Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughPremiership Review A - C - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Premiership Review A - C - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Premiership Review A – C


Last Season: 4th

Another season came and went and the Arsenal trophy cabinet remained unopened. It has been six years now since they last won a major cup and they can’t afford not to win something of note this year.

Last year could have been so different for the North London side though. They were challenging for the title at one point as well as being in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham, I don’t think anybody really needs reminding of what happened in that game though.

In recent years summertime has not been the happiest time for Arsenal fans. Most have sat there and wondered whether or not their best players had been picked off yet and been annoyed with the lack players being brought in, at least ones who lived up to their potential.

Yet again most Arsenal transfer stories have centered on who is leaving the club. The Cesc Fabregas saga is still being drawn out in a very long, very boring and very tedious style with another bid being turned down by Arsenal this week. As well as Fabregas, Samir Nasri is also apparently looking to jump ship.

This year was to be different though, Arsene Wenger told the fans to expect lots of activity, yet up until now it has not really happened. They signed Lille striker Gervinho and more recently Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

What they should be trying to do though is signing a couple of decent defenders, especially a centre-back. Last season’s implosion was majorly down to the incompetence of the back four and their ability to not deal with set pieces.

With Gael Clichy, who was Arsenal’s most experienced defender, heading up North this season after signing for Manchester City, Thomas Vermaelen is left as really the only defender who is of the calibre to play for a club such as Arsenal.

Wenger has shown interest is Chris Samba and Phil Jagielka but as of yet has failed to put a serious bid in for either of the two. At least Wenger realises what he has to do though, drop the deadwood in his team and pick up some robust defenders.

Unfortunately though Wenger still maintains that this side are close to fulfilling their potential, but this team have been almost filling their potential for years.

Yes Arsenal play beautiful football and it is fantastic to watch, going forward they are amazing. Jack Wilshere, Robin Van Persie, Theo Walcott, the talent on offer is astounding. But surely Arsenal fans would rather watch their club win trophies again and get some of those bragging rights back?

Another major problem is that there is no longer a big four, but maybe five or six, and therefore no guaranteed Champions League football. A shake-up is needed if they are to compete next year, either in the transfer market or in philosophy of play.

Everybody knows Wenger and how he likes to play. There is no doubt that in the past it worked wonders for The Gunners, but it doesn’t right now. They must adapt their game as they can’t rely on their defence when they go forward at the moment.

Expectations will not be too high for Arsenal this year, of course they will want to win competitions, but as far as the Champions League and Premiership go nobody will be expecting too much. The route back for Arsenal could lie in one of the domestic cups though, win one of them and the trophies might not stop coming.

A lot will depend on Fabregas and Nasri and whether they stay or go. As well as this, it will depend on who else they manage to bring in during the rest of the transfer window. One thing to think about though, how much longer can Wenger last without a trophy?

Key Man: Cesc Fabregas – An odd choice to choose a player of speculation for a key player but bear with it. He has the ability to win games and when he is on form becomes unplayable, there is no doubting his class. If he leaves though Arsenal’s key player will be Thomas Vermaelen for his defensive abilities.

Aston Villa

Last Season: 9th

It wasn’t too long ago that Aston Villa were up there with Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool in contention for a European place. Last season though they were well off the pace and this resulted in the sacking of manager Gerard Houllier.

Nobody in the world could have guessed who his replacement would turn out to be. Alex McLeish, former boss of arch rivals Birmingham, was handed the reins and this decision was met with immense hostility from the Villa fans.

There is going to be no leeway for the Scot this year. If results don’t go his way he will be out the door without a seconds thought. In fact he will have to win, and win in style, if he is to appease the fans.

There have been two big-name departures from Villa Park this summer in the form of Stewart Downing to Liverpool and Ashley Young to Manchester United. Between the pair of them last year they either scored or had a hand in 31 of Villa’s goals. McLeish is going to have to replace this source for goals fast if Villa are going to anything this year.

The man they have pinned their hopes on is now former Wigan hitman Charles N’Zogbia, who after an impressive debut against Braga, looks set to start against Fulham on Saturday. McLeish is said to be very impressed with the Frenchman’s trademark trickiness, and he no doubt hopes he can claw back a handful of those 31 goals that walked out this summer.

Another positive that can be taken from the exit of Downing and Young is that Marc Albrighton has the chance to step up. The English-born winger was impressive last season and looked very sharp in what was a pretty average midfield set up. His ability on the ball and his delivery into the box should ensure that he gets his fair chance in the coming season.

Another youngster hoping to continue learning his trade at Villa is Ciaran Clark. Naturally a central-defender Clark has been a part of the set-up since the 2009-10 season and was also impressive last year.

Someone who Villa fans will look forward to seeing in a claret and blue shirt again is 23-year-old Fabian Delph, who was kept out for large chunk of last season with a cruciate ligament injury. The midfielder will be looking to impress new boss McLeish and stamp his mark on the team this season.

