The Premier League has finally returned. Whether or not you have an allegiance to a particular club or you just enjoy watching a sport that isn’t baseball or cricket or rowing or spikeball or whatever other ridiculous sport is on this time of the year, here are a few things I’ll be looking for on opening weekend of the Premier League.
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1) The New Faces or the New Places
As with every season, there will be a multitude of new faces showcasing their talents in the UK this season. Certain guys I’m particularly curious about:
Jorginho | Chelsea
Naby Keita | Liverpool
Fred | Manchester United
Lucas Torreira | Arsenal
Felipe Anderson | West Ham
Alisson | Liverpool
Mateo Kovacic | Chelsea
Andre Gomes | Everton
Beyond the Premier League newcomers, several players have moved around the Premier League, and it should be interesting to see how they fit into their new squads. Those players are as follows:
Riyad Mahrez | Leicester City -> Manchester City
Xherdan Shaqiri | Stoke City -> Liverpool
Jack Wilshere | Arsenal -> West Ham
Richarlison | Watford -> Everton
Lucas Perez | Arsenal -> West Ham
2) The New Systems
Among the top 8 or so teams, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Everton come into 2018 with a new coaching regime.
For Arsenal, Unai Emery took over for Arsene Wenger after literally two decades, and his main task is to shore up the defense and return Arsenal to the top four, at a minimum. Here's some more on Arsenal's system and possible lineups. Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea prefers a 4-back system, which should be interesting considering Chelsea has run a 3-back for the last two years or so with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses playing the wingback role and often acting like forwards. In Sarri’s system, they’ll be held accountable defensively. For Everton, they followed up a summer of spending in 2017 with a summer of spending in 2018. This year, they brought in Richarlison, Yerry Mina, Andre Gomes, Lucas Digne, and Bernard. The integration of the new Everton players with the old will be the key for Marco Silva’s squad.
3) The Newcomers
Every year, we get three new teams in the Premier League. This year’s lucky triplet consists of Cardiff City, Fulham, and Wolverhampton. No one expects them to do what Leicester did a few years ago, but we will see how they stack up against Premier League talent. Fulham spent 110 million pounds during the transfer window (third most in the premier league) and Wolverhampton spent 62.6 million pounds (ninth most).
4) The Strike Forces
I am personally very curious about which strikers see action this weekend. Arsenal will presumably have both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette on the field together, but their roles may result in Aubameyang being split out on the left. For Chelsea, they seem to have a bit of a striking carousel with Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, and Michy Batshuayi (update: moments after posting this, Chelsea loaned Batshuayi to Valencia), plus Eden Hazard has filled in as the number nine previously. Hopping to a third London club, West Ham have Javier Hernandez, Marko Arnautovic, and Lucas Perez all capable of striking, with the latter two able to split out wide.
5) The Effect of the World Cup
The following players were involved in the final round (first and third place games) of the World Cup:
Kevin De Bruyne | Manchester City, Belgium
Eden Hazard | Chelsea, Belgium
Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele | Tottenham, Belgium
Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini | Manchester United, Belgium
Vincent Kompany | Manchester City, Belgium
Mateo Kovacic | Chelsea, Croatia
Dejan Lovren | Liverpool, Croatia
Paul Pogba | Manchester United, France
N’Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud | Chelsea, France
The Entire England Team
I’m very curious if all/most of these players will be involved on opening weekend, considering a few of them just returned from holiday last week. If they’re unavailable, are their squads deep enough to fill the gaps?
6) The Returning Champs
Manchester City tore through the competition in 2017-2018, and they’ll be looking to do the same starting on Sunday. In the premier (eh, get it?) game of the weekend, they face a new-look Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, where Arsenal only lost 2 games in 2017. The only team better at home was, you guessed it, Manchester City with 1 home loss. Time will tell if Unai Emery has the ability to harness Manchester City, since really no Premier League manager could do it last year (except for Jurgen Klopp, probably).
What will you be looking for this weekend as the Premier League kicks off its 2018-2019 campaign? Comment below or let me know on Twitter @DonaldGibsonFF.
