in the midfield and in attack. Should Nemanja Matic or Cesc Fabregas have any prolonged absences, other teams could expose Chelsea’s unfathomable lack of depth. I’m expecting January reinforcements to make a difference.

2. Arsenal – This is the year Arsenal will finally return to being truly competitive. Incredible depth should not only help Arsenal stay fresh across multiple competitions, but it will allow Alexis Sanchez to be eased back into things. Keeping him healthy will be key to Arsenal’s second half. With Petr Cech in goal, the Gunners will leak far fewer goals. My guess is that Arsenal is in front on Boxing Day, and the season will come down to who can take the most points on the road at the bigger clubs. An away date at Manchester City in early May looks to me like a game that will decide Arsenal’s fate. I think Laurent Koscielny’s health will also go a long way in determining how far the Gunners go.

3. Manchester United – In large part, I’ve liked what Manchester United has done this summer. They’ve brought in a combination of experience and potential that not only bodes well for this year but puts them in a good position to succeed down the line. However, I don’t like Louis van Gaal, and I think his players could sour on him in year two. I expect Wayne Rooney to have a huge year now that he will be playing a more traditional forward’s role. In the midfield, the amount of talent is scary. But the defense is entirely unconvincing and could give up a lot of back-breaking goals. Scorelines of 3-2 and 4-3 might become familiar this year. In the end, I think they’ll challenge for the title until late March’s trip to Manchester City.

4. Manchester City – I’m no longer scared of City. A weak defense underlines a squad that increasingly relies on players past their primes. Raheem Sterling should be given plenty of chances, but I’m not sure he’s the answer next to Sergio Agüero, who seems unlikely to stay fit for an entire year. Another failure in Europe will surely see Manuel Pellegrini relieved of his job, and that distraction could hinder City’s season in the Premier League. Rather than challenging for the title, I see them barely holding on for fourth.

5. Swansea – Having become a fixture near to top of the mid-table sides, I see Swansea further improving in their second year in Gary Monk’s system. Bringing everyone back from a year ago, they will have no issue settling in as a team and boast great experience. Eder and Andre Ayew should provide healthy competition for Bafetimbi Gomis, a player who came into his own a little bit last season. Getting enough goals will probably be the biggest issue, but one I think they’ll solve. Expect a fight for a Champions League spot from the Swans.

6. Tottenham – Maybe I’m a little biased, but count me as one underwhelmed by Tottenham right now. Harry Kane’s glow will eventually wear off, and beyond him and Christian Eriksen, there isn’t a whole lot to the side. One area I think they will really struggle is in the midfield against top teams like Chelsea and Arsenal. Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason are not the quality of players necessary. The one signing I did like was Toby Alderweireld, who I think did quite well at Southampton a year ago. On top of a Europa League campaign, I’m hopeful for a particularly disappointing season for Spurs.

7. Crystal Palace – I see Crystal Palace making the leap this year, going from a middle of the table side to one contending for European places. This season might be akin to manager Alan Pardew’s success with Newcastle back in 2011-2012, when he had his team challenging for the top 4. Beyond stealing Cabaye for well below market value, getting Patrick Bamford and Connor Wickham offers two solid options up front that will improve their goal tally significantly. Without losing any of the their important players, Palace strengthened in key areas. If their defense can hold up, they will be a squad others won’t want to face. Early home games against Arsenal and Man City could tell us a lot about how ready Palace is for the big time.

8. Everton – Everton is an intriguing side right now, partly because their results last year did not match the level of talent in the team. Players of quality simply did not perform, which then begs questions of Roberto Martinez. This year, I think they’ll be better, though not a contender for a top-four spot. Ross Barkley will make the next step and Gerard Deulofeu is a keen and exciting signing. I want to put them higher up the table, but the amount of draws last year scares me. Something’s got to change mentally if they’re going to be a serious player in any sort of meaningful race.

9. Southampton – After two years in the sun, Southampton is putting together an impressive squad. The weakness this year is certainly in defense, where I’m not sure Maya Yoshida is good enough a player to start on a team hoping to go anywhere. However, Jordy Clasie should more than replace Morgan Schneiderlin, and ahead of him in the midfield is plenty of talent in Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic. If Jay Rodriguez can regain some of the talent he showed two years ago before his injury, this team will score a lot of goals. They are one good central defender away from challenging for a Champions League spot.

10. Liverpool – I think Liverpool is in for a dreadful year full of infighting, well behind the level of the top sides. With so many new faces, integrating everyone will prove impossible, and goals will prove hard to come by. And many of the new signings do seem to fit any obvious system, so they’ll be experimenting with new formations weekly, which is never good. Brendan Rodgers will be the first manager fired, and after his departure, things will only get worse. Maybe some of this is a reflection of how John Henry has run the Red Sox recently, but I don’t think there’s enough leadership in a young squad now that Steven Gerrard is gone. Christian Benteke will struggle to stay fit, with only James Milner pulling his weight of the new boys. Unfortunately for Liverpool, this will be a long year.

11. Stoke City – Stoke keeps getting further away from their former image with each successive signing. Ibrahim Afellay represents the latest foray into the ex-Barcelona players. Glen Johnson also might prove a shrewd signing on a free. There is a lot to like about this team. Bojan Krkic might be my favorite player in the EPL right now. And although they lost Asmir Begovic in goal, Jack Butland should be up for the task of replacing him. They might put a few scares into some teams if new signing Joselu can score goals, but I think they’ll largely just be a fun team to watch week in and week out, which is something I’d never thought I’d write about Stoke.

12. Newcastle – There’s no way this year can be anywhere near as bad as last year for Newcastle, so that by itself should offer consolation to the fans. A competent manager in Steve McClaren and the signing of Georginio Wijnaldum should help clean up the mess of a year ago. The center of defense still looks rather weak, which is concerning, but elsewhere on the pitch, there is real quality. Moussa Sissoko is in for a big year, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t finish the year at Newcastle. All in all, this is a team that can beat somebody on their day but isn’t deep enough or strong enough at the back to make any real sustained run in the league.

13. West Ham – This is a crucial year for West Ham with the team moving to the Olympic Stadium in a year’s time. Getting relegated is simply not an option. However in firing Sam Allardyce and replacing him with Stefan Bilic, they are taking a big risk. Especially if they advance in the Europa League, this could be a taxed squad. Dimitri Payet is a good signing, but they do not have the kind of individual talent the other mid-table sides have. For me, finding a way to get Alex Song back on loan is a must. And then they have to figure out how to score goals over the next few months without the injured Enner Valencia and Andy Carroll. They seem more in danger of relegation than anything else, though I think in they end, they will comfortably survive.

14. West Brom – I’m always convinced this is going to be the year West Brom is relegated, but time after time they escape. And with Tony Pulis at the helm, I see no reason for that to change. Saido Berahino seems to have one more season at the club before he moves to a bigger side, so his goals should go a long way towards keeping them up. Behind him, there isn’t much to like. The defense looks to be alright, though the midfield won’t offer much cover. Among all returning Premier League sides, they have the weakest midfield by a wide margin. And that won’t help them win many games. If anything happens to Berahino, things could go south quickly. But for now, they should have just enough to survive.

15. Norwich City – Of the promoted sides, Norwich should be the most Premier League ready having last been in the top tier only two years ago. Manager Alex Neil however, is the least Premier League ready manager at age 34. The players they have brought in are all capable of helping the cause, with Robbie Brady and Youssouf Mulumbu looking to be the best. Where they might be the strongest is up front, with Cameron Jerome, Gary Hooper, Bradley Johnson and Nathan Redmond all capable of reaching double digit goals. Few know what to expect, but I’m intrigued.

16. Watford – New manager Quique Flores might be Watford’s biggest asset, having previously won the Europa League with Atletico Madrid. His experience, although not in the Premier League, should keep them from being starstruck as many of the players face top opposition for the first time. Troy Deeney could prove to be the next striker to make the jump from the Championship successfully. And it will largely be up to him to keep Watford up. Etienne Capoue should help solidify the midfield area in front of what will be an untested defense. Heurelho Gomes offers little confidence in goal.

