The 2009/10 season saw a competitiveness that long has been missing from the Premier League and ensured the title race was more pulsating till the closing weekend as well as the tussle for European spots. This competitiveness most importantly broke the hold of the ‘Big Four’ on the lucrative top four places with Liverpool finishing poor at seventh behind Aston Villa, Manchester City and my team of last season, Tottenham Hotspur that grabbed the final UEFA Champions League spot in a fourth place finish; a position made so coveted by Arsenal’s knack of snatching it with a late season surge at it in previous seasons.
Arsenal have been unlike itself in the transfer market this term, resisting the urge of snapping up teenage talent and instead acquiring two players in their mid-twenties and one with quite some mileage of experience in Moroccan international Marouane Chamakh.
The tanned Chamakh will serve to truly bolster the Gunners forward line that heavily depended on Robin van Persie last season as evident in the grave reduction in goals average in the four/five months the Dutch striker was out injured. Now with Chamakh around, the Premier League should most probably brace up for a potent strike pair and in the event van Persie falls to injury; he can’t just help it, Dane Nicklas Bendtner will prove useful then along with Theo Walcott and Carlos Vela.
The Gunners hope to once again step up from being also rans to actually challenge for the title last won in 2004 is further fuelled by the arrival of Laurent Koscielny from Ligue 1 outfit Lorient; a similarly dicey buy as Thomas Vermaelen was when he arrived from Ajax last season. The defender with Polish descent is an even bigger gamble by manager Arsene Wenger seeing as he was only playing in Ligue 2 two seasons ago.
The most important part of Arsenal’s title potential is succeeding in keeping captain Cesc Fabregas at the Emirates after his home town club Barcelona tried once again to bring him to the Camp Nou. But will Fabregas have his heart on football for Arsenal this season?
Also going for an unlikely challenge for the title is bitter neighbours Tottenham, which performed out of their skins last season to finish fourth largely thanks to the ingenious of manager Harry Redknapp. The Lilywhites must however step their game up a notch or two to seriously make a title push especially with the added responsibility of Champions League football, pending the little matter of a final qualifying round duel with Young Boys of Switzerland that the Londoners are favourites to win.
Tottenham’s undoing however will be concentrating on performing better than Arsenal in all competitions, something not likely to happen for a while still and thus stunting the potential of Spurs this season as it has in previous seasons. Manchester City’s passionate push to be better than Manchester United is unmatched yet United still is better…same goes for the north London rivalry.
If Spurs and City can however concentrate on themselves rather than their rivals, then Redknapp’s genius and the millions at Roberto Mancini’s disposal will bring the much desired result both sides seek. Until then though, Spurs may likely perform just as they did last season…just not better than that and it can only be worse from their, same for City despite the arrivals of Yaya Toure, Aleksandr Kolarov and David Silva.
This opens a window for Liverpool to not only make a return to the top four after last season’s dismal finish but also to truly challenge for the title like in 2008/09 and with new manager Roy Hodgson bringing his compact efficient tactics of last season’s Fulham to Anfield, it is fair to see Liverpool being more than also rans.
Safe for an unsettled Javier Mascherano that has stated his desire to leave (illogical in my view), Hodgson has Kop favourites Steven Gerard and Fernando Torres to work with along with new arrival Joe Cole and since he could make the Europa League final with the likes of Bobby Zamora, Zoltan Gera and Danny Murphy, so much more is expected from Hodgson this term.
As if the pressure of replicating his success at Craven Cottage is not enough however, the two-decade yearn of Kop faithful to lift the league trophy and stay one better than arch-rivals Manchester United as (on paper) the most successful football club in England may just truncate the Reds ambition to end a long wait to win the league title.