Premiership Preview (Part III)

On Friday we looked at the league and defending champions Manchester United. Yesterday I subjected you to my treatise on Liverpool’s title hopes (frustrations reigns again). Tomorrow, I’ll look at perennial Big Four challengers Everton and Aston Villa. And Thursday its big spending upstarts Manchester City and Tottenham. Today, we focus on the last two Big Four teams, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Chelsea

2008-09 Finish: 3rd

Major Transactions: Ins: Yuri Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow), Daniel Sturridge (Man City), Ross Turnbull (Middlesborough); Outs: None

Chelsea begin the 2009-10 campaign with the most experienced, talented, and settled squad in the Premier League. With no sales of any significance and the only major purchase that of left back/winger Yuri Zhirkov, the Blues are betting that the 09-10 team will resemble the Guus Hiddink version of last year’s club rather than Luis Filipe Scolari’s. And there is reason to believe it can. Petr Cech is an exceptional goal keeper, the first team defense is on a par with any in the league, the midfield is powerful, creative and deep, while Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka can score goals at an astonishing clip when they are interested.

But serious questions linger. The team is full of experienced players, but with that experience comes age. Leaving aside injury prone Michael Essien (26), John Terry and Ashley Cole are the youngest of the core outfield players at 28: Anelka (30), Frank Lampard (31), Drogba (31), Ricardo Carvalho (31), Michael Ballack (32), Deco (32). Injuries seem likely and Chelsea will face a number of forced departures in January and February because of the African Cup of Nations, losing Essien and Drogba as well as key players Jon Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou for as many as six weeks.

And reinforcements are not on the way. FIFA have hit Chelsea with a transfer ban for the next two transfer windows over its illegal signing of a prospect from a French club. Even if the ban is reduced on appeal, it is likely that Chelsea will be barred from making any purchases during the January window – right at the time it is hit by the African Cup of Nations. The ban could be felt most if Cech goes down, because cover in goal is perilously thin with only Hilario and Turnbull available.

While the squad is settled, the manager’s chair is anything but. Carlo Ancelotti will be Chelsea’s fifth manager since the beginning of the 07-08 season, with none of the other four seeing out a full year in charge. Owner Roman Abramovich’s main priority is the Champion’s League, and it will not be lost on Ancelotti that one of his predecessors was given the boot after losing the Champion’s League final in penalty kicks. Outside of meddling owners, also of interest will be how Ancelotti adapts from Seire A. It would seem an easier transition for a coach than for a player (like Liverpool’s Alberto Aquilani), but even though Ancelotti has reached great heights as a player and a coach, he has never been associated with a club outside Italy. Seria A is not the Premiership.

Chelsea has started well, but Hull, Fulham, Sunderland, and Burnley aren’t the best measure of any contender’s strength. Age could be a problem and the manager may not get it right in his first try at English football. But Chelsea starts from a strong place and has the fewest questions.

Prediction: (As much as this pains me) Champions

Arsenal

2008-09 Finish: Fourth

Major Transactions: Ins: Thomas Vermaelen (Ajax); Outs: Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure (Man City)

Will this be the year that Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger will finally be proved right and his young players deliver the silverware Gunners fans so desperately crave? He certainly thinks (or hopes) so. How else to explain a summer when funds are apparently readily available but the only significant addition is the young Belgian central defender Thomas Vermaelen? It is undoubtedly true that Arsenal has a solid stable of young players but it is equally true that they have holes.

Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie immense young talents, and Andrei Arshavin is looking like the steal of the January transfer window. But which other Arsenal players would get into another Big Four side? His own goal against Man U was a sterling example, but they don’t call him Abou Diabolical for nothing. I wouldn’t let Manuel Almunia warm up my goal keeper for fear his rash decision-making is contagious. He’s still young, but its been three years since Theo Walcott was included in England’s 2006 World Cup squad and he has done nothing to indicate that he is in line for another call up.

It’s a shame Arsenal have questions in goal, all along the back line, and in midfield, because the Fabregas-Van Persie-Arshavin triumvirate could be truly special. Arshavin looks like exactly the kind of player that could vault a good Arsenal team to the top. The problem is, its not a good enough team to compete over a 38 game schedule. Every 6-1 mauling of Everton can be matched with a complete meltdown, like throwing away a game they were dominating against Man U with a needless penalty on the goalie and an own goal.

This is the team that will fall out of the Big Four. They will delight their fans and neutrals with beautiful play and score some big wins against top teams. But they will also go through a stretch of games when they can’t seem to find the goal with a map and drop needless points against teams in the relegation scrap.

Prediction: Sixth

Advertisements

2 Responses

  1. […] long discussion of Liverpool’s title hopes (frustrations reigns again). Yesterday, we focused on Chelsea and Arsenal. Tomorrow, its big spending upstarts Manchester City and Tottenham. Today, we focus on Everton and […]

  2. Love the prediction, but completely disagree regarding the Chelsea GK position. Turnbull was a fantastic signing and is better than Hilario. The only thing that stops this team is malcontent players. Which is a distinct possibility.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: