Premier League Preview | Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley
It has been a long summer without football for many of us.
The lack of a European Championship or World Cup only heightens the appetite for the new campaign.
The 2019/20 season sees the introduction of VAR for the first time in English football, which will no doubt lead to many controversial moments, particularly in the early weeks.
It has been another summer of huge spending across the board and the league just seems to get more and more competitive year after year.
Here, Ben Smith analyses each clubs strengths and weakness ahead of the opening weekend.
In this entry, he focuses on Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bournemouth,Brighton, and Burnley.
A very good transfer window for Arsenal.
The summer began with the departure of Aaron Ramsey and reports that the club had only £45m to spend in the transfer market.
These reports have been blown out of the water with the club making six new signings including the club record capture of Nicolas Pepe from Lille.
They have also added the talented Spaniard Dani Ceballos on a loan deal and have attempted to rectify their defensive woes with the additions of Kieran Tierney and most surprisingly, David Luiz.
Unai Emery has been given the financial backing that he has craved and Gunners supporters will now be looking at getting back into the top four as an absolute minimum this season.
The Arsenal offence should scare any opposition this season with the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette and now Pepe running at defenders. What remains to be seen is if their defence can improve on the 50+ goals they conceded in the league last season.
David Luiz has been known to have his reckless moments in the backline and having failed (as of yet) to move Mustafi out of the club they could still have their struggles at the back, particularly away from home.
This is Emery’s first real test – last season he was new to English football and was given very little financial backing.
He has now had a full pre-season and spent large sums in the transfer market in order to strengthen the squad. Arsenal have been outside of the Champions League for too long and Emery will know that they must qualify this season if his position as manager is to remain secure.
If they start slowly or show some of the abject away performances from last season then he will be a man firmly in the firing line.
This year, however, I think the home form coupled with a razor sharp attack will be enough to bring Arsenal back to the big time.
Villa clearly haven’t enjoyed their three years away from the English top flight and they have spent an unbelievable £130m to ensure they don’t leave the promised land again.
As we know from Fulham’s escapades last season - this doesn’t always result in success.
You would have to question the wisdom in some of these signings. Tyrone Mings was never a first team player at Bournemouth, yet Villa have elected to spend twenty million pounds on him.
The same goes for Matt Targett, a bit-part player at Southampton, now apparently worth £17m.
To be fair to Villa, they are spending in the right area. Generally a newly promoted team struggle badly at the back. Even if they had a stellar defensive record in the Championship, they always find the transition to the top flight difficult. Fulham’s defence last year was shambolic, at least Villa are trying to take steps to ensure they don’t meet the same fate.
Offensively, Villa have many exciting options.
Josh McGinn and Jack Grealish were hugely effective last season and will hope to continue this form in the Premier League.
They have splashed big money on a huge centre forward called Wesley Moraes, and his physicality alone should cause big problems in opposition boxes. Villa’s defining games this season will come against the likes of Brighton, Southampton, and the fellow promoted teams. They must come out on top in the majority of these games if they are to avoid relegation.
I believe they are the best placed of the promoted teams to survive in this division, not just because they’ve spent the most money, but also because they have a strong history of top flight football.
Their fans will be so eager and hungry to be back in the big time and Villa Park can become a fortress for them if they can get 40,000 Brummies in there every week.
Manager Dean Smith has been a revelation since taking over – taking them from 14th place in the Championship in October 2018 right through to play-off glory two months ago.
I do believe the fans and owners will be absolutely desperate to avoid the drop this time. The Championship is such a hard division to get out of and they will not want to go back there under any circumstances.
Despite Smith’s success so far - this is his first attempt at managing in the big time and if he suffers a bad start the board may well replace him before Christmas. I hope for his own sake that this doesn’t happen.
I think Villa will definitely be good enough to beat the drop.
Bournemouth have had a brilliant transfer window.
Last year’s three key men – Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and David Brooks – have all remained on the South Coast.
This is testament to Eddie Howe and the influence he has on these players. Wilson has signed a new long term contract and as a result Bournemouth have an English international striker leading their line, quite an awesome transformation for the club in the space of a few short years.
They have sold a fourth choice centre half (Tyrone Mings) to Aston Villa for £20m and reinvested the money into the full back areas, signing two young defenders in Lloyd Kelly (Bristol City) and Jack Stacey (Luton Town).
Harry Wilson has also joined on loan from Liverpool and if he can replicate the kind of form he showed in the Championship last season then he will be a major asset. Great business from the Cherries.
