The Gunners are without a point after losses to Chelsea and Manchester City, and the team has struggled to show improvement under Emery to this point. Should they falter again, pressure could build with the built-in excuse of a difficult first two fixtures now passed.
The Hammers sit 19th in the table with zero points and a -5 goal differential after losses to Liverpool and Bournemouth. They squandered a lead last time out, wasting a 1-0 lead to the Cherries to fall 2-1. They have just four wins since January 20th. Midfielder Jack Wilshere is set to play his former club and lead the midfield in Noble’s absence.
What they’re saying
Arsenal playmaker Henrikh Mhkitaryan on the team’s struggles: “We don’t feel any pressure. We are not thinking that something is going wrong because we are moving in the right way even if we lost two games. I don’t know why people are criticizing so much. I’m not paying attention because I know if I’ve played bad or well.”
West Ham attacker Marko Arnautovic on Arsenal: “They have a new coach and a new team and they are trying to achieve big things because they are a top club. But there is no reason why we can’t take points there because they are also human beings.”
West Ham is struggling to find its way, and the Gunners need a win desperately, and Arsenal will channel that motivation to a 2-0 road victory.
It is very difficult to gauge what an acceptable season would be this year at Southampton. The Saints finished 8th, 7th, 6th, and 8th four consecutive Premier League seasons before last year’s shock to the system, avoiding relegation by just one place and three points.
So what is the goal this season? Should they target the top 10? Is it simply to stay up? Or can it be both, with the team shooting for a top-half slot but satisfied with safety if they fall short of the former?
Much of this will take shape as the season trudges along. The squad theoretically has the depth needed to compete at this level, and while this summer’s haul hasn’t exactly jumped off the pages, it’s been enough to plug some big holes. With Mark Hughes at the helm, there are plenty of unknowns headed into 2018-19 with the Premier League’s most mysterious enigma.
Southampton will finish top 10 because…the squad depth is enough to secure results. Every team deals with injuries over the course of a long league season, and Southampton is well-equipped to handle it. With five natural center-backs on the roster and four natural strikers, the team is deep from top to bottom.
Southampton will struggle through a relegation battle because…the squad doesn’t have the star power necessary to make noise. Gone are the days of Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Graziano Pelle, Jose Fonte, and the rest of the players who have filtered out after finding steps up. Even Dusan Tadic departed this summer after struggling to maintain his form last year. Hughes will need to figure out his best eleven players soon, or too much tinkering will bring the team down. Hughes’ biggest test will come at the back…three center-backs played over 2,300 minutes last season across all competitions, and the team brought in another in Vestergaard for a high price. Someone will need to step up and earn the right to be deemed a star, or the team may find itself rudderless.
Bringing in Vestergaard is a solid move, but strengthened a position of strength for Southampton. Elyounoussi hasn’t been great in preseason, so he has work to do to crack the starting lineup. The acquisition of Gunn was a quality move with Fraser Forster likely to leave. The biggest problem with Southampton’s offseason was the sale of Dusan Tadic at the lowest his value’s been maybe in his entire career. The electric playmaker had raided Premier League full-backs for years, but struggled last season. Now, at age 29, Southampton bailed after one bad season. They not only dumped Tadic, but failed to adequately replace him, at least until Elyounoussi proves he can compete on this stage. Still, the Southampton squad didn’t have a ton of holes to fill, and their summer has been at least promising. Saints transfer policy hasn’t been strong in recent years, with the acquisitions of Clasie and Boufal not panning out, with both loaned out this summer.
Star player: This is tough. There’s no true superstar on this roster, and nobody stands out among the rest. That is a positive from the standpoint that no one injury could take down this team, but from a negative, obviously the club will want someone to fill that role. At this point, Ryan Bertrand is probably the closest thing this team has to a star. The likely captain terrorizes opponents down the left flank, and has improved his defensive capabilities. Still, he’s nowhere close to a true “star” and Hughes will need him to step into that role this season.