One of the most pressing questions heading into Arsenal’s 2018 campaign is how they will line up in a new system with a new head coach.
I fully acknowledge that this is a popular piece across the soccer world lately, and for good reason: no one has any clue. Hopefully you gain something new from my take on it.
In 2017-2018, Arsenal generally rotated among 3 formations: a 3-4-3 (that some may call a 5-2-3), a 4-2-3-1, and a 4-3-3. The rotations weren’t necessarily a tactical initiative but were rather brought on by injuries (e.g. Kolasinac, Ramsey, Wilshere, Mkhitaryan), transfers (Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan), or a combination of the two.
Obviously, Emery is going to bring his tactical preference with him, but his preferred formation at PSG will translate nicely to the North London squad, should he try to implement it. He generally deployed a 4-3-3 but occasionally opted into a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-1-2 depending on personnel.
Up top, PSG had a true striker in Edinson Cavani, a flexible forward/winger hybrid in Kylian Mbappe, and a utility winger in Julian Draxler or Angel Di Maria who both also had the ability to sit in behind as a number 10. Cavani was always striking, while Mbappe would either join him up top with Draxler/Di Maria sitting deeper, or Mbappe would drift out wide with Draxler/Di Maria doing the same on the other side of Cavani.
Does that sound familiar? It probably should. Simply sub Lacazette for Cavani, Aubameyang for Mbappe, and Ozil/Mkhitaryan for Draxler/Di Maria, and it’s the exact same situation. Emery had - and has - the luxury of four quality attackers that can generally play multiple positions.
The main question surrounding Emery’s preferred formation is who will be the odd man out. There are essentially six slots for seven players after accounting for the back four and the keeper: Lacazette and Aubameyang up top, Ozil and Mkhitaryan playing wing or sitting behind the striker(s), and Ramsey, Xhaka, and Torreira in central midfield.
Some things to consider
Here are a few examples of what we could see from new-look Arsenal in 2018. For what it’s worth, I think they stick with a 4-back approach considering the weakness at CB and depth at CM, and I think Monreal starts over Kolasinac.
Back 4: Monreal, Sokratis, Mustafi, Bellerin
CM: Ramsey, Xhaka
ST: Aubameyang, Lacazette
Odd man out: Mkhitaryan
The 4-3-1-2 provides enough protection for the back line while allowing Ramsey (and potentially Xhaka) to get forward as needed. Plus, Ozil gets to be in his preferred number 10 role, while we get Auba and Laca on the field together.
Back 4: Monreal, Sokratis, Mustafi, Bellerin
CM: Torreira, Xhaka
AM: Aubameyang, Ozil, Mkhitaryan
Odd man out: Ramsey
A 4-2-3-1 Would essentially allow the defenders to defend and the attackers to attack, without a ton of overlap aside from the CM-AM connection. This formation would also allow Xhaka to sit deep and play his long connecting balls to the forwards, which I personally think is the best part of his game. For what it’s worth, I used Torreira and Xhaka as the CMs since they’re more defensively-minded, but Ramsey could obviously come in there.
Back 4: Monreal, Sokratis, Mustafi, Bellerin
CM: Xhaka, Ramsey
AM: Aubameyang, Ozil
Odd man out: Mkhitaryan
This is where it starts to get a little hairy. In a 4-3-3, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mkhitaryan or even Ozil drop back into the midfield three, and allow the top three to consist of Auba, Laca, and Mkhi/Ozil (whichever one doesn’t drop back).
Similarly, Lacazette could start on the bench and leave Aubameyang striking, while Ozil and Mkhitaryan act as the wide attacking mids.
Similarly yet again, Ozil could sit in front of Xhaka and Torreira but behind Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and Lacazette.
If you’re sensing a theme of increasing chaos, you’re absolutely right.
