x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Premier League preview – from Arsenal to Manchester City

Part 1 of Richard Jolly's two-part A-Z breakdown of the Premier League teams and their chances for the upcoming season.

Liverpool have a problem to solve in Luis Suarez, unless they finally relent to his transfer request. Then he'll be someone else's problem.
Liverpool have a problem to solve in Luis Suarez, unless they finally relent to his transfer request. Then he'll be someone else's problem.

ARSENAL

Last Season: The same old story. Lost a key player (Robin van Persie) in August, started slowly but recovered and held off Tottenham's challenge to clinch a Uefa Champions League place.

Strengths: Good football. Attacking midfielders and wingers like Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott make their area of the pitch the strongest section of Arsene Wenger's team. With four players in double figures, they have plenty of scorers. Their defensive record improved last season, particularly away from home and for all the criticisms of their mental strength, they have a habit of performing in the last quarter of the season.

Weaknesses: Do not sustain their form over 38 games. Their record against the best is undistinguished - no wins in six games against the Manchester teams and Chelsea last season - and, with Luis Suarez proving difficult to sign, they do not have a world-class striker or goalkeeper.

Key signing: Yaya Sanogo (Auxerre, free) - If only because the France Under 21 forward is the only addition so far.

Major departure: Gervinho (Roma, £6 million [Dh34.1m]) - Though few Arsenal fans will miss the inconsistent, infuriating but entertaining Ivorian.

Other departures: Andrei Arshavin, Andre Santos, Sebastien Squillaci, Vito Mannone, Denilson, Johan Djourou (Hamburg, loan), Francis Coquelin (Freiburg, loan).

ASTON VILLA

Last Season: Flirted with relegation in a transitional year. A young team rallied at the end.

Strengths: The power of Christian Benteke, who has signed a new contract. The spirit Paul Lambert has instilled.

Weaknesses: A sometimes shambolic defence, who lacked experience. A squad with too many players Lambert is still trying to shift.

Key signing: Jores Okore (£4m, Nordsjaelland) - Strong Danish defender has to address their problems at the back.

Other signings: Aleksander Tonev, Leandro Bacuna, Antonio Luna, Nicklas Helenium.

Major departure: Stiliyan Petrov - The respected club captain has been forced to retire.

Other departures: Richard Dunne, Brett Holman, Eric Lichaj, Jean Makoun.

CARDIFF CITY

Last Season: Ended a 51-year wait for top-flight football by winning the Championship.

Strengths: Solid, hard-to-beat side who coped with the pressure of expectation. Well managed by the highly rated Malky Mackay.

Weaknesses: Lacked a prolific scorer in the lower league, so have spent on Danish forward Cornelius. Do not have much Premier League pedigree so Championship stalwarts will have to step up.

Key signing: Gary Medel (Sevilla, £9.5m) - Nicknamed "the pit bull", the Chilean will add fight to the midfield.

Other signings: Andreas Cornelius, John Brayford, Steven Caulker.

Major departure: Heidar Helguson - The veteran target man has retired.

Other departures: Stephen McPhail.

CHELSEA

Last Season: Sacked the popular Roberto Di Matteo, appointed the unpopular and interim manager Rafa Benitez. Fell at the first hurdle in their defence of the Champions League and exited competitions aplenty. Recovered to finish third and win the Europa League and lured Jose Mourinho back to Stamford Bridge.

Strengths: Mourinho himself, whose record of winning leagues is almost unrivalled. A superb group of flair players, led by Juan Mata and including Eden Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses and new signing Andre Schurrle.

Weaknesses:Fernando Torres may have been prolific in the Europa League, but struck too infrequently in the Premier League, hence the quest for a more reliable finisher, with Wayne Rooney wanted. With John Terry in decline, they may need a top-quality central defender.

Key signing: Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen, £20m) - The Germany international ought to be yet another scorer and creator of goals.

Other signings: Marco van Ginkel, Mark Schwarzer, Cristian Cuevas.

Major departure: Oriol Romeu (Valencia, loan) - Although the Spaniard's exit is a sign Chelsea think newcomer Van Ginkel is better.

Other departures: Paulo Ferreira, Jeffrey Bruma, Florent Malouda, Yossi Benayoun, Ross Turnbull, Marko Marin (loan), Thibaut Courtois (loan).

CRYSTAL PALACE

Last Season: Moved up to the Premier League via the play-offs courtesy of Kevin Phillips, then 39.

Strengths: Held their nerve in the play-offs. Managerial maverick Holloway has a record of overachievement.