Coach’s Corner: Nobody more embodies where Southampton stands right now than Mark Hughes. While it’s impossible to figure out just where this Southampton squad fits in the Premier League, so too is it impossible to truly judge how good or bad Mark Hughes is as a manager. He had mixed success in charge of Manchester City, was critical to Fulham’s success before abruptly resigning, failed miserably at QPR, led Stoke City to its best Premier League years ever before inexplicably becoming completely inept, and saved Southampton from relegation. It’s difficult to get a bead on just where Hughes stands in relation to his Premier League compatriots, but this season will be a true test of his abilities.
PST Predicts: This is one of the toughest calls of the entire 2018-19 table. Who knows what Southampton will show up this season? It’s hard to imagine they reach top 10 unless a true star emerges. On that note, a 12-13 finish seems appropriate for a team with few weaknesses but also few strengths. Much depends on how well Mark Hughes does in his first full season at St. Mary’s.
Newcastle’s biggest enemy is itself, and this year might just be the year it brings them down for real.
Soccer’s Jerry Jones has taken flak for years as the Magpies slowly consume themselves from the inside out, yet Mike Ashley continues to trudge on stuck in his ways. No Premier League team would produce a bigger inferno upon relegation than Newcastle. Championship title winners just two years ago, Rafa Benitez has milked everything he can out of a paper-thin squad for the last two years, but if relegation becomes unavoidable, Newcastle’s biggest asset would most certainly walk, and the doom and gloom would spread like wildfire.
It’s somewhat surprpsing that relegation talk swirls after a 10th placed finish last year, but that’s the Benitez effect. The team continues to punch above its weight on paper, all thanks to their all-star manager. Yet the summer transfer window has been another one of frustration, and thus the fan unrest continues.
Can Benitez push the Magpies away from the bottom-tier maelstrom or will Newcastle be pulled into the unescapable cyclone?
Newcastle will finish away from the drop because…everything good Newcastle has stumbled upon the last two years has been attributable to Benitez. With the Spaniard around, most anything is possible. The defense is thin but talented, and the attack has promise. If Newcastle can avoid the injury bug, they can go places.
Newcastle will be relegated because…the squad is razor thin. Florian Lejeune is already out with an ACL tear, and if an injury leaves either Jamaal Lascelles or Martin Dubravka on the sidelines as well, the back line becomes swiss cheese. At the other end there’s a little more depth, but much of the creativity falls to Ayoze Perez, and an injury to the wrong place in that department could bring the team down as well. Mike Ashley hasn’t done enough this summer to instill confidence in fans.
Best possible XI:
Transfers In: Yoshinori Muto ($12.4 million, FSV Mainz), Fabian Schar ($4.6 million, Deportivo La Coruna), Martin Dubravka ($4.6 million, Sparta Prague), Ki Sung-Yueng (Free, Swansea City), Kenedy (Loan, Chelsea).
Newcastle received nearly $25 million for Aleksandar Mitrovic from Fulham – a total that was basically a foregone conclusion for weeks, pending Newcastle securing his replacement in Muto – and promptly sat on it. While useful players have been brought in with Schar replacing the injured Lejeune and Dubravka likely to start in net, the team wasn’t necessarily improved in the transfer market, and the squad still has plenty of holes. If they go down, this transfer window will be largely viewed as a big reason why.
Star player: While Ayoze Perez is the lifeblood of the Newcastle attack, nobody is more important to this squad than Jamaal Lascelles. Newcastle resisted heavy interest for his services this summer, and they will be far better off for it. The 24-year-old has developed into one of the best central defenders in the Premier League, and was heavily considered for a spot in the England World Cup squad this summer. If anything happens to him, this squad will come crumbling to pieces, and he would likely leave if they are relegated.
Coach’s Corner: While Lascelles is the most valuable player, nobody is more important to this team than Rafa Benitez. Mike Ashley’s greatest accomplishment was convincing the Spaniard to commit to the club through the one season in the Championship, and it has paid off since. Still, Ashely does little to back his manager, and Benitez has not held back. After a 4-0 defeat to Braga in preseason, Benitez said, “The fans have to be concerned, we are concerned. I’m really worried.” Should the club misstep at all this season, Benitez would surely depart for a bigger club. He’s certainly earned the right.
