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All Things Footie | Tuesday, August 12 | Jordan

Irony

Arsène Wenger is forever mocked for his famous loss of eyesight following any Arsenal players’ indiscretion, but it looks to be catching. Referee Steve Dunn, who managed to keep a lid on Sunday’s heated charity shield match with some excellent man-management (and by showing some leniency) is set to undo his own good work by pretending that he didn’t talk to Ashley Cole or Sol Campbell about their kicks at United players, thus ensuring the video panel (populated mainly by ex-Spurs and Manchester United footballer) hand out a hefty ban to the two.

Manchester United too are in for a hefty dose of comeuppance. As all good United followers know, there’s only one song to sing when M. Wenger comes to town (the one involving a cunning rhyme with ‘smile’). Perhaps signing Kleberson may make them think again.

Anyway, lets forget about the Charamunity Friendshield and start looking forward to next weekend; it’s pre-season prediction time at all things footie. But first, a little look at my predictions from last season.

Each team was, on average, 3·35 places off in my predicted final table. OK, so I thought Leeds would finish sixth (ended up fifteenth), Aston Villa eighth (sixteenth) and I clearly underestimated Man City (cheekily tipping them for relegation but giving them an optimistic seventeeth place in my table (actually managed ninth). The only ones I got spot on were the ever so predictable, mid-tablers Tottenham, and the two propping up the table; WBA and Sunderland. Probably best to ignore my table this year.

I fared slightly better with my players to watch however, Jay Jay Okocha did indeed light up the Premiership, Anders Svensson was excellent in leading Southampton to eighth place, a spot in Europe and the FA Cup Final. Wayne Rooney earned his first England caps (though that one was hardly difficult to predict) and any Villa fans will agree with me that Thomas Hitzlsperger was one bright light in an otherwise overcast season. My other predictee, Jeremie Aliadiere was struck down by injury after a bright start, so that’s neither a success nor a failure as far as I’m concerned.

On to this season.

Tip top, top tip

Chelsea’s big spending antics have made them favourites for the title in the opinion of some know nothings, but that’s nonsense. With about forty new arrivals, the team will need at least a year to settle, maybe more. Even with the arrival of Adrian Mutu, they’ve still not got a 30 goals a season player and Glen Johnson’s going to have to make a big step up from looking good in a relegated side to performing in the Champions League. Third place is the best Chelsea can hope for unless Arsenal or Man Utd fall to pieces.

Liverpool still lack width. Heskey is still terrible. Owen and Gerrard are still over-rated. Fourth place and a spot in next seasons Champions League is the very best this side can hope to achieve. Maybe another Worthless (or Euro-Worthless) Cup.

Newcastle are a conundrum. In one way, they’ve bought well, on the other hand, the normally sensible Bobby Robson has tried to pack his side with as many bigots and nutcases as possible. They could do well — an FA Cup — or they could be very dissapointing — scrapping for a European place — come May. Much will depend on how the forward line performs, and whether Kieran Dyer and Jermain Jenas can get an injury free and consistent partnership going.

Any idiot can predict the top two, it will still be Arsenal and Machester United, the question is which order? If last Sunday’s game tells us anything, it’s that the two sides are about as evenly matched as two sides can be, the difference this season will, more than ever, be about playing styles. Manchester United have lost their two most creative passers of the ball, which is going to hit their creativity hard. Cristiano Ronaldo, their latest signing, may well fill the gap, but I suspect he’ll be more of a Sølskjær-esque player. Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba are both more rugged, and defensively minded, not craftsmen.

This enforced change of style may suit the side, but it could mean more of the less attractive football for all the kids at Old Trafford.

Arsenal on the other hand had, and still have, the most creative side in the league. Creating vastly more chances than any other team and they have two or three of the most technically gifted players in Europe. Arsenal fans and the press have bemoaned the lack of new signings, but it’s worth bearing in mind that Arsenal have two (if not three) players that Man U, Chelsea, Real Madrid or Liverpool would re-morgage their stadiums for. For Arsenal to hang on to Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires is a bigger coup than any player signing.

There are some exciting youngsters coming through to replace the players edging past their sell-by dates; Jeremie Aliadiere, Jermaine Pennant, Phillipe Senderos and Gael Clichy will all get some form of chance to impress this season. I suspect Arsenal will easily outscore the rest of the league again this season, the question is whether the back line can be a bit more reliable than last year. And that’s the $64,000 question.

Players to watch

There’s a lot of new faces this season, but there’s no point in my picking out the big names that are obvioulsy going to do pretty well. I’m going to try and take a look at some names that aren’t quite so familiar yet.

Final table

Despite my poor effort a year ago, it wouldn’t be a set of pre-season predictions without one. I think it’ll be very tight down the bottom this year, with maybe only 10 points separating the bottom 5, and I suspect the pack behind United and Arsenal to be just as tight.

  1. Arsenal
  2. Manchester United
  3. Chelsea
  4. Liverpool
  5. Newcastle
  6. Everton
  7. Southampton
  8. Aston Villa
  9. Charlton
  10. Tottenham
  11. Middlesbrough
  12. Man City
  13. Fulham
  14. Birmingham
  15. Blackburn
  16. Portsmouth
  17. Wolves
  18. Leeds
  19. Bolton
  20. Leicester

It’s controversial, even with me.

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