Previews: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Birmingham

By Online Editorial
Arsene WengerArsenal, Aston Villa and Birmingham kick off The Sport Review's countdown to the new Premier League season as we preview each club's campaign

Arsene Wenger

Premier League Preview 1: Arsenal

The trophy drought at Emirates stadium continues with Arsenal having failed to win a trophy since victory in the FA Cup final four years ago. The Gunners have lost key players since that dramatic day in Cardiff: Patrick Veira, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires to name a few. The exodus of senior players from the club has continued this summer with Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure both joining the Manchester City revolution.

Arsene Wenger has made steps to improve his squad. Thomas Veermaelan has joined from Dutch club Ajax. The experienced Belgian will add some much needed steel to the Arsenal back four. In midfield the void left by Patrick Vieira’s departure in 2005 has still to be adequately filled. A replacement for Emmanuel Adebayor is also needed, with Emirates side heavily linked with Bourdeaux striker, Marouane Chamakh.

That clichéd saying; the return of an injured player is like a new signing. Well Thomas Rosicky fits that description as he hasn’t played for 18 months and had made a successful rehabilitation, making it through pre-season unscathed. That was until yesterday, when Wenger announced the Czech Republic international had picked up a hamstring strain.

It is an unwanted injury woe for the French manager who has already suffered the loss of Samir Nasri, who broke his leg in training. Eduardo will be looking to feature heavily in Arsenal’s season as he made it through pre-season without picking up any knocks after returning from a horrendous leg break last season.

If Arsenal could ensure the fitness of key players like van Persie, Nasri, Rosicky and Eduardo then the London club have the quality to mount a serious title challenge.

At the Arsenal Members’ Day 2009, when club captain Cesc Fabregas was questioned over the ambitions of the team this year, the Spanish international reacted sharply when it was suggested the club would be content with a fourth place finish. A sign to rival clubs to take Arsenal seriously.

Manchester City will be a threat this season. The Eastland club have signalled champions league qualification as a must. Should they lay claim to fourth spot or higher, it would appear Arsenal would be first out the door. In addition Aston Villa, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur will all be contenders to break into the top four. Arsenal will face an uphill battle.

Another trophyless season is surely unimaginable for Arsene Wenger and the Frenchman will be hoping the fruits of his labour come ripe this year as some of the younger players come of age.

In: Thomas Vermaelen (Ajax, £10m).

Out: Emmanuel Adebayor (Manchester City, £25m); Kolo Touré (Manchester City, £14m); Abu Ogogo (Dagenham & Redbridge, Free); Rene Steer (Oldham Athletic, Free); Amaury Bischoff (Released); Rui Fonte (Released); Paul Rodgers (Released).

TSR Writers’ Prediction: 5th

Premier League Preview 2: Aston Villa

Despite imploding in March and ultimately finishing in sixth place, Martin O’Neill’s side had Arsenal sweating over fourth place for much of last season.

Villa were ahead of the Gunners for most of the season and their eventual downfall was result of their own frailties, coupled with a set of very demanding fixtures.

The notable loss of Gareth Barry to Manchester City will leave a size-able hole in midfield, but O’Neill has moved swiftly to replace the £12 million player, bringing in Stewart Downing from Middlesbrough. The England international will however miss the the opening stages of the season, and may not feature until December after fracturing his foot at the end of last season.

O’Neill has also look to strengthen Villa’s defensive line-up following the retirement of captain and distinguished defender Martin Laursen, bringing in Habib Beye from Newcastle a three-year contract. Many put Villa’s inability to claim fourth place down to Laursen being sidelined in a string of injuries that eventually forced the Dane to retire.

In pre-season, Gabriel Agbonlahor, James Milner and Craig Gardner were all left out of the Villa squad for the Peace Cup in Spain. Agbonlahor and Ashley Young took the plaudits last season for their electrifying, pacey displays. And a player that will be joining the pair next season is the highly-rated 19-year-old Leeds midfielder, Fabian Delph, who signed last week.

The Villa boss has acknowledged that his side need to bring in at least five new players to “give us a chance”. The Birmingham side have been heavily linked with Portsmouth defender Sylvain Distin, whose addition would certainly bolster Villa’s defensive line-up.

It would take a stroke of genius from Martin O’Neill to better last season’s performance and break into the top four. With Manchester City widely tipped to be challenging for a Champions League spot, it will be a tough fight. But O’Neill’s managerial prowess should not be overlooked and an improvement on last season’s finish is by no means out of the question.

