Premier League preview part 1; Arsenal to Bolton

Last season: 4th

Arsenal have only strengthened in attack so far this summer, bringing in Lille’s Gervinho to bolster their forward line. The Ivorian should be a good signing, and will have little trouble slotting into a similar 4-3-3 system to that he played in last season for Lille, alongside predominantly French speaking team mates. He will provide the club with a more direct option in the attacking third and a good finisher, as well as a superior work rate to that of Andrei Arshavin or Samir Nasri.

This will go some way to helping address one of Arsenal’s problems; an inability to break teams down in the final third when well organised and narrow defences face them. But it isn’t their main problem. Arsenal’s key failing is in the centre of their defence, and it is so obvious to all that Wenger has been forced to go shopping around for the typically dominant English centre half that he has been so reluctant to sign. Mamadou Sakho can’t be coaxed over from France, which is a shame as he’d have been the perfect solution to Arsenal’s defensive problems, but Wenger has identified Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Chris Samba as possible recruits. Any of these would go someway to tackling Arsenal’s defensive crisis. It is all too easy for opponents to score against Arsenal, and usually at crucial moments.

With Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool strengthening, and Chelsea bringing in Andre Villas Boas, Arsenal face a struggle for fourth, let alone to win the league. But the probable sale of Cesc Fabregas and subsequent signing of a dominant centre half should make some difference. With many of the mentally fragile players of last season being offloaded – Gael Clichy a classic example being a talented player who made big mistakes in big games – Arsenal should at least improve this season. Whether they win the league or not is doubtful at the time of writing, but a title challenge should be a realistic goal.

Prediction: Title challenge

Aston Villa

Last season: 9th

Villa’s summer started in the worst fashion, with the botched sacking of Gerard Houllier and the messy replacement of him. They looked at Mark Hughes, decided against going for him because of the way he left Fulham, and then baulked at fan pressure to withdraw an offer to Steve McClaren. They then went for Alex McLeish, who left Birmingham more acrimoniously than Hughes departed Fulham, and who faced more opposition from fans than McClaren.

Fortunately for McLeish, he has a relatively benign start to the season to get his reign off to a promising start. But it is therefore crucial that they make a good start, as a tough winter awaits with a string of difficult games. The loss of Stewart Downing isn’t a big deal as they have replaced him with Charles N’Zogbia, a considerably better player, and for half the price too. Ashley Young has also gone, which is more of a blow, but it is in defence where McLeish builds his teams. They are defensive, hard to beat and really on the long ball, all of which should suit their main attacking options – Emile Heskey, Darren Bent and Charles N’Zogbia, who are capable of feeding off scraps and poaching goals between them, as well as holding the ball up.

Villa have good defenders, whom Houllier failed to get the most out of during a fractious relationship. McLeish should be able to get the best out of them, and make the team hard to beat. A European challenge is unlikely with the mentality of an Alex McLeish side and the quality of players Villa have, unless they have a good run in the Carling Cup, but they should be more than safe this season.

Prediction: Mid-table


Last season: 15th

Blackburn have serious financial problems, which are threatening to hijack the club’s ambitions. They have sold Phil Jones but not been able to make new recruits because of a need to pour the money into the club’s debts. But they still have a solid defence, with Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen. They may have a problem if Samba leaves for Arsenal or Tottenham, but for now alarm bells aren’t quite ringing.

Much opprobrium was levelled at Blackburn for the brave decision to sack Sam Allardyce last season, but Steve Kean showed enterprise, bringing through the talented Junior Hoilett. It is hard to see Blackburn doing anything other than trying to avoid relegation with the current squad though; they simply haven’t strengthened anywhere near as much as they need to in order to compete at the highest level. David Goodwillie could be a useful addition, but a risky one too.

So Blackburn fans will have to be satisfied with another year of safety, in the hope that they will be able to eventually reinvest some of their money into the playing squad. But until that happens, Kean will do well to just survive.

Prediction: Survival with a couple of weeks to spare


Last season: 14th

Another team who have made more sales than signings, Bolton will do well to repeat their impressive campaign last time around. A prolific forward line of Daniel Sturridge, Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies was decimated, with only the latter still at the club. Like Blackburn, they are hoping to keep Gary Cahill but if he is sold they should be able to reinvest the money into the squad.

But it is hard to see where too many goals will come from. Ivan Klasnic is a decent forward, and the midfield offers a balance of energy, strength and passing ability. Last year Bolton showed they could play with a bit of skill when provoked into doing so, and by all accounts it was a good season for the club.

Like many it is unlikely the transfer dealings of the summer are complete quite yet, making predictions a hazardous pursuit, but Bolton should be hopeful at least of a mid table finish, and that should not be beyond them.

Prediction: Mid Table safety