THE RUNNERS AND RIDERS
Arsenal - Fulham
Last Year: 3rd
Big Signing: Santi Cazorla £19 million from Malaga
Good news: Champions League football secured once again thanks to Robin van Persie
Bad News: Robin van Persie's imminent departure to rivals Manchester United.
Last major trophy: FA Cup (2005)
For years the Gunners have made 3rd and 4th place their very own, despite the harbingers of doom suggesting that their top four status was under threat. Up until February the Gunners are usually found somewhere near the front-runners until the inevitable injuries and confidence crisis kick in. Last season was, of course, no exception. Worries continue in goal, defence and now seemingly a gaping hole has been ripped out their midfield with Fabregas having finally engineered his move to Barcelona and Nasri certainly heading to Manchester. Whether Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshire can fill this gap we will have to wait and see. Up front is also a worry. Chamakh looked frail and the cursed Robin van Persie had yet another injury ravaged year. New signing Gervinho who looks like a man with a mop tied to head may need to clean up otherwise Arsenal may have to turn to the ever flaky Nicklas Bendtner. Heaven help us! Thursday night football at the Emirates beckons for 2012/ 2013.
Last Year: 9th
Big Signing: Charles N'Zogbia £9.5million from Wigan Athletic.
Good News: The signing of Shay Given from Manchester City as a perfect replacement for the departed Brad Friedel.
Bad News: Loss of wingers Downing and Young and the appointment of former Blues manager, Alex McLeish.
Last major trophy: League Cup (1996)
Just over a year ago Villa appeared to be a relatively steady ship, that was until Martin O'Neill walked out of the club which preluded the tumultuous reign of Gerard Houllier. But if all that wasn't too difficult to swallow then the appointment of the Big Eck from hated rivals Birmingham City certainly was. Anything other than a perfect start could immediately up the pressure somewhat, especially as they spent much of last season hovering dangerously around the relegation zone, another repeat will prove fatal for McLeish. Meanwhile Villa also shipped out both of their main wingers, Ashley Young and Stuart Downing to Manchester United and Liverpool. If Villa continue to play in the same fashion the key to a successful season could be whether new signing Charles N'Zogbia and Marc Allbrighton will be able to fill that void. On the plus side they have signed Shay Given from Manchester City so if the goals dry up at least there's a chance they won't concede too many. Not a great season in prospect.
Prediction: 18th (RELEGATED)
Last Year: 15th
Big Signing: David Goodwillie £2.8million from Dundee United.
Good News: Chris Samba is still at the club.
Bad News: Owners Venky's are in danger of making Rovers become the Walter Mittys of English football.
Last major trophy: League Cup (2002)
With this review it's going to be difficult not to use tired, old chicken gags so we'll endeavor to resist. For some crazy reason the powers that be at Rovers insist that top four is indeed possible, that is despite having let go one of their better upcoming talents in Phil Jones to Manchester United. The money gained from that transfer has yet to be splashed and to achieve their ambitions the Venky's group must surely know that it isn't going to come cheap. In fact Blackburn barely stayed up last season so unless big signing David Goodwillie explodes into form early doors another depressing struggle could well be on the cards. On top of that if those courting the impressive Chris Samba get their man the trap door could well begin to creak open. Manager Steve Kean also may find more time to enjoy the odd spiked drink or two if things go belly-up early on. A depressing season of struggle rather than Premier League glory is on the cards. (Just the one chicken joke!)
Last Year: 14th
Big Signing: Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears £3million (both from Burnley).
Good News: The excellent football seen at the Reebok last season looks set to continue.
Bad News: Lack of firepower upfront after the loss of Elmander and the on-loan Sturridge.
Last major trophy: FA Cup (1958)
Despite their collapse towards the end of last season there were a lot of positives to be gleaned from Owen Coyle's first full season at the helm. With a brand of exciting, positive football and an FA Cup Semi-Final appearance (which triggered their rapid fall) to boot any improvement on that could see the Trotters challenge for a possible European spot. The dark days under Gary Megson seem a long way away. Coyle has strengthened the midfield and may need a striker or two but the signs are on the positive. The only major cloud on the horizon is the attention focused on star defender Gary Cahill. Both Liverpool and Arsenal have fixed their sights on the young stopper and his loss will be feel profoundly at the club.
last Year: 2nd
Big Signing: Romelu Lukaku Undisclosed, believed to be around £20million from Anderlecht. Lucas Piazon £10.7 million from Sao Paulo .... That's it so far!
Good News: A fresh new manager, a fresh new broom!
Bad News: The Pensioners are now in severe danger of living up to their nickname.
Last major trophy: The Premier League and FA Cup (both 2010)
Chelsea begin another new campaign with yet another new manager. A domestic double in 2010 was not good enough for the dear leader and at the age of only 33 the relatively youthful Andre Villas-Boas has now been handed the poisoned chalice. There are two immediate dilemmas for the man we'll call AVB; firstly how to accomodate £50 million Abramovich play-thing Fernado Torres and secondly what to do with the old guard? Certainly most of them Terry, Lampard, Drogba etc could go on for at least one more year, but time has a particularly nasty habit of suddenly catching up with you. Of course Chelsea will always be linked with new players such as Modric from Spurs and Meireles from Liverpool. What is also certain is that the new coach, who as we know, began his career by semi-stalking Sir Bobby Robson at Porto knows a thing or two about winning matches and trophies. So it's likely that he will be given some time. So long as he wins the Champions League it'll all be fine.
Last Year: 7th
Big Signing: Eric Dier from Sporting Lisbon on loan.
Good News: Everton have a squad full of quality players who should be able to challenge for a trophy and a European spot.
Bad News: Everyone else knows that too and with no cash to spend the vultures could begin to circle over Goodison Park.
Last Major Trophy: FA Cup (1995).
We say this every year but what David Moyes has done at Goodison in his nine years at the club has been little short of miraculous. It may be labouring the point but whilst those around him continue to throw away cash Moyes has kept his ship very, very tight. It's always something of a surprise that firstly he hasn't opted to go elsewhere (Villa have been very interested in him at least twice) and secondly that some one hasn't opted to invest in the club and Moyes as a whole. Once again dealings have been kept to the barest minimum, in fact just a loan deal for Eric Dier but on the positive side no one has been allowed to leave either. If somehow Everton can maintain the undoubted quality there is within the squad then there is a chance that they could still have a very good season indeed. And a good start for once would be nice too.
Big Signing: John Arne Riise (Roma), Pajatim Kasami (Palermo) FREE
Good News: Martin Jol is proven Premier League manager who follows in a line of Fulham managers who are good in getting the best out of their players.
Bad News: Other clubs splashing the cash and that Michael Jackson statue.
Last Major Trophy: Unless you count the Intertoto Cup in 2002, the dusty Fulham trophy cabinet still awaits its first major prize.
Fulham have many reasons to be proud of last season's achievements under former manager Mark Hughes with an eighth placed finish and another stab at the Euro League. Most of the team who did so well under Roy Hodgson and Hughes are still in place plus the return to full fitness of Bobby Zamora will make him feel like a new signing. Their new boss Martin Jol will feel that there is some unfinished business for him in the Premier League following his rather harsh dismissal by Tottenham some years ago. He's also a manager who'll get the players onside and so expect them to continue to punch above their weight. Perhaps even an extended cup run may bring in a bit of unexpected success.
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