Arsenal pay the price for transfer failures, Manchester United benefit from winning mentality, City struggle to adjust
Arsenal pay the price for a summer of confusion
Arsenal’s first half performance went a long way to putting their transfer struggles in the shade, yet an abysmal 18-minute display turned their opening fixture against Liverpool on its head and left manager Arsene Wenger facing an early revolt against his decision making.
That Arsenal went on to lose 4-3 is not the big talking point coming out of the Emirates Stadium clash. Instead, it is Wenger’s inability to adequately strengthen the squad ahead of the new campaign, while his admission that the Gunners are “not ready” to start the season made their inept transfer business even more mind-boggling.
Having failed to sign a striker this summer after falling short in pursuits of Jamie Vardy, Gonzalo Higuain and Alexandre Lacazette, and the only defender brought in being former Bolton Wanderers centre-back Rob Holding for £2.5m – who it must be said showed signs of promise on his debut – Wenger was left to piece together an unfamiliar side for the opening fixture. Wenger could yet move for Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi as well as Lacazette, but the failure to bring them in in time for the new campaign could cost Arsenal dear throughout the rest of August.
United show the advantages of bringing in winners
There was something different about Manchester United this weekend, and not just the inclusion of their new summer signings. While Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his arrival in the Premier League with a lovely low finish to complete United’s scoring in the 3-1 win over Bournemouth, it was United’s swagger of old returning to that was most noticeable.
That comes from the introduction of a winning mentality, not just in Ibrahimovic, but in Jose Mourinho. From the moment United took the lead through Juan Mata’s opener, they never looked like losing, and that’s testament to the immediate impact that Mourinho and his previous managerial record has had on the squad.
Manchester United’s best XI with Paul Pogba
David De Gea
Has been Manchester United’s best player for the last four or five seasons and, after having a move to Real Madrid collapse last summer he is now more important than ever. He saved United repeatedly under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal and will hope under Jose Mourinho that there is less to do.
A good player whose first season at Old Trafford was badly affected by injuries, Darmian should improve next year under the guidance of Mourinho. He has played for a similarly prescriptive coach for Italy in Antonio Conte and will provide exactly what Mourinho wants in the role.
One of United’s most improved players under Louis van Gaal, he established a leadership and consistency that he had lacked before. Now he is near the peak of his powers and gives Mourinho someone to build around at the back.
The first of Mourinho’s summer signings, the £30million man from Villarreal has looked good in pre-season already. Will need to adjust to the speed of the Premier League but looks well equipped to do that and form a strong pairing with Smalling.
Had his last season ruined by a broken leg against PSV Eindhoven and without him United lacked pace and width down the left. Mourinho will like his competitive attitude and Shaw will surely feature in Sam Allardyce’s England squads soon enough.
Mourinho teams always have a midfield anchor, what he