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Season Preview Part 1 03/08/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

OK.  Here we go… four today, four more tomorrow.  And so on.


INS: Petr Cech (Chelsea, £10,000,000), Vlad Dragomir (ACS Poli Timosoara, £71,000)

OUTS: Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray, £1,800,000), Semi Ajayi (Cardiff City, Free), Abou Diaby (Marseille, Free), Ryo Myaichi (St.Pauli, Free), Dan Crowley (Barnsley, Six Month Loan), Isaac Hayden (Hull City, Season Loan), Carl Jenkinson (West Ham United, Season Loan), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Ipswich Town, Season Loan), Yaya Sanogo (Ajax, Season Loan), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma, Season Loan), Jon Toral (Birmingham City, Season Loan)

OUR EX-GUNNERS: Tommie Hoban (youth)

THEIR EX-ORNS: Héctor Bellerín

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A 3-0 defeat in Theo Walcott’s top flight debut that was rather less comprehensive than it sounds, and a 2-1 Boxing Day defeat settled by a late Robin van Persie goal that nonetheless constituted one of our best performances of last time around.  That we lost anyway rather says something…


2001-02 2-4
1999-00 2-3 0-1
1986-87 3-1


Debuchy         Koscielny        Mertesacker    Monreal
Coquelin           Ramsey
Oxlade-Chamberlain       Özil                  Sanchez

VERDICT: Here’s the challenge, you see.  How to add anything of any value.  This time last year I would have been scouring Rotherham United’s messageboards, sifting what appeared to be wheat from the chaff and perhaps ending up with something that added to your knowledge in what might even have been an interesting way.  Hell, if we’re honest I could have written any old bobbins and you probably wouldn’t have been any the wiser.  Now, here…  how do I write something that’s interesting and informative that by definition means not replicating the guff that proliferates and is plagiarised across the internet in the shameless search for hits and cheap advertising revenue.  Just how many interesting things are there to say anyway?

On the off-chance that some of you were paying far more attention to the Championship than to the Premier League last season – and frankly, given the relative levels of competitiveness and drama in the two leagues who could blame you – here’s the lowdown.  Arsenal entertain pretensions of breaking free of the almost-but-not-quite mantle and mounting a sustained challenge for the title. The recruitment of Cech sees them trade up and improve what might have been a problem position, but there remain question marks up front – where Giroud perhaps isn’t mobile enough to pull open spaces and therefore make the most of Arsenal’s surfeit of small clever blokes in the midfield – in defensive midfield, where the emerging Coquelin is perhaps the only destructive option, and perhaps at centre-back.  Everything’s relative of course…  we’re talking about concerns that probably mean that the Cech signing sees Arsenal tread water, retain their nearly-but-not-quite position rather than any more consequential failings.

In the background is the simmering boredom borne of finishing third or fourth for each of the last ten (!) seasons. Perhaps the starkest of the artefacts of the Premier League, Champions League age is this dull corridor between the very top and the great unwashed, where the barriers to entry created by Champions League qualification and the sort of financial backing enjoyed by City and Chelsea cut off…  Arsenal?  Liverpool? Spurs? into a group that won’t win the league and that won’t be in any danger of finishing amongst the rest.  Despite playing some of the best football in the division, despite a consistent Champions’ League place being no small achievement, much of however much simmering anti-Arsène stuff there is is borne of that boredom.  Be careful what you wish for, says I.  Stop me if I’m beginning to sound as if I care…


INS: Rudy Gestede (Blackburn Rovers, £6,000,000), Jordan Amavi (Nice, Undisclosed), Jordan Ayew (Lorient, Undisclosed), José Angel Crespo (Cordoba, Undisclosed), Idrissas Gueye (Lille, Undisclosed), Scott Sinclair (Manchester City, Undisclosed), Jordan Veretout (Nantes, Undisclosed), Mark Bunn (Norwich City, Free), Micah Richards (Manchester City, Free)

OUTS: Christian Benteke (Liverpool, £32,500,000), Fabian Delph (Manchester City, £8,000,000), Matthew Lowton (Burnley, £1,000,000), Antonio Luna (Eibar, Undisclosed), Yacouba Sylla (Rennes, Undisclosed), Andi Weimann (Derby County, Undisclosed), Darren Bent (Derby County, Free), Graham Burke (Notts County, Free), Shay Given (Stoke City, Free), Enda Stevens (Portsmouth, Free), ?Chris Herd?, Ron Vlaar, Tom Cleverley (Manchester United, End of Loan)

OUR EX-VILLA: Troy Deeney (youth)

THEIR EX-ORNS: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Mark Robson (First Team Coach), Tim Sherwood (Manager)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A goalless draw at Vicarage Road early in the 2006/07 season, and a 2-0 defeat at Villa Park settled by two late goals.  Watford started that one with a forward line of Tamas Priskin and Will Hoskins;  Ashley Young was absent, and would join Villa for what was ultimately an eight figure sum three days later.