Another player Villa fans will be looking forward to seeing more of is Cameroon international Jean Makoun. The 28-year-old signed in the January transfer window and only made seven appearances last year, no doubt he will be looking to make the defensive midfield role his own in the 2011-12 season.

A big loss for The Villa is that of keeper Brad Friedel who signed for Tottenham at the start of the summer after his contract was up with Villa. Well it would have been a big loss if Villa didn’t snap up Shay Given from Manchester City, who had fallen behind Joe Hart in the pecking order.

So despite losing two key players Villa’s prospects don’t really look that bad, in fact they don’t look in any trouble at all. Up front they look reasonably sound with Darren Bent, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey all being able to do a job when asked, they could maybe use another striker for injury cover but as it stands they look good.

A key factor in how well this season will go is whether or not Stephen Ireland finds the form he had at Manchester City a couple of seasons ago. He has seemed to just coast by during his time at Villa so far, and will need to carry his weight this year. And if he does Villa will have a much easier season than some are predicting for them.

Key Man: Marc Albrighton – Although he is a young player he is exciting and has unquestionable ability. His pace and ability to deliver a killer ball could be an extremely effective outlet for Villa this year.

Bolton Wanderers

Last Season: 14th

In their first seven Premier League games Bolton Wanderers have to face Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United – undoubtedly one of the roughest starts any team has been given. After managing a respectable 14th last year The Trotters will be looking to build on that this season, but it won’t an easy feat for them to achieve.

The best bit of business in the entire January transfer window was done by Owen Coyle last year when he signed Chelsea youngster Daniel Sturridge on loan for the remainder of the campaign. The 21-year-old bagged eight goals in just 12 games for Bolton, an impressive tally by anyone’s standard.

Unfortunately for Bolton, Chelsea have recalled the player, and despite Coyle’s best efforts he looks set to stay with the London club and fight for a starting place this year. The Trotters also lost Swedish striker Johan Elmander to Galatasaray on a free transfer, which before this season wouldn’t have been a big deal. After coming to Bolton in 2008 for a whopping £8.2 million the front man never really lived up to expectations and failed to impress.

If Elmander slotted one past your defence you must be having a bad day at the office. Not last year though, he started to show some promise (not enough to justify £8.2 million but that ship sailed a long time ago) after scoring six goals in the opening 13 games. He did start to fade toward the back end of the season but he did still grab some important goals last year.

This leaves Bolton with old-timers Kevin Davies and Ivan Klasnic being the likely two to lead the line this coming weekend. Obviously not a bad pairing, but do they really have the legs to compete with the Premiership’s best all season, especially with their unusually hard opening run?

Their diminishing strike force isn’t the only worry they have at the moment either, injuries are high on the agenda also. Lee Chung-Yong, a pacey and exciting winger who attracted the attention of Liverpool after the 2010 World Cup, suffered a broken leg during a pre-season friendly against Newport County that is reportedly set to keep him out for a minimum of nine months.

New signing Tyrone Mears, taken from Burnley, also suffered the unfortunate fate of a broken leg during a training session with his new team-mates. Unsurprisingly he is also set for a lengthy spell out along with Lee.

It is not all bad news for Bolton though, as well as signing Mears from Burnley they also got their hands on Chris Eagles, ex-Manchester United winger, who looks ready to step into Lee’s boots and provide some pace and power on the wing. He can also double up as a striker, something his new team will undoubtedly use at some point in the season.

Add to that the signing of Premiership old-boy Nigel Reo-Coker and things start to look up for The Wanderers. He is a perfectly capable midfielder and will be able to provide a cool head and a bit of strength in midfield, certainly what they need if they are going to progress this year.

Stuart Holden’s time on the side-line is also drawing to an end with the midfielder set to start training again imminently. All of a sudden their midfield looks pretty handy, able to play the ball around and hold it up when needed, Coyle just needs to concentrate on signing an out-and-out striker for them to feed.

The Reebok has always been a difficult place to go and get points, namely down to Bolton’s style of play. It’s not the most appealing on the eye but it seems to work for them. Expectations won’t be too high on the team but a top-half finish would surely satisfy the fans and board.

Key Man: Stuart Holden – Had a very impressive season before his six-month injury last year and should continue to impress after he resumes training. He has a natural ability on the ball and is an exciting player to watch.

Blackburn Rovers

Last Season: 15th

It took a 3-2 win on the last day of the season over Wolverhampton Wanderers to ensure safety for Blackburn Rovers last season. Ending up in 15th place isn’t what most Blackburn fans would have thought would happen after they were taken over for a rumoured £53 million, but unfortunately for them it was.

The company Venky London Limited came in with promises of signing big players. They started off well putting in a £20 million bid for Brazilian Ronaldinho, but the move never went ahead. Then rumours went around of a bid being put in for David Beckham being brought back to the Premiership and playing in a Blackburn shirt, but once again these proved fruitless.

Then nothing. No big names were bought and they ended up in one of the tightest relegation battles in footballing history. The main thing for the fans though is that they survived, had they gone down their team would have been raided – Chris Samba would more than likely already be at Arsenal for instance.