PST Predicts: While much of this preview has been quite doom and gloom, Newcastle has enough prized possessions to stay up this season. The most concerning part of this offseason has to be the newly promoted clubs spending vast quantities of money to improve, but there should be enough teams worse than Newcastle to prevent the Magpies from suffering heartbreak. Just enough. They should finish around 15th in the table after quite the scare.
The ultimate goal for every club, top to bottom, should be tangible improvement. Nobody wants to step backwards, whether it means relegation or otherwise.
So here Burnley sits, after its most successful season in club history with a 7th place finish in the Premier League table last season, qualifying them for this year’s now-underway Europa League campaign. Where do they go from here? What are reasonable expectations?
The Clarets were hard to get a bead on last year, going through numerous winning and winless streaks. Still, Sean Dyche was rightfully lauded for his leadership and organization that kept Burnley compact and defensive-minded yet still able to poach a goal or two up front.
Still, there are worrying signs. The squad is navigating a potentially dangerous Europa League qualification campaign that threatens to derail the early portion of the league season as it has to so many other mid-table Premier League clubs. On top of that, the club hasn’t purchased a single player this transfer window, a precarious position for a team in desperate need of depth. Will Burnley stake its claim as a consistent top-half contender, or will they fade after a one-season fling?
Burnley will repeat last year because….they have Sean Dyche. The manager has warded off interest from bigger clubs to continue leading the Clarets, and if anyone can protect this squad from overuse in the first half of the season its the 47-year-old former Premier League defender. He’s a first-class manager, and will do everything in his power to lead this team through the inevitable low points to keep them in a contending position.
Burnley will end up fighting relegation because….the squad is just too thin. They have not added a single player this transfer window, while newly promoted sides get better every summer day. They always say if you’re standing still you’re falling behind, and with the Europa League sapping players of their summer rest and energy required to compete in the long Premier League season, this squad could be in real trouble. Star goalkeeper Nick Pope has already gone down with a 3-month long injury while playing in Europe, while midfield rock Steven Defour recovers from a calf strain suffered in early preseason training. If they take more hits to important pieces, things could go downhill fast.
Burnley narrowly avoids a failing grade this window for keeping James Tarkowski despite a wave of interest from the bigger clubs after a stellar season at the back last campaign. However, failing to add anyone to this point despite a Europa League campaign is downright unacceptable. Sean Dyche plays the unfair prices card, but the club earned a total of $156 million from its seventh place finish last year, rendering the excuse untenable. Burnley has been rebuffed most notable in a bid for West Brom pair Jay Rodriguez and Craig Dawson, but otherwise the club has barely even registered among the rumor mill. It’s worrying to say the least.
Star player: Only on Burnley would the star player be a center-back, but that’s most certainly the case. Tarkowski had a fabulous season last year, topping the Premier League charts in multiple defensive metrics. It’s stunning that, at age 25, Burnley has been able to ward off all suitors rather than cash in, but the Clarets have managed not only to keep Tarkowski aboard, but wipe his name almost completely out of the rumors completely; an English defender in his prime commands top dollar in today’s market. He has the talent to crack the England national team at their deep center-back position if he continues to play this well.
Coach’s Corner: Sean Dyche is a star and no matter what happens to Burnley this season, he is destined for a step up sooner or later. His loyalty to Burnley to this point has been admirable, and it’s only a matter of time before he earns a move elsewhere in the Premier League. If Burnley sinks this league season, it likely won’t hurt his stock. Dyche’s ability to neutralize an opponent’s strength has been proven time and again, grabbing points last season in matches against Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool, among others.
PST Predicts: It’s crazy to bet against Dyche, but it’s also hard to overlook the failed transfer market. It would be sad to see such a likeable club relegated to the Championship, and that seems to be an extreme result, but Burnley could most certainly end up sucked into a battle. Ultimately, they should hang on to their safety, but it’s likely only downhill from last year’s result. A 14th or 15th placed finish seems about right for this season’s finish.
The glitz and glamor has worn off, the celebrations are over, the bright lights are no longer blinding. Brighton & Hove Albion is an established Premier League club.