1999-00 0-1 0-4
1982-83 2-1


Hutton       Richards                 Clark           Amavi
Bacuna                  Gueye             Veretout             Sinclair
Ayew            Gestede

VERDICT: Tim Sherwood broke into the Watford side as a teenager in 1987 looking like an Essex tw*t at a time when, as a 14 year-old living in Essex, I was particularly sensitive to such things.  This lingering resentment has stuck with me throughout Sherwood’s successful playing career and surprisingly rapid emergence as a manager which isn’t entirely fair or balanced on my part, but then all the best grudges are based on healthy irrationality.  Sherwood took over Villa last season and appeared to enjoy a fillip on the basis of not being Paul Lambert, as is so often the case in such situations.  Whether that’s sustained or not – and it’s easy to read too much into losing your last three games of a season even if that run did leave you a mere three points clear of the drop – remains to be seen.  Christian Benteke has gone, and that’s a big old hole to fill however much money they got for him…  Villa’s resurgence on Sherwood’s appointment manifested itself in Benteke finding his shooting boots again after an injury hit start to the season had seen him score three times before Sherwood’s appointment in mid-February.  There’s ongoing talk of a takeover with Randy Lerner’s enthusiasm having waned but the longer that drags the less chance it has of impacting Villa’s activity in this transfer window.  They look a bit precarious again as it stands.


INS: Tyrone Mings (Ipswich Town, £8,000,000), Artur Boruc (Southampton, Free), Sylvain Distin (Everton, Free), Adam Federici (Reading, Free), Joshua King (Blackburn Rovers, Free), Christian Atsu (Chelsea, Season Loan), Filippo Costa (Chievo, Season Loan)

OUTS: Brett Pitman (Ipswich Town, Undisclosed), Josh McQuoid (Luton Town, Free), Miles Addison, Mohamed Coulibaly, Daryl Flahavan, Ian Harte, Joe Partington, Ryan Fraser (Ipswich Town, Season Loan), Jaydon Stockley (Portsmouth, Six Month Loan)



RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A gripping 1-1 draw at the Vic in September in which Gabriel Tamas had a catastrophe before being (permanently) replaced by the very much more effective Craig Cathcart, and a 2-0 defeat in Dorset in January that was rather spoiled by an erroneous (if later rescinded) red card for Gabriel Angella. This remains our most recent away defeat, and the last time that we scored fewer than two goals in an away fixture.


2014-15 1-1
2013-14 6-1 2-0
2003-04 1-0
1997-98 2-1 1-0
1996-97 0-1 2-1
1995-96 1-1


Francis          Elphick          Cook            Mings
Ritchie         Arter            Surman               King
Wilson         Kermorgant

VERDICT: If I can justify disliking Sherwood for perfectly irrational reasons I can certainly justify resenting Bournemouth for pinching the title from us last season.  Not that that’s any more rational really…  Wednesday fans’ lack of grace was galling, all Bournemouth did was win the title through playing expansive, positive football.  Yes, Eddie Howe’s a bit smarmy and yes, we’ve had some very iffy decisions go against us at Dean Court (or whatever it’s called now) over the past couple of seasons but that’s hardly a watertight list of charges.  Actually, what I resent most about the final day is not that we lost the title.  That was really annoying, but would have been a bonus prize on top of getting promoted.  What I resent more is that the season, magnificent and wonderful and glorious in so many ways, should end like that.  Bitter and bitchy and angry, at all sorts of people.

Back to Bournemouth.  They’re a very strong side, quite obviously, with momentum and goals and have the punch to make an impact.  They’ve acquired and developed a range of very capable players – Ritchie, Arter, Wilson, Cook and Francis ought to be comfortable in the top flight.  At the time of writing though they look vulnerable to injuries in a couple of areas… Wilson, most obviously although a striker appears to be a priority, whilst messageboards don’t seem convinced by last season’s loan Boruc.  I’m not blown away by many of their signings either;  Distin brings plenty of experience but will be 38 in December. Mings is a prospect by all accounts but is an odd choice of priorities, you’d have thought that he was a big-club signing, someone to develop into a top player.  Bournemouth might have been expected to gamble their chips on someone who’s ready now, rather than someone who will be making his 50th senior start on his Cherries debut.  I can see Bournemouth starting well and occupying column inches if they catch someone cold in August or September.  Not beyond the realm of possibilities that they’ll struggle eventually though.


