The new Premier League season is little over a month away now - the clubs have regrouped for pre-season as they look to bed in new players, get the squad back to full fitness and ultimately build on last season's achievements.
Many clubs have already smashed their transfer records in the pursuit of success and with the transfer window still open for another six weeks, we can be sure that there will be a lot more deals to be done.
This is the first of five articles that will preview the upcoming season, taking a look at all 20 Premier League teams. We will analysis which areas they are strong and some they need to improve upon, potential transfer dealing’s and where we could expect them to finish come the end of the season.
*All transfer fees are based on media and club reports - some may still be undisclosed*
Last season: 4th
New arrivals: Yaya Sanogo
Departures: Vito Mannone, Andrey Arshavin, Denilson, Sébastien Squillaci & Johan Djourou
Arsenal had a very strange season last time round. They began really well, playing good football and keeping clean sheets - their 2-0 win away to Liverpool at the start of the season was one of the most complete footballing displays I have seen from an Arsenal side in a good few seasons.
But as the season went on, the form of their strikers began to dip and they began conceding goals. Theo Walcott was looking for a new deal, Thomas Vermaelen was dropped after an inconsistent season and rumours of a rift between Arsene Wenger and defensive coach, Steve Bould, were spreading through the media. This may have caused a distraction in the squad, but they still managed to pull some results out the bag when they needed them most and scrape into those Champions League positions.
There will have to be changes, this season, if they want to challenge at the top. There can be no room for indecision, so it is crucial they sort out Vermaelen's future, when he’s on form he is top class, as is Laurent Koscielny, so a consistent partnership between those two could be very important.
I don’t really know what role players like Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho play in the team. Ramsey is an average utility player and Gervinho doesn’t look up to Arsenal standard. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has proved he is good enough for both club and country, he has to start more games.
They could also do with a top quality striker and holding midfielder. It looks like Wenger will be opening his cheque book this summer, which is music to the ears of most Gunners supporters; he’s already made an offer for Luis Suarez and reports have linked Arsenal with Wayne Rooney, Gonzalo Higuain and Christian Benteke.
Abou Diaby is a good player and Arsenal seem to do well when he plays, but that isn’t very often. Because of various injuries he has only managed 31 appearances in the last four seasons.
Maybe Arsene needs to change his focus from getting Diaby fit, to finding a replacement, Newcastle’s Cheik Tiote would be a perfect fit to marshal that midfield.
But the most important thing for Arsenal this season will be to get Jack Wilshere to full fitness and playing every week. His tenacity and power is crucial to their team and when he plays, he is a match winner. Without him, they could just be fighting for 4th place again, but if he is playing, they could be mixing it with the teams at the top of the table.
Last season: 15th
New arrivals: Jores Okore, Nicklas Helenius, Aleksander Tonev, Leandro Bacuna & Antonio Luna
Departures: Richard Dunne, Stephen Ireland, Brett Holman, Jean II Makoun & Eric Lichaj
I don’t think Aston Villa were as bad last season as their position reflected. Yes, they were very inconsistent, but the young team that Paul Lambert managed to cobble together got better as the season went on and recorded a number of great results, especially away from home.
Lambert has already been busy this summer and has invested in key positions. Jores Okore is a strong, young centre-back, who could work well with captain, Ron Vlaar. Antonia Luna could solve Villa’s left-back problem and Leandro Bacuna and Aleksander Tonev could add some much needed flair to that midfield. But there are now serious question marks about who will start the season up-front.
The signing of the virtually unknown Christian Benteke proved to be a master stroke last season. However, it looks very unlikely we will see him in a Villa shirt again after the Belgian submitted a transfer request. If they can get the £25m they are demanding for him, it could be re-invested into the squad, but he would be a huge miss next season.
With Darren Bent also on his way out after being told he is surplus to requirements, Villa have signed young Danish striker Nicklas Helenius, but I doubt whether he could make the same impact.
Tottenham look like the favourites to sign Benteke, although there are a number of clubs interested. That said, Villa would be happy to get their asking price, or even £20m cash and a player from Spurs.
Yacouba Sylla, signed in January, added a bit grit and aggression to a fairly tame Villa midfield in the second half of last season, but if they could get a higher quality player in that position, say Scott Parker or Jake Livermore, from Tottenham in that swap deal for Benteke, it could prove to be very good business.