17. Aston Villa – A team in entire disarray, Aston Villa will be desperate to avoid relegation yet again after a great escape this past year. Recent signings like Jordan Ayew will not be able to replace Benteke, who was at times the only player on this roster capable of finding the net. They need Jack Grealish to make the leap if they hope to win many games, as the same old names haven’t proved to be good enough. Without Ron Vlaar, the defense could also suffer, as new signing Micah Richards hasn’t seen regular game time in many years. There will be many nervy afternoons at Villa Park.

18. Leicester City – Replacing Nigel Pearson with Claudio Ranieri at manager immediately puts Leicester City in threat of relegation. And with the loss of Esteban Cambiasso in midfield, they will have to find ways to replace not only his play on the pitch but also his tremendous veteran influence. I’ve never been convinced by new signing Shinji Okazaki in internationals, so I don’t think he’s equipped for the physical Premier League. Very little about this team suggests they won’t be in a fight for relegation until the season’s end, a fight I ultimately believe they’ll lose.

19. Sunderland – Sunderland has fought the good fight in recent years, somehow staying up every year. However, when you’re relying on 32-year-old Jermaine Defoe to get goals, that’s not a good sign. Jeremain Lens is intriguing on the wing, but there isn’t much else to the team. The defense in particular is uninspiring ahead of Costel Pantilimon. Home form will be crucial should they hope to stay up, as this isn’t a team built to win on the road. But I fear their year will prove unsuccesful.

20. Bournemouth – Last year’s Championship winners are considered the spunkiest of the new boys. With a young manager and a great underdog story, they’ll be this year’s Blackpool, somebody we all root for. However, I think they’ll struggle with a defense well below Premier League level. Christian Atsu could be key in the midfield, but even he is untested. If they want to stay up, they’ll need to get off to a great start while they still believe in themselves and their story. A slew of big defeats could crush their dreams before they even get going.

What do you think about my predictions? What’s your order of finish? Please comment below.


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The End to a Perfect Preseason

Yesterday’s FA Community Shield was technically a preseason game, albeit one with a large trophy. But don’t let the detractors take anything away from what Arsenal did to Chelsea in yesterday’s 1-0 win at Wembley. There are many things I could point to in order to show the meant something, but one only needs to look at Francis Coquelin’s celebration after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal. Watch that and tell me he didn’t want to win.

Nobody at this stadium treated this match like it was meaningless, with the possible exception of the ghost of Eden Hazard. The crowd of north of 85,000 was in full voice much of the game, especially around me at the Arsenal end. And where last week at the Emirates Cup the singing and chanting was a sideshow unrelated to the action, yesterday it was very much aimed at the team itself. We were one collective rooting on Arsenal, and from what I could tell, the Chelsea fans at the other end were equally loud at times. It was loud, it was festive, and it was feisty.

Arsenal’s approach to the game was quite interesting to me, as it showed tactical acumen and extreme discipline across the board. Two blocks of four were working together at all times, catching Loic Remy offside more times than I could count. And Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott lingered above, ready to pressure when the ball went back to the defenders. When possession changed, players bombed forward, but even Aaron Ramsey made sure he had sufficient cover before venturing out of position. This was as disciplined a performance as I’ve seen from Arsenal in recent years.

The goal was spectacular. In a moment of brilliance, the Ox showed the quality we’ve all known is there. But more importantly, the goal came from an efficient switch from defense to attack that caught Chelsea off-guard. It would be inaccurate to describe it as a counter-attack, but when Per Mertesacker got the ball, and sent it upfield, quickly getting to Mesut Özil, the speed of the move had Chelsea disorganized and on their heels. By the time the ball was switched to the Ox on the right, Arsenal had created a chance from very little. And he sure took that chance. The celebration in the stands was befitting the goal I might add.

Santi Cazorla was quieter on the wing, but either he or Ramsey had to be there, so it was a toss-up of sorts that worked out in the end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that change as the year goes on, but it’s the first sign that Wenger likes the midfield combination of Ramsey and Coquelin. And while Olivier Giroud impressed straightaway when he was brought on for the largely invisible Walcott, I thought it was a great choice to play Walcott up front. Although Arsenal can’t send in crosses when he’s in the middle – thus largely negating Hector Bellerin’s impact – he does create more space for Özil and the Ox.

The defenders looked great. Laurent Koscielny especially caught the eye with endless amounts of clearances and tackles. He was my man of the match. And though he had one particularly bad giveaway, Bellerin dealt with Hazard well. Behind them, Petr Cech was superb. He instills the sort of confidence that Wojciech Szczesny never did. Already, his calming presence is on display as the defense stayed organized throughout. That people are calling his save of Oscar’s free kick ordinary shows just how good a goalkeeper he is, because with anyone else, that type of save is top-notch.

With Jack Wilshere missing through injury, the bench felt strangely thin, especially given how much we’ve talked up the squad depth. But that appears to be nothing too serious, which is good. As a show of how seriously he wanted to win, Wenger opted not to use half of his six allowed substitutions, sticking with the defensive introductions to tighten things up. Mikel Arteta was especially impressive in his short time on the field, which is encouraging.

Chelsea it must be said, were unimpressive. Without Diego Costa due to injury as they’ll likely be for many times this year, they had nobody of quality to turn to. And with Hazard off his game, they failed to create much of anything despite having the majority of the possession in Arsenal’s end. John Terry and Gary Cahill still look like the best pairing in the league, but apart from that, this team appears very beatable this year.

With the shield safely in stow, the preseason is behind us. With only successes to their name and three preseason trophies, Wenger must be smiling to himself this week. He’s built himself quite a team. And he’s gotten the monkey off his back by beating Jose Mourinho. Right now, Arsenal is riding a wave. The question is when the pressure piles on, can they keep it up. West Ham offers the first test, though that home game shouldn’t be too tough with the Hammers in transition right now. At this point, the sky is the limit.

We are now only five days from the start of a fun year. I’ll have my EPL preview up soon.

What did you think of yesterday’s performance? Please comment below. 

 

 


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FA Community Shield Preview

Arsenal’s summer of optimism got even better today. Theo Walcott ended another long-running contract saga by penning a new 4-year deal. But surprisingly, that news was only part of the announcement which also announced that Santi Cazorla has reupped his deal. With both players entering the final year of their contracts, getting these deals done now not only helps the team down the road, but it also puts aside the hassle of trying to get something done during the year.

Walcott’s deal, rumored to be for 140,000 pounds a week, is a huge vote of confidence from Arsene Wenger for a player who hasn’t stayed healthy for the past two seasons. Even as Arsenal’s longest-tenured player, Walcott still feels to me to be a growing player, one who hasn’t approached his top level. Hopefully he makes the best out of this deal and becomes the player we now expect him to be as one of the team’s top earners. And as far as Cazorla, with many including myself expecting him to return to Spain, it comes as a nice surprise. Moving deeper into the midfield as he’s now done should help Cazorla keep his legs fresh as he ages, but still, this is yet another sign that Wenger is changing his policy on players over-30.

But as great as this summer has been for Arsenal fans, meaningful games are on the immediate horizon. Regardless of what your opinion is of the FA Community Shield, it can’t be taken lightly, especially against Jose Mourinho. Given the way the respective preseasons were set up, Arsenal seems to be taking Sunday’s match more seriously than Chelsea. With Chelsea just arriving back from the US midweek and set to play another friendly on Wednesday, they clearly aren’t at peak fitness. Arsenal, on the other hand, haven’t played since last weekend and won’t have any more friendlies before next weekend’s Premier League opener.

Arsenal’s motivation in this match should be clear. Coming off of a FA Cup win and this wonderful summer, they will want to send an early message to the title-holders that this year’s team is tougher than last. They’ll need to back up the result better than they did last year, but it must be said that a win would be a boost for the squad’s confidence. Having never beat Mourinho, Wenger clearly has reason to care, if only to partially quiet the narrative – though of course if he wins, people will say it doesn’t count. And for Petr Cech, the game is a chance to get one over his former club right off the bat.

Chelsea’s motivation is less clear. There won’t be a crisis of confidence if they lose, nor will they be any more of a title-contender if they win. However, I think they should be looking to squash any momentum Arsenal has built up. A clean-sheet and a statement goal from Eden Hazard could do just that. Add in the fact that Mourinho loves a good smirk and I suspect that while he won’t necessarily commit to his strongest side – remember that six substitutions are allowed – Mourinho would love a win.