INS: Asmir Begović (Stoke City, £8,000,000), Nathan (Atletico Paranaense, Undisclosed), Danilo Pantic (Partizan Belgrade, Undisclosed), Radamel Falcão (AS Monaco, Season Loan)

OUTS: Petr Cech (Arsenal, £10,000,000), Gael Kakuta (Sevilla, £2,500,000), Josh McEachran (Brentford, £750,000), Felipe Luis (Atlético Madrid, Undisclosed), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact, Free), Christian Atsu (AFC Bournemouth, Season Loan), Lewis Baker (Vitesse Arnhem, Season Loan), Izzy Brown (Vitesse Arnhem, Season Loan), Andreas Christensen (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Two Season Loan), Jordon Houghton (Gillibgham, Six Month Loan), Tomas Kalas (Middlesbrough, Season Loan), Nathan (Vitesse Arnhem, Season Loan), Danilo Pantic (Vitesse Arnhem, Season Loan), Mario Pasalic (AS Monaco, Season Loan), Marco van Ginkel (Stoke City, Season Loan), Wallace (Carpi, Season Loan)


THEIR EX-ORNS: Nathaniel Chalobah

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Three FA Cup defeats in seven seasons, the most recent a third round tie in January following on from which we were able to adopt a “well that wasn’t too bad” position until the Blues played Bradford in the next round.  Prior to that, a 5-0 mauling at Stamford Bridge in 2010 and a more credible showing at the Vic a year earlier in which Tamas Priskin gave us a 69th minute lead before Nicolas Anelka salvaged the tie with a hat-trick.


2014-15 0-3
2009-10 0-5
2008-09 1-3
2003-04 2-2 / 0-4
1999-00 1-0 1-2
1981-82 3-0
1969-70 1-5


Ivanovic        Cahill         Terry          Azpilicueta
Fabregas      Matic
Ramires               Willian                 Hazard

VERDICT: I started paying in attention in about 1980.  So… that’s kind of year 0.  Chelsea were in the second tier that year, and it seems they missed out on promotion on goal difference… but in my mind’s eye they were and remain a so-so second tier side.  That they’ve spent all but one of the last thirty years in the top flight winning the League four times, the FA Cup six times, the Champions’ League and the Europa League is neither here nor there.  They’re chancers playing above their station, and that’s it.

Chelsea won the league having blown the rest of the division away in the first half of the season and then just about been as good as anyone for the rest of it.  This time…  much as Diego Costa was a huge success, “The Charles Bronson of the Premier League” as was popularly observed as he picked a fight with the entire division before Christmas (and won), you’d be a little worried about their attacking options.  Another season like that from Costa and they’ll be laughing but… rumours of dissatisfaction, the departure of club totem-cum-dependable backup Drogba mean that the Falcao gamble might need to come off.  You wouldn’t be against it, but it feels a bit like the Veron thing, Mourinho wanting to show that he’s the man by getting the best out of a player that United couldn’t just as Ranieri did in 2003.  Didn’t really work then though.  As with Arsenal, everything’s relative…  might result in Chelsea finishing second instead of top.  Meh.


1. simmos - 03/08/2015

Matt, do I sense a lack of enthusiasm from you for these previews? Never mind, because if all the so called pundits are correct (and why should we not believe most of the ill informed garbage written about us) you can get back to the altogether more exciting pre-season review next August.

2. David Quick - 03/08/2015

Good piece as always. Gonna be picky. Arsenal ex Orns – Bellerby.

3. David Quick - 03/08/2015

Bellerin even. Bloody spellcheck!

Matt Rowson - 03/08/2015

🙂 Thx. Inevitable that, having been picky, you misspelled…

4. Graham W - 03/08/2015

Major challenge this, finding interesting things to say about the NotNot. Good going so far.

5. JOC - 03/08/2015

Like you growing up in the 1980s my perception of Chelsea is of a bit of a yo-yo club between the 1st and 2nd Division with the likes of John Bumstead and fans favourite Kerry Dixon…when did they become such a “massive” club??!! Also being picky – not a glaring error by any means though Dyche might be surprised to learn that his new right back Matthew Lowton has re-joined Sheffield United!!

On a completely unrelated matter I discovered that two recent ex-horns, Albert Riera and Gabriel Tamas, have both been sacked by their subsequent clubs, Udinese and Steaua Bucharest. Riera for attending a poker tournament instead of a league match and Tamas for going out drinking with friends instead of training. Apparently he had told the Steaua manager that his alarm had failed to go off!! Seems we did well to get rid….

Matt Rowson - 03/08/2015

I’d heard those stories. The Riera one is great… it fits the caricature perfectly.

6. Roger Green - 03/08/2015

Re Villa ? am I the only Watford fan who thinks we should have tried a little harder to acquire Rudy Gestede. Saw him a couple of times last season and he scored in both matches. It only needs a couple of injuries to our strike force and we would look a bit lightweight up front — OK 6mill is a hell of a lot of money but with hindsight might look like good value.
Just a thought !!!!!

RG — Stockport Hornet

Matt Rowson - 03/08/2015

If we’re going for the 4-2-3-1 then there’s not anyone else obviously suited to the 1 (except Troy…). Yes, I was disappointed that we didn’t sign Gestede, but the transfer window hasn’t closed yet…

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