In: Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough, £12m), Fabian Delph (Leeds, undisc), Habib Beye (Newcastle, undisc).

Out: Gareth Barry (Manchester City, £12m), Stuart Taylor (Manchester City, free), Zat Knight (Bolton Wanderers, £5m), Martin Laursen (retired).

TSR Writers’ Prediction: 7th

Premier League Preview 3: Birmingham City

Birmingham City face an uphill battle from the start this season. Throughout the duration of last season Alex McLeish suffered unrelenting criticism. The playing style of the team frustrated both fans and the hierarchy at Birmingham City as the team managed a mere 47 goals in the Championship.

McLeish has invested up front, splashing out £7.7 million on Ecuadorian striker Christian Benitez. Undoubtedly a risk, Benitez will need to adapt quickly to the pace of the English game. Should he do so, the player who scored 31 times in 58 appearances for Santos Laguna, could prove crucial to Birmingham’s survival.

The arrival of Lee Bowyer from West Ham United and Barry Ferguson from Rangers will provide essential experience and leadership at St. Andrews. Ferguson has much to prove in English football after a tame spell at Blackburn Rovers. McLeish managed the combative 31-year-old during his stewardship of both Rangers and Scotland. As a result he knows how to bring out  the best in his former Scottish captain.

The addition of highly rated Joe Hart on loan could prove a master stroke. The 22-year-old will be looking to force his way into Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad and has much to prove to Mark Hughes after Hart was ousted from his number one spot at Manchester City by the arrival of Shay Given last January. McLeish has brought in former Cardiff City captain, Roger Johnson to add some steel and leadership at the back. Johnson will be joined by Coventry City captain, Scott Dann was signed for a fee of £3.5 million with Birmingham City set to entrust responsibility at the back to the duo.

It remains to be seen if the board have faith in their boss. McLeish is favourite amongst the bookmakers to be the first manager to get the chop this season. Two seasons ago the Scottish manager failed to prevent City’s relegation from the Premiership and it is hard to see any other result this season. James McFadden could be crucial to any hopes Birmingham are harbouring of survival.

In: Christian Benítez (Santos Laguna, £7.7m), Scott Dann (Coventry City, £3.5m), Joe Hart (Manchester City, loan), Lee Bowyer (West Ham United, free), Roger Johnson (Cardiff City, £5m), Barry Ferguson (Rangers, £1.5m), Giovanny Espinoza (Barcelona Sporting Club, free), Stephen Carr (unattached, free)

Out: Stephen Kelly (Fulham, free), Krystian Pearce (Peterborough, loan), Robin Shroot (Burton, loan), James McPike (Kettering, free), Michael McKerr (Oldham, free), Semih Aydilek (released)

TSR Writers’ Prediction: 19th

Follow @thesportreview on Instagram


MORE: The latest football transfer news

MORE: Meet the Premier League's most stylish footballers

MORE: Do you know the top Muslim footballers in the Premier League?

MORE: Take a tour of Arsenal star Mesut Ozil’s £10m London house

MORE: Man United latest news

MORE: Arsenal latest news

MORE: Chelsea latest news

MORE: Liverpool latest news

Eden Hazard
John Barnes: Why Eden Hazard exit could be blessing in disguise for Chelsea FC
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature
Meet Arsenal star Mesut Ozil’s girlfriend Amine Gulse
Meet Arsenal star Mesut Ozil’s girlfriend Amine Gulse
Take a tour of Arsenal star Mesut Ozil’s £10m London house with us
Take a tour of Arsenal star Mesut Ozil’s £10m London house with us
Top 50 most stylish footballers in the world in 2017: Chelsea, Arsenal stars feature – Slideshow
Top 50 most stylish footballers in the world in 2017: Chelsea, Arsenal stars feature – Slideshow
Meet Chelsea FC star Andreas Christensen’s girlfriend Katrine Friis
Meet Chelsea FC star Andreas Christensen’s girlfriend Katrine Friis
Guillem Balague
Guillem Balague gives latest Man United transfer update on Kalidou Koulibaly
John Barnes
John Barnes issues his early prediction for Liverpool FC v Tottenham final
Wimbledon Court 1 roof
Wimbledon’s ‘Roof for All’ campaign takes centre stage at Court 1 celebration