With Theo Walcott just signing a monster deal, my guess is he’s going to start up front, especially given the setting. Normally you wouldn’t want to gamble against Chelsea, but as there are fewer consequences for a loss, Wenger should give Walcott another go up front ahead of Olivier Giroud. We already know what Giroud gives us against Chelsea, so let’s see what Walcott can do. This is the perfect place for experimentation against a top side.

Behind Walcott, I think we’ll see Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin completing the midfield. I’d be surprised if Jack Wilshere started, as I don’t think Wenger could afford to leave any of those others out. But with the six substitutions, he’ll see the field. The only alternative I could see is if he went with Mikel Arteta next to Coquelin, but given how little the two of them have played together, I wouldn’t be a fan of that alignment.

Ahead of Cech in goal, I think Wenger will go with experience across the backline, giving the nod to Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal ahead of Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs. Especially knowing Hazard will be deployed on the left, I’m thinking he’d be more comfortable with Debuchy. And at left back, it’s a coin-flip.

My prediction for the match is a low-scoring affair filled with more heavy challenges than your average early August match. I know I’ve been optimistic lately, but I never feel good about playing Chelsea. So despite the good vibes, I think Hazard will do something special to get the game’s only goal. Given the substitutions Chelsea will likely make and their comparative lack of depth – that feels strange to write – Arsenal will have their chances in the second half. Going a goal down would offer the first test of Arsenal’s mental fortitude.

If Arsenal lose, we can write it off as preseason. But a win would be nice. Regardless, I can’t wait to head to Wembley Sunday to see this shiny Arsenal team. I’m genuinely excited for the season. Follow me on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust) for my thoughts from Wembley. Let’s make London red.


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Premier League Predictions – How the Table Will Look

After more than two months of posting at least once a day since this site’s inception, I am taking a week’s vacation with my family, and won’t have access to my computer. I’ll be back writing a week from Tuesday. Hopefully the brief break from the blog will keep me fresh heading into the fall. However, I will post my prediction for Saturday’s Arsenal-Crystal Palace game on Twitter (@MrMcGinnis94), so check for that.

Between now and next Tuesday, a pretty major event is happening. The Premier League opens play this weekend. We’ve all been patiently waiting for this since May. The World Cup helped shorten the summer, but it still feels like it has been ages since Arsenal finished up their season. And for that one brief moment as all the games kick off on Saturday, nearly every single fan across the globe will be smiling. Because Premier League football is back.

Once the games begin, anything and everything will happen between now and next May when the champion will be crowned. As Ian Darke says, there will be a few million talking points. It’s going to be fun.

Here are my predictions for how the table will look after all 38 games are played.

EPL Predictions

1. Chelsea – Chelsea are loaded this year. If Diego Costa is half of the player he was a year ago, the Blues should be scoring at a record pace. I think the pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill will be found out by Arsenal and City, but the absurd amount of talent Chelsea has in the midfield will see them dominate against everybody else. The title may come down to who drops the fewest points against the Stoke City’s of the world, and I think Jose Mourinho will have his team prepared week in and week out.

2. Arsenal – I am certainly optimistic this year, as I firmly believe that Arsenal has the talent and depth to lead a sustained charge for the title. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott will be lethal in the final third, and there will be goals scored at will. Defensive issues late on will keep Arsenal from winning the title, but they’ll be right there until the final day.

3. Manchester City – City will see their throne taken from them this season, as I feel they’ll have much of their attention focused on a run in the Champions League – I think they might reach a semifinal in that competition. They’ll appear disinterested at times in the league, and they’ll drop key points against lower level opposition. They have the talent to win the title handily, but I think they’ll disappoint.

4. Manchester United – After a terrific preseason, Louis van Gaal’s men will top the table at the end of September, led by a revitalized Wayne Rooney. But once United starts playing top sides – don’t be fooled by any early success against inferior opposition – they will struggle, with the defense left exposed. They will be much improved from a year ago, but their goal should be reaching the top four, not winning the title.

5. Liverpool – Luis Suarez will be sorely missed, as the Reds are a Daniel Sturridge injury away from having a crisis up front. Rickie Lambert is not at the stage of his career when he can be productive twice a week, and he’ll struggle to adapt to the rigors of a Champions League campaign. Their journey in Europe will end up doing more harm than good. I think they’ll end up in a fight with United for fourth.