I don’t see any reason for pundits to tip Aston Villa for the drop this season. Their young squad will have learnt from last season and that experience will make them more consistent - any Villa fan would be happy with a low to mid table finish next season and they are more than capable of that.
Last season: 1st (Championship)
New arrivals: Andreas Cornelius
Departures: Heidar Helguson & Stephen McPhail
Last season was incredibly successful for Cardiff City. After some good cup runs over the last three seasons, the new owner invested heavily in the club, building a new stadium and overhauling the playing squad, so he and the fans were delighted to see the club win the Championship for the first time.
Malky Mackay was linked with a number of jobs over the summer, but he decided to stay with Cardiff for their debut Premier League season and sent out a real statement of intent, with the club record signing of talented Danish striker Andreas Cornelius.
However, after the collapse of Thomas Ince’s projected move from Blackpool, this is still their only foray into the transfer market so far, so we will definitely see more Cardiff signings before the start of the season.
The squad they have brought up with them from the Championship doesn’t lack in quality. Influential players like Craig Bellamy and Mark Hudson will be crucial, as will the midfield pairing of Peter Whittingham and Aron Gunnarsson.
Whittingham is the creative engine of the team, he is very dangerous from dead ball situations and has a reputation for scoring spectacular goals. Gunnarsson is very physical and athletic, he will patrol the pitch and look to break down attacks before they reach the back four. These four players, along with Cornelius, will provide a good spine for the rest of the team to be structured around.
However, you can’t help but worry about their defence. They have no real Premier League experience there, Hudson is a very dependable defender, but he has never played in the top division. They could do with quality, experienced defenders in the squad, maybe someone like William Gallas would be perfect in that inexperienced back four.
Cardiff certainly has the best chance of the three promoted clubs of staying up.
The supporters might just be happy if they can get some points of Welsh rivals Swansea but if they don’t invest further in the playing squad, I can’t see them surviving. If they stay up, it will have been a magnificent achievement.
Last season: 3rd
New arrivals: Jose Mourinho, Andre Schurrle, Marco van Ginkel, Mark Schwarzer & Romelu Lukaku
Departures: Yossi Benayoun, Florent Malouda, Paulo Ferreira, Ross Turnbull, Thibaut Courtois, Marko Marin & Oriol Romeu
Chelsea fans will go into this upcoming season with great excitement as after four years away, Jose Mourinho is back.
The self-proclaimed 'Special One’ has returned for a second stint at the Bridge and every football fan in England will be pleased to see him back where he belongs.
He has returned a little greyer and calmer than before, but he still has the same drive and passion that has lead him to so much success in the past. His time at both Inter Milan and Real Madrid will have made him a better manager.
He has already started waving the Mourinho magic wand over his squad, bringing in great young prospects like Schurrle and Van Ginkel, as well as securing the services of Mark Schwarzer for a season having agreed to let his future number one goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, join Atletico Madrid for a third consecutive loan spell.
It is rumoured that players like John Obi Mikel and the stuttering Fernando Torres have been told they can leave.
Doubts over the future of David Luiz have been circulating and you can see why. He has proven to be a very talented footballer, but there is no way he is a centre-back and I can’t see Mourinho being too taken with a defender who can’t defend.
Mourinho's favourites like John Terry, Frank Lampard and the returning Michael Essien have been given first-team assurances, but his return to Chelsea is still lacking that marquee signing.
After the disappointment of missing out on Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani, things could be about to change.
Chelsea have been linked with several big names name strikers like Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Christian Benteke. There has even been talk of Mourinho convincing Didier Drogba to come back to Chelsea, but I don’t think this is a very good move.
After a very successful loan spell at West Brom last season, Lukaku is back at Chelsea and looking to break into the first-team.
There is no doubting he will be a world class striker and he has the strength, skill and technique to be one of the best we have seen in the Premier League.
Once they have sorted this striking issue, Chelsea will almost certainly be challenging for the title.
They have a midfield that would grace any team in the world, with creative talents like Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar playing in front of the ever dependable Frank Lampard and Ramires.
And if Mourinho can sure up that defence, which I have no doubting he will do, it could turn out to be a title-winning return for the 'Special One'.
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