On the field, they will look to sustain their position. Last season’s 14th is probably a fair reflection of where the club are at.
The one worry is that they have progressively slid down the table during the course of their stay in the Premier League. They had an incredible first season in which they finished 9th. In 2017/18 they finished 12th and then last year they fell to 14th.
There’s not much more room to fall without feeling the heat and Eddie Howe will be aware of that. They have a really favourable run of opening games and should seek to get some points on the board early doors.
Bournemouth are part of a cluster of clubs that must remain patient for the next few seasons. Remaining in the Premier League is more financially rewarding than it has ever been before.
If they can sustain their position for the next four or five years then they will slowly transform from a small club into a powerful and wealthy club. It is not an overnight transition.
They are not strong enough at present to push into the Top 10 so they must ensure they take points from their nearest rivals to guarantee their stay in this league. With their home form and the potency of their attacking players they should be fine.
The fans should never forget where they have come from. Now they have a team who are competitive against the very best clubs in the world. Eddie Howe is a terrific manager. Bournemouth should have no worries this season.
Hard to believe this club are still in the Premier League. Last season’s performance was dreadful, they were just blessed that Huddersfield, Fulham and Cardiff were that bit worse.
I haven’t seen anything from them in the summer window that would give me any confidence going forward. Once again, instead of trying to sign seasoned Premier League footballers they have opted to spend big money abroad.
They have broken their transfer record again in order to sign Belgian Leandro Trossard. He arrives for £18m from Genk. Going out the door are Bruno, Ritchie Towell and Anthony Knockaert.
In Bruno they lose a Brighton legend and a real leader. Knockaert has also been a very useful player for them over the last couple of seasons.
Their new head coach Graham Potter is a maverick character. A student of Roberto Martinez at Swansea, he is regarded as one of the most unusual and unconventional coaches in world football.
While at Ostersunds he directed his playing squad to re-enact dramas and plays, as well as putting on full scale musical productions. On one occasion he brought in a professional voice coach in order to practice singing scales with his players. His philosophy is that he challenges convention and takes people out of their comfort zone.
He says his goal as a manager is to entertain and to ensure the paying public feel their ticket prices are justified. This may well be music to the ears of some Brighton fans, as they had to endure some pretty dreadful football last season, including four straight games in which they failed to have a shot on target.
Potter is also known for his constant tinkering with personnel and formations. His Ostersunds side were known for their unpredictability, sometimes playing 3-5-2, sometimes 5-3-2, sometimes the conventional 4-4-2. Indeed it was with the 4-4-2 formation that his minnows stunned Arsenal at the Emirates a couple of years back, beating the Gunners 2-1.
Arsene Wenger admitted after the game that his team were cut open by the bombastic approach from Ostersunds.
Words I thought I would never say – I am really excited to watch Brighton this season. I have not yet decided whether this manager is the real deal or a bluffer – time will tell.
They will certainly be a lot less predictable. You should also watch out for their set pieces. Potter is known for spending hours on the training ground practising elaborate and complicated set plays.
Overall, I think they may well do enough, purely because two of the three promoted teams look very weak.
My one prayer is that we get to see Glenn Murray in the lead role during a Brighton FC production of Peter Pan.
It’s becoming more and more difficult for Burnley to compete with their rivals in this division.
All you need to do is look at Aston Villa who have just been promoted and have spent over £100m, money Sean Dyche could only dream about. Burnley still have a wage limit of £35k per week and rarely spend more than ten million on any one player.
This means that most of Europe’s top young talents are beyond their grasp and they are resigned to signing seasoned veterans like Erik Pieters from Stoke for cut price fees.
At some stage, if Burnley are to expand as a club, the purse strings will need to be loosened. I do not believe this squad would be able to survive in the Premier League without the top class manager they have in Sean Dyche.
The revenues from being a Premier League team are huge and if Burnley do not begin reinvesting these funds into their squad then they will soon pay the ultimate price. I think they will struggle again this season. They do not have enough goals in the side and the likes of Wolves, Bournemouth and Watford have all kicked on and left them behind.
In their first ten games Burnley face some really tricky fixtures, including games against Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as trips to Leicester and Wolves.
A slow start could leave them in a very tough position coming into Christmas so it is imperative that they start with a win on the opening day against Southampton. These are the types of games that are going to be pivotal to their season.
I think Burnley will scrape by again, purely because their manager has the tactical nuance and experience to steady the ship during rocky times.
They don’t have many seasons left of scrimping though, and it is only a matter of time before Dyche decides he has taken this club as far as he can.