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After finally securing a trophy last year after nine years of waiting, much of the Arsenal faithful expected the club to spend big and push on for more trophies this year. The purchase of Alexis Sanchez seemed to indicate this, but since then progress has stalled and securing the signature of Danny Welbeck on deadline day seemed a desperate measure borne out of an injury to Olivier Giroud. That is not to say that Welbeck will not be successful; indeed, he may add a focal point to a team that has in previous years lacked an out and out target man.
The midfield, complete with players such as Ramsey, Cazorla and Ozil remains one of the best and most creative in the league, but lacks a high-quality enforcer in the defensive midfield role. Calum Chambers, despite costing a surprisingly high £16 million from Southampton, looks a real asset and will most likely usurp the languid Per Mertesacker in the centre of the Arsenal defence at some point during the season. Arsenal should on paper finish in the top four and could, if Welbeck fires, be challenging for the title.
There is a real conundrum that surrounds Aston Villa as we begin the new season. After their abysmal showing last term, Paul Lambert was expected to be shown the door during the summer and the general feeling was that a relegation scrap was inevitable. However, Randy Learner has stuck with him and drafted in Roy Keane as his number two, bringing discipline and determination to a sometimes deflated squad.
The summer signings have been a mix of the successful (think Carlos Sanchez and Aly Cissokho), the strange (Phillipe Senderos, Joe Cole) and the weep-inducing (Tom Cleverley). Despite having the look of a Football Manager side put together on a low budget circa 2009, the team seems to have gelled well and are playing neat football with a hard to break down back four.
Sterner tests are to come in the next few weeks, but with strikers Libor Kozak and Christian Benteke set to return soon, Aston Villa should be a safe bet to stay up this season.
The team no-one predicted to make it out of the Championship last season have done just that, and are now lining up against some of the biggest teams in world football. Led by well-respected boss Sean Dyche (aka the Ginger Mourinho), Burnley face a struggle to remain in the Premier League this year once the initial honeymoon period is over. They lack any genuine quality and instead have packed their squad full of Premier League experience – Matt Taylor and Michael Kightly will be crucial in Burnley’s fight for survival.
Their chances of survival rest on whether they can secure their points at home – after delighting most of the football world by holding Manchester United to a 0-0 draw at home, there is some optimism amongst Burnley fans that survival can be achieved. Lukas Jutkiewicz, fairly prolific in the Championship, has been drafted in to provide backup to Danny Ings who, despite being linked with Newcastle (amongst others), remains at Turf Moor. If these two can fire, Burnley could well stay up. For most, however, it would be a genuine surprise to see the Clarets again next year.
After a season of rebuilding last time out, Chelsea are now the team to beat. The early purchases of Cesc Fabregas, Felipe Luis and Diego Costa afforded them the luxury of having a full pre-season to bed the new signings into the team. Thibaut Courtois, at just 22, has the potential to be a regular in the Chelsea goal for the next 10 years and is a more than able replacement for Petr Cech. Led by Jose Mourinho, Chelsea are a genuinely frightening prospect for most teams now, with pace and power up front and a rock-solid back 4, marshalled by the excellent Nemanja Matic.
It is hard to find any weaknesses in their squad – the purchase of Loic Remy gives Mourinho a quality back-up should Diego Costa break down during the season. Where the Chelsea of last season attempted to score first and then park the proverbial bus, they now have enough confidence to continue attacking and kill off teams. Only Manchester City have the quality to come close to Chelsea, and it seems likely on early season form that Chelsea will come out on top in that race.