SAFC Season Preview: Part One
Third in last season`s Premier League, Arsene Wenger`s Gunners secured automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages - something they failed to secure last season to their detriment. A hard-fought play-off win over Serie A side Udinese was draining and of course the high-profile losses of Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas were also extremely unsettling for the club and in particular the playing staff.
No off-season could go by at the North London club without the loss of a key player, and this year it looks likely to be last season`s top-scorer and Football Writers` 'Player of the the Year`, Robin Van Persie. RVP has made clear his desire to leave the Emirates and with Manchester United and Juventus circling after Manchester City pulled out the race, it seems unlikely the prolific Dutchman will be plying his trade for the Gunners for much longer.
What has been something of a curve ball though has been the influx of players. Normally quite reserved in the transfer market, Wenger did his business early this summer adding striker Lukasz Podolski and Oliver Giroud. Attacking midfielder-cum-winger Santi Cazorla has also been added whilst Real Madrid`s versatile midfielder Nuri Sahin has been heavily linked with a loan move. One man who could be on his way is holding midfielder Alex Song, linked with a move to La Liga giants, Barcenlona.
In: Lukasz Podolski (Koln) £10.9m, Olivier Giroud (Montpellier) £12.8m & Santi Cazorla (Malaga) £16.5m.
Out: Jefferey Monakana, Ben Glasgow, Rhys Murphy, James Campbell, Manuel Almunia, Alban Bunjaku, George Brislen-Hall, Justin Hoyte, Pedro Botelho & Sean McDermott (all released), Oguzhan Ozakup (Besiktas) £405k & Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad) £6m.
Alex McLeish was sacked after a terrible debut season at Villa Park, and for Villans everywhere, that alone was excellent news. However, the subsequent appointment of former Norwich City boss Paul Lambert looks like an ideal replacement.
After a 16th placed finish last term, the Scot should have few worries about improving the Midlanders showing in the league.
Lambert has been quick to stamp his mark on the Villa squad, adding four fresh faces in full-back Matthew Lowton, centre-back Ron Vlaar, winger Brett Holman and defensive midfielder Karim El Ahmadi, as well as moving out several experienced heads including Emile Heskey, James Collins and Carlos Cuellar.
In: Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar) free transfer, Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord) undisc, Matthew Lowton (Sheffield United) £3m & Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord) £3.2m.
Out: Emile Heskey, Carlos Cuellar, Ebby Nelson-Addy, Connor Taylor, Charlie Ward, Reece Caira, Richard Bryan, Matthew Coton, Darious Darkin & Seb Jenkins (all released) & James Collins (West Ham Utd) £2.5m.
Chelsea: Another season, another new boss, but how long will Roberto Di Matteo get? Guiding the Blues to the League Cup & Champions League last season was one thing, but now the former West Brom head coach has the Chelsea job on a permanent basis, some big decisions will have to be made. For example - how long do the likes of Frank Lampard and John Terry have left?
An unsurprisingly busy summer in the transfer market has seen Di Matteo build for the future with brothers Eden and Thorgan Hazard signing as well as Marko Marin from Werder Bremen and Brazilian international Oscar joining from Internacional.
The loss of Didier Drogba will be felt, but it was a necessary sacrifice, opening up the role of first-choice striker for the beleaguered Ferndando Torres.
Many questions will be answered this season, but I for one am convinced Di Matteo will not push the Blues far enough forward to be safe.
In: Marko Marin (Werder Bremen) £6.5m, Eden Hazard (Lille) £32m, George Brady (Cannes) £250k, Thorgan Hazard (Lens) £880k & Oscar (Internacional) £25m.
Out: Didider Drogba, Jose Bosingwa, Saloman Kalou, Marko Mitrovic & Rhys Taylor (all released). Jeffeey Bruma (Hamburg), loan, Patrick Van Aanholt (Vitesse) loan, Tomas Kalas (Vitesse) loan, Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid) loan, Rohan Ince (Yeovil Town) loan, Ulises Davila (Sabadell) loan, Jhon Pirez (Sabadell) loan, Milan Lalkovic (Vitora Guimaraes) loan, Matej Delac (Vitora Guimaraes) loan, Kenneth Omeruo (ADO Den Haag) loan, Kevin De Bruyne (Werder Bremen) loan, Ben Gordon (Birmingham City) loan & Romelu Lukaku (West Brom) loan.
A club for whom one preview would suffice for most years, David Moyes` side once again managed to defy the odds last season, finishing 7th despite a lack of funds, a small ground in Premier League terms and also managing a cup run (at Sunderland`s expense of course).
This summer has seen the departure of fan`s favourite Tim Cahill, who has moved stateside to join New York Red Bulls. Jack Rodwell joined league champions Manchester City yesterday for what will doubtless prove to be a fortune. How much of that money Moyes will see and be able to re-invest in his depleted squad is unclear.
There has been good news however in the return of former Toffees midfielder, Steven Peinaar, signed back from Spurs after an unhappy spell. Steven Naismith has also joined after electing to leave Rangers.
In: Steven Naismith (Rangers) tribunal & Steven Pienaar (Tottenham Hotspur) £4.5m.
Out: Marcus Hahnemann, James McFadden, Femi Orenuga, Aristote Nsiala (all released), Adam Forshaw (Brentford) undsic, Joao Silva (Levski Sofia) undisc, Tim Cahill (NY Red Bulls) undisc, Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce) undisc & Jack Rodwell (Manchester City) undisc.
Fulham: A solid first season under Martin Jol, the Cottagers secured 9th spot in the Premier League, building on an impressive season the year before under the guidance of Mark Hughes.
For Jol, this off-season has been used as an opportunity to revitalise his squad, moving on several Fulham veterans in Danny Murphy, Andrew Johnson and Dickson Etutu, and freshening the squad up with the capture of forwards Hugo Rodellega and Mladen Petric on free transfers.
With no Europa League to worry about, the Whites should be looking to kick-on towards the European spots again.
In: Mladen Petric (Hamburg) free, Sascha Riether (Cologne) loan & Hugo Rodellega (Wigan Athletic) free.
Out: Andrew Johnson (QPR) free, Danny Murphy (Blackburn Rovers) free, Orlando Sa (released), Marcel Gecov (Gent) undisc, Dickson Etuhu (Blackburn Rovers) free & Bjorn Helge Riise (Lillestrom) free.
Part two of our Premier League preview will follow tomorrow...