Aside from Lacazette, Torreira, and Xhaka, the rest of the starting-caliber players can play multiple positions. Aubameyang can play as a lone striker or split out wide, Mkhitaryan and Ozil can play centrally behind the striker, wider towards the wings, or a little deeper in midfield, and Ramsey can play as a box-to-box CM or an AM. As a result, there is a multitude of lineup scenarios that you could reasonably expect heading into 2018, and I didn’t even touch on a back three or back five.
For what it’s worth, I think the 4-3-1-2 is the preferred formation heading in to 2018. The way I see it, there are two priorities: 1. Make sure the midfield can cover the back line as needed and 2. Get Aubameyang and Lacazette on the field together. This formation achieves both of those and should improve where Arsenal faltered in 2017-2018.
Here’s to hoping that Unai Emery has the key to unlock the seemingly unlimited potential in the Arsenal squad; clearly I don’t.
Follow Donald on Twitter @DonaldGibsonFF. For the baseball, (american) football, and basketball fans among us, use code "Fusion" at FantasyJocks for 10% off draft kits, trophies, and other fantasy items.
It’s no secret in the football world that Arsenal Football Club is everyone’s favorite club to chastise.
Honestly, I can see why. We went from a team contending for a title every season to a team seemingly content with a top 4 EPL spot and consequent Champions League qualification year in and year out. Even then, there were always at least two of the prototypical top six teams left out of the UCL berths, so we were on the inside looking out.
Following the 2016-17 season, however, our shield that had been molded and fortified across literal decades had shattered. We went from a team that could always fall back on the Champions League berth to a team whose lack of first place-push had left them one point (and a 3 goal differential deficit) out of the top four.
Moving to 2017-2018 and considering the Alexis Sanchez transfer saga, the continuation of the “Wenger Out” movement, the eventual success of the aforementioned venture, the horrendous away performances, and the Europa League heartbreak, we’re still what we’ve been for a while: the butt of the joke.
Personally, I welcome it. If pundits and opposing fans and whoever else want to label us as non-contenders and toss Leicester or Everton ahead of us on the 2018-2019 table, feel free. I’ve woken up at 7am (from the US, sorry) to watch a certain red-threaded North London team underestimate their opponents (Swansea, Newcastle, take your pick) and blow it on the road time and time again. If the “elite” teams - as some would like to call them - want to consider us a level below them, I’m all for it.
Listen. I’m not going into the 2018-2019 season with blind optimism. I know we have our issues defensively, and that isn’t restricted to the back four. There’s always some drama around the fitness of Mesut Ozil, the placement of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, or the defensive liability of Hector Bellerin. We’re going through a major transition with a new head coach for the first time in 22 years. We don’t have the spending capacity that some teams have. I fully realize that there are negatives and drawbacks.
But here’s what I do know.
We were the second best team at home in 2017-2018, and we scored the third most goals overall. Sure, we’re going through an adjustment period with a new coach, but his style and intensity is exactly what we - and the back line in particular - have been lacking. None of our star players are being linked with moves away from the club, which is not the case around the top of the Premier League (see De Gea, David or Hazard, Eden or Salah, Mo or even Pogba, Eriksen, Kane, and Courtois). The star-powered front four of Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette is selectively overlooked simply because they wear a cannon on their chests.
We’re in the process of addressing the defensive liability issue, with the signing of Stephan Lichtsteiner, the apparently-imminent signing of Sokratis, the increasingly likely acquisition of Lucas Torreira, and the hopeful pursuit of Caglar Soyunco, Bernd Leno and who knows who else (a revisit of Fekir, maybe?).
I’m not sitting here saying that we’ll win the league or have an Invincibles-esque season, but we’re a few signings and a change in mentality away from blowing the top off of the Premier League and restoring that Arsenal pride that has faded away of late. As far as I’m concerned, If Unai Emery can instill his highly-renowned focus and concentration into this squad, we’ll be a hell of a lot closer to City at the top than Leicester in the middle.
FantasyFusionSports had primarily been an American NFL Football site prior to the publishing of this article. This is the first foray into blogging about the Premier League, and it won’t be the last.
Follow Donald Gibson on Twitter @DonaldGibsonFF