Weaknesses: Lost their best player, Wilfried Zaha, and their injured top scorer, Glenn Murray. Form was mixed in the Championship.

Key signing: Dwight Gayle (£6m, Peterborough) - The striker has gone from non-league to Premier League in little over a year.

Other signings: Jose Campana, Stephen Dobbie, Jerome Thomas, Kevin Phillips, Elliot Grandin, Marouane Chamakh (loan).

Major departure: Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United, £15m) - Move was arranged in January.

Other departures: Alex Marrow, Andre Moritz, Jermaine Easter.

EVERTON

Last Season: Played excellent football, but just missed out on the top four again and lost manager David Moyes. Enter Roberto Martinez.

Strengths: Had style and steel, especially in midfield and the full-back positions. Only lost once at Goodison Park.

Weaknesses: Kept fewer clean sheets, drew too many games and did not win enough on the road.

Key signing: Arouna Kone (Wigan, £6.5m) - Brought in to challenge Nikica Jelavic.

Other signings: Joel Robles, Antolin Alcaraz, Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona, loan).

Major departure: Phil Neville - The captain will be missed as a character, if not as a player.

Other departures: Jan Mucha, Thomas Hitzlsperger.

FULHAM

Last Season: Dimitar Berbatov illuminated another mid-table finish. Then Mohamed Al Fayed sold the club to Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan of American football's NFL.

Strengths: The flair of Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz and the wheeler-dealing of Martin Jol.

Weaknesses: Never properly replaced Clint Demspey or Moussa Dembele. Unusually for them, lost too many home games.

Key signing:Maarten Stekelenburg (Roma, £4.75m) - Goalkeeper was a long-time target for Jol.

Other signings: Sascha Riether, Fernando Amorebieta, Derek Boateng, Adel Taarabt (QPR, loan).

Major departure: Mark Schwarzer - The veteran was discarded for Stekelenburg.

Other departures: Chris Baird, Simon Davies, Mahamadou Diarra, Mladen Petric.

HULL CITY

Last Season: Exceeded expectations by getting promoted on a dramatic final day.

Strengths: Team spirit and organisation. Excelled at one-goal wins. Steve Bruce managed them brilliantly and recruited well.

Weaknesses: Scored fewer goals than relegated Peterborough and lost 15 Championship games. Not too much class or flair.

Key signing: Yannick Sagbo (Evian, £1.5m) - Much rests on the Ivorian striker, who has been compared to Christian Benteke.

Other signings: Allan McGregor, Steve Harper, Maynor Figueroa, Curtis Davies, Ahmed Elmohamady, George Boyd, Danny Graham (Sunderland, loan).

Major departure: Corry Evans (Blackburn, £750,000).

Other departures: Jack Hobbs, Paul McKenna, Andy Dawson, Seyi Olofinjana, Jay Simpson.

LIVERPOOL

Last Season: Started poorly and finished well in a year dominated by Luis Suarez's controversies and missteps throughout the 2012/13 season.

Strengths: Philippe Coutinho has made them more assured in possession and Daniel Sturridge has added goals. Manager Brendan Rodgers's ethos is starting to be implemented.

Weaknesses: Liverpool had goalkeeping and defensive problems last season and a poor record against the top teams. Could lose the unhappy Suarez.

Key signing: Simon Mignolet (Sunderland, £9m) - Could be steadier than Pepe Reina in goal.

Other signings: Kolo Toure, Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas.

Major departure: Jamie Carragher - The vice-captain will be missed for his defiance and leadership.

Other departures: Pepe Reina (Napoli, loan), Jonjo Shelvey, Andy Carroll, Suso (Almeria, loan).

MANCHESTER CITY

Last Season: Crashed out of the Champions League early on, failed to defend their Premier League title and lost the FA Cup final to Wigan. Bade farewell to two temperamental Italians, Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini.

Strengths: Had the best defensive record in the league for the past three seasons and are capable of playing its slickest football. The biggest spenders this summer and may have the best striking quartet - Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko.

Weaknesses: Scored too few goals and won too few games, especially away from home. Too many key players had undistinguished or poor seasons last year when it was not a happy camp and while that seems to have changed under new manager Manuel Pellegrini, he is untried in England. Could be distracted by the Champions League.

Key signing: Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk, £30m) - City have missed Nigel de Jong since he left last summer and the Brazilian needs to provide a powerful presence alongside Yaya Toure.

Other signings: Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic, Jesus Navas.

Major departure: Carlos Tevez (Juventus, £10m) - The former captain was their most consistent striker last season.

Other departures: Maicon, Kolo Toure, Roque Santa Cruz, Wayne Bridge.

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