And so, in what seems like a ridiculously quick turnaround, the new season is upon us. And I, like every single other blogger, media organisation or random fucker with a Twitter account, am here to make my utterly meaningless and highly-unlikely-to-be-correct predictions. Although saying that, I didn’t do too badly last year –
“Chelsea, who were only really let down in their title challenge last season by their lack of a top quality striker, have signed Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid – effectively getting rid of their only real weakness. They’ve also been strengthened by the return of Courtois from his loan at Atletico, and the signings of Filipe Luis, also from Atletico, and of course former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona. Chelsea are probably the only team whose transfer window I am envious of – I believe Arsenal have had a better one than all of the other potential title challengers, at least so far. As such, Chelsea are by far the favourites for the title, and if they don’t win it Mourinho has failed dramatically.
Man City, on the other hand, have been uncharacteristically quiet in the window so far. They’ve signed Caballero from Malaga, midfielder Fernando, and Bacary Sagna on a free transfer from us. So for the first time in a long time, Arsenal have spent more than City, signed more players – and overall had a better transfer window. But City’s squad was incredible in the first place. It still is. It’s certainly stronger than ours, and as such I think they’ll finish second to Chelsea.
Beyond those two though, I’m confident. Arsenal have a better squad and have had a better transfer window than teams like United, Spurs, Everton and especially Liverpool, who having sold Suarez I believe will struggle to even finish fifth. Admittedly, United have looked strong in pre-season and it’s quite obvious that Louis Van Gaal has reinvigorated them, but their squad still simply doesn’t look good enough. They should however have an excellent start to the season, having been handed a suspiciously easy first few fixtures – something Arsenal haven’t been blessed with. But over the entire course, I can’t see them finishing higher than fourth, just behind Arsenal.”
Forgive me for that brief moment of smugness, it’s rare I get something as right as that.
Anyway, back to this year. So far, Arsenal’s transfer window has not been particularly busy, and we are yet to sign someone like Alexis Sanchez who you could’ve announced in a similar manner to the Queen’s entrance at the 2012 Olympics and it be entirely reasonable and proportionate to the magnitude of the situation. That is, of course, not to do any disservice to Petr Cech, who is a wonderful and greatly needed signing – Arsenal have needed a top class goalkeeper for over a decade now. It is simply to say that, despite the enjoyment of poaching a Chelsea legend at Mourinho’s annoyance, and the fact he is one of the best in his position in the world, there is something about a 33 year old goalkeeper that isn’t quite as exciting as a skilful Chilean winger who had until recently been in the same front line as Lionel Messi.
We are of course still being linked with others, and given it’s not even August yet you would hope so too. Karim Benzema is yet again being linked with a move to follow Mesut Ozil on the path from the Bernabeu to the Emirates, a rumour that just a couple of years ago would have been dismissed as the bored creation of an under-worked tabloid football journalist, or some 12 year old on Twitter. Things are different these days, as the signings of first Ozil and then Sanchez mean Arsenal fans are now willing to believe absolutely anything. No wonder hacks are so willing to exploit our huge online presence. [see also: Llorente rumours. Hah!]
If there is some substance to the Benzema stuff, then I will be as delighted as every other Arsenal fan. But I am yet to see any reliable sign that there really is a possibility of him linking up with Ozil once again, and after the Higuain ordeal I promised myself I wouldn’t get drawn into the over-hyped, under-sourced excitement of a nice transfer rumour once again. It obviously hasn’t actually happened, but I try to keep myself in a state of permanent cynical scepticism. I just find I’m happier that way.
As it is, we have made one signing. Chelsea have also been oddly, even worryingly, quiet, signing only Falcao on loan, Begovic as a replacement for Cech, and probably some poor kid whose career will now collapse under the weight of his new car, watch, and pyramid of cash bundles. Other than Cech, they have sold Filipe Luis after a disappointing season, Drogba’s left and Thorgan Hazard (potentially the first ever player signed for millions just to keep his brother happy) has also departed. Man City have been only a little more busy than their oily counterparts – at least in monetary terms – paying a huge amount for Raheem Sterling to come in and be inconsistent on their wing instead of Liverpool’s, and then also bringing in Fabian Delph after his whole “no, I will stay at Villa, for I have sporting principles! Ooh, money…” thing. City, too, have brought in a young player whose agent has no consideration for his future and simply wanted his big pay-day now. Negredo has gone permanently, as has Nastasic, but other than that not much of note has been happening for Manchester’s second team.
Where things have got a bit busier is at Liverpool and Manchester United, two clubs known for their recent history of splurging money in a panicky hope that something might work out. Liverpool have made three big (monetarily) signings, bringing in Benteke for £32.5m, Roberto Firmino for about £29m and Clyne for £12.5m. Of the three, Clyne is likely to be the best signing, all taken into account. He’s a young player in a position they needed to strengthen, and they’ve got him for a reasonably good fee. Benteke, on the other hand, is an injury-prone, inconsistent striker who they’ve paid over the odds for, while few had heard of Firmino before he was standing in front of a camera holding a Liverpool shirt. The Brazilian may turn out to be a steal, but for £29m you’d hope for a player who people had actually heard of – combine that with the fact that Liverpool have positions in much greater need of strengthening than attacking midfield.
United have had by far the busiest transfer window out of all the big teams, in what appears to be a case of Louis van Gaal simply throwing money at a problem he doesn’t really know how to solve, possibly in the hope that the pile of cash might fill the gaping hole in his defence while simultaneously blocking David De Gea’s sprint to the exit door. By bringing in Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger and Depay United have undoubtedly strengthened their midfield, but it wasn’t really the midfield that was the problem – Herrera, Mata and Di Maria (although he looks like he wants out) are, believe it or not, actually quite good players. United’s recent issues have been down to their defence looking about as solid, experienced and frightening as a porous puppy, and both Moyes’ and then van Gaal’s failures to get their on paper excellent strike force firing. The one defender United have signed, Darmian, is a wing-back – hardly solving their issues – and their only other addition at that end of the pitch is Sergio Romero, a goalkeeper potentially brought in to replace De Gea, who is frankly just a little bit shit. United have not dealt with their huge, long-running problems, and the decent signings they have made look likely to basically just be replacements for Di Maria and Van Persie – as Rooney has to move forward from midfield. However much money they’ve spent, I don’t see them having a particularly good season.
And so, we come to prediction time. There’s a lot to be said for stability, and at present, the three of Arsenal, Chelsea and City appear to have it. Arsenal have dealt with their weakest position – the goalkeeper – while Chelsea have largely just added a bit more depth the an already incredible squad. City, I feel, have focussed on the wrong areas, much like their neighbours. I suspect that, unless something radical happens over the next month, they will look back on the transfer window as a poor one. Liverpool and United are once again set for seasons of transition, and don’t underestimate the effect Champions League football will have on van Gaal’s lot.
My predictions, therefore, are these: Chelsea and Arsenal will fight it out for the title, as the two sides with the strongest squads and the greatest stability. If Arsenal do manage to bring in a striker – even as just a like-for-like backup for Giroud, such as Llorente (but it won’t be him) – then I genuinely think they have a real chance. If little more happens in the transfer market for Arsene Wenger’s side, Chelsea will retain the title. Either way, first and second is between those two, with City finishing third. Liverpool, who only really have to focus on the league, will take fourth, while United will drop out of the Champions League spots and finish fifth.
We may now commence hoping that I get it as right as I did last season. Unlikely, I feel.