The Seagulls navigated the club’s first-ever Premier League season with pragmatism, organization, and occasionally style, avoiding relegation by a somewhat comfortable seven points. Now, the goal becomes avoiding a sophomore slump.
Somewhat active in the transfer market this summer, manager Chris Hughton has the tall task of weighing new, higher expectations brought on by last season’s mild success with the reality of the situation: Brighton & Hove Albion’s goal is still to remain a Premier League competitor. Avoiding relegation is ultimately the goal, and like it was this past year, anything else is bonus. Still, having proven they can do the job once has undoubtedly added a little extra spice to the regularly scheduled dose of pressure, with supporters likely expecting not just Premier League safety, but also tangible improvement, something Hughton will have to handle.
Brighton will finish top ten because….their defense was stellar last season, and not only kept them up but kept them in almost every game. Brighton conceded 54 goals last season in 38 games, less than anyone else in the bottom half of the table. The team warded off suitors for Lewis Dunk, a decision which proved smart. His central defensive partner is a full international in Shane Duffy. Both are 25 years old. If they can use the new signings to bolster the attack effectively, this is a team that has the potential to make some noise.
Brighton will be relegated because…they simply can’t score. They scored just 34 goals last season, and were shut out a whopping 17 times. To fix this problem, Brighton has spent nearly $70 million this summer, but have gone with quantity over quality, not spending more than $22 million on any one player. That man was Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who has just one good season under his belt at AZ Alkmaar. They signed Jurgen Locadia back in January from PSV Eindhoven, and despite plenty of aplomb, he managed just a single goal. It’s a work in progress, but if the attack doesn’t improve, Brighton is in trouble.
Best possible XI:
Transfers In: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar, $22.3 million), Yves Bissouma (Lille, $19.8 million), Bernardo (RB Leipzig, $11 million), Florin Andone (Deportivo la Coruna, $7 million), David Button (Fulham, $5.2 million), Percy Tau ($3.8 million).
There’s still a lot to be determined here, most of which falls in the lap of Jahanbakhsh. If he can repeat last season with AZ Alkmaar, Brighton will have one of the best value buys of the entire summer. If he falls flat, there’s little else to provide this attack with any type of spark, leaving them toothless once again. Also, Bissouma is a midfield destroyer who could boost the team’s cover for the back line and begin moving possession forward, and if he performs well and earns a starting spot, Brighton will not just have one of the strong midfields of the lower-table sides, but also a great asset on their hands, with Bissouma at just 21 years old. The C+ grade comes with lots of question marks, but plenty of potential as well.
Star player: This is a loaded question, as nobody truly stands out on this squad at the moment. Jurgen Locadia was meant to be that star when he was brought in last winter, but has since fallen flat. He still has that chance, but the slow start has not been terribly endearing. Jahanbakhsh also has a shot to be the guy, but he’s making a significant step up in competition. At the moment, Brighton’s incumbent star is Pascal Gross, a midfielder who flew under the Premier League radar last season but scored seven goals and was often Brighton’s biggest threat moving forward, even starting as a pseudo-striker down the stretch of the season.
Coach’s Corner: Chris Hughton is potentially the Premier League’s most underrated managers. He finished 11th with a thin Norwich City squad back in 2012/13, although they limped to relegation the next. He has built a sustainable ship at Brighton, but this coming season will be critical to their long-term health. While managers like David Wagner and Sean Dyche are constantly praised for the performances they give at clubs of lesser stature, Hughton’s job at Brighton – a team that had never made the top flight before last season – is one that never gets the credit it deserves.
PST Predicts: Sophomore seasons for newly promoted clubs are ones even more impossible to predict than their first. After securing safety in the first season up, many fans expect marketable improvement over the previous campaign, adding pressure to the players and coaches. Nobody wants to fall back, but still the goal should be the same. As long as the team realizes the bar is still league safety, they will be ok. Any added pressure could cause the team to fall apart. We’ll say Brighton stays up, but barely, with a 17th placed finish. There are worse teams than this perusing the Premier League, and that should be enough to keep them afloa-.