6. Everton – The Toffees have strengthened through retention this summer, and expect to improve on a wonderful campaign a year ago. Romelu Lukaku should be near the top of the goalscoring charts, and I think Ross Barkley is ready to take the next step. They are one piece away from the top four in my eyes, but they are capable of beating anyone on their day.

7. Newcastle – Newcastle will be a much improved team from a year ago. If Alan Pardew has his head in the right place, he could lead this side to a place in the Europa League. I think Emmanuel Riviere will find immediate success scoring goals, and Jack Colback and Cheick Tiote will form a fierce pairing in defensive midfield. They should be a fun side.

8. Tottenham – Count me as one unimpressed with what Mauricio Pochettino has done this summer. I can’t wait to see Spurs dismantled by Liverpool at the end of the month. Pochettino will have the team playing better by December, but I think they’ll struggle at the beginning of the year in defense. They won’t be anywhere near the top 4 come May.

9. Hull City – Hull is a team capable of making the leap this year. In keeping last year’s upstart team together, and bringing in a few new faces, Steve Bruce has had a very successful summer. They have an excellent midfield, and I expect Nikica Jelavic and Tom Ince to be scoring plenty of goals by the end of the year. They will be a team to watch.

10. Swansea City – I think it will take the Swans a little while to adapt to their new style under Garry Monk. But ultimately, they have the talent up front to comfortably finish mid-table. Between Gylfi Sigurdsson, Bafetimbi Gomis and Wilfried Bony, they have an awful lot of options in the final third.

11. Crystal Palace – A candidate for most to go down in their second season back with the big boys, I think Palace will continue to make strides under Tony Pulis. The defense should be solid once again, and Frazier Campbell has been added to bolster a static attack. It will be up to him and Marouane Chamakh to determine just how far up the table Palace can go, but they’ll be well above the drop zone.

12. Stoke City – Mark Hughes began to turn Stoke into a watchable side last year, and he finally was able to bring in players to fit his system this year. Ex-Barca man Bojan Krkic will represent a new era of Stoke football. They won’t be as near to the relegation zone as some expect.

13. West Ham – Sam Allardyce will have his side comfortably above the relegation zone, but improvement over last season will be hard to see at times. He has made moves to make the side a little more dynamic going forward, but don’t be surprised if Big Sam reverts to old ways come February.

14. Sunderland – The Black Cats were sensational towards the end of last season, but I don’t see that form carrying over to this campaign. The aging defense will be leaky. And while Jack Rodwell is an improvement in midfield, Steven Fletcher will struggle to produce goals as a lone striker this year. Connor Wickham’s involvement could be crucial to survival.

15. QPR – ‘Arry is back in the Premiership – I really dislike that man. But QPR has more talent than both of the other promoted clubs, and should stay up. The back three with Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker should be strong enough to get the necessary points for survival. However, Charlie Austin won’t cut it as an EPL frontman, and Redknapp will need to buy a striker in January.

16. Southampton – The Saints have lost an awful lot from a side that made the leap to the top half of the Premiership a year ago. They’ll struggle this year. But don’t be surprised when the next wave of youngsters start making a positive impact. They will be in the relegation zone on Boxing Day, but they’ll finish in safety.

17. Aston Villa – It is worrying how little Paul Lambert has done to improve the team. He brought in a few experienced squad players, but Villa will still be lacking in many areas. They are another Christian Benteke injury away from relegation.

18. Leicester City – Despite a strong preseason, the going won’t be easy for the newly promoted side. They might hang around until the final day, but they’ll be back in the Championship next year.

19. West Bromwich Albion – After flirting with disaster a year ago, West Brom will be right back in the thick of the survival fight from the start. They may have strengthened their defense, but I just don’t think they have the talent up front to score enough goals.

20. Burnley – When your strengths going into a season are fitness and teamwork, it could be a long year. Their high press style will be pleasing for neutrals, but the lack of talent will see the Clarets down by April. Danny Ings is a name to watch though.

Who do you think is going to win the title this year? Are you worried about your team getting relegated? Please comment below.