They will be disheartened however, that they couldn’t hang on to their defensive wonderkid Phil Jones. Manchester United swooped in with an £18 million bid earlier in the summer and Blackburn unwillingly accepted. The money paid was a good price but had The Rovers hung on to him he could have been of great benefit to the club this season, and ultimately just adding more zeros to his price tag.

Jones wasn’t the only person heading for the exit this summer though. His namesake Jermaine Jones saw his loan spell end and returned to Schalke 04 and likewise Roque Santa Cruz has ended his loan spell and is heading back to Manchester City, but for how long is not really known.

One worrying problem for Blackburn will be Arsenal’s interest in their centre-back Chris Samba. With the Londoner clubs defence under question they are looking to sure it up, and the acquisition of a quality defender such as Samba would be just what they are looking for.

If Blackburn hang on to their defender though, their own defence looks pretty formidable. Ryan Nelsen and Samba’s partnership is a daunting one and Miguel Salgado is a proven player himself. And of course with Paul Robinson between the sticks they shouldn’t concede too many goals, on paper anyway.

Their midfield is a hard one to analyse. David Dunn, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Brett Emerton are all experienced and proven players in their positions, but none of them are spring chickens. Then they have David Hoillet who is full of pace and skill, and unknown quantities in the form of former Barcelona B player Rubin Rochina and another youngster Mauro Formica, both of whom were acquired in January but never played.

No doubt the biggest highlight of the summer so far for Blackburn fans will be the signing of 22-year-old David Goodwillie from Dundee United, beating off competition from Rangers, who will slot in up front for Rovers. The young lad comes highly recommended and is seen as a bargain at just £2.8 million. Jason Roberts also signed a one-year extension keeping him at the club until next summer.

Expectations will not be high this season, especially after last year’s performance. They will want to stay up but will struggle to do so if the young players they brought in don’t do their part and carry their weight.

Key Man: Chris Samba – The man is an absolute rock at the back as well as a big threat going forward. They have to hang on to him if they want to stay up this year.


Last Season: 2nd

Last season wasn’t one to remember for Roman Abramovich and Chelsea. Finishing second in the league is all they could muster after shaky mid-season spell. In fact they ended the season Arsenal style – trophyless.

That just isn’t good enough these days down at The Bridge so the managerial hot-seat is now occupied by another after Carlo Ancelotti was shown the door.

Andres Villas-Boas, dubbed by some as the Mini-Mourinho, is the man charged with bringing silverware to the London club this year.

Villas-Boas has already had success in his short managerial career with Porto, breaking records in the Portuguese League last year, and he will be hoping to transfer this success to the Premiership this season.

Skipper John Terry recently voiced his approval of the 33-year-old manager after a successful tour of Asia. Despite only having 20-months top-flight managerial experience he looks as if he could be the real deal.

Something Chelsea fans will be very happy to see from pre-season is that the man with the £50 million price tag, Fernando Torres, got himself on the score sheet.

If this is to happen regularly this season though, Chelsea are going to have to do one of two things: Bring in a creative midfield player or pin their hopes on the new regime changing things up and ironing out the creases that appeared last year.

The problem is not finding the player they want to bring in, the whole world and his brother knows who they want, the question is can they eventually get him? Luka Modric would undoubtedly freshen things up in South-West London but Spurs don’t want to let him go.

If they can’t get the Croatian Villas-Boas will have to work some magic on the squad and hope that the nickname Mini-Mourinho holds some truth behind it.

One problem always highlighted at the start of the season is the age of Chelsea’s side, but it is something that when looked at isn’t really a big problem. Of course they have old players – John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba – but these kind of players are needed, they bring experience and understanding to a side.

The fact is they aren’t short of young players either. Josh McEachran, Ramires and David Luiz are all first-team players and the newly acquired Oriol Romeu from Barcelona B comes highly recommended. It seems as if while everyone has been saying how old their squad is getting they haven’t been paying attention to who has actually been playing.

Something that does need to happen at the club though is no more top-down management. This means that the manager must have control over the squad, both in terms of no interference from the owner and having the respect of his players.

Respect could be a key term for Chelsea this year. Many have called into question the relationship that will form between the manager and players due to his age; he is only one year older than Drogba. The way this should be looked at though is through the eyes of success.

At just 33 he has already broken records and been picked up by one of the best teams in Europe, the players should respond well to that and the early signs suggest as if they will.

As per usual Chelsea will be expected to challenge on all fronts, and there is no reason why they can’t. They have an unbelievable amount of firepower as well as a strong midfield and defence. Of course they will want to go out and win everything, but they will consider the season a triumph if they take the league title back of Manchester United. Abramovich however will only see it the same way if there is another particular trophy in the cabinet come the end of May 2012.

Key Player: John Terry – Chelsea are known for having a miserly defence and this must continue if they are to have a good season. Terry’s commitment to his team is unrivalled as his salmon dive at the World Cup last year proved.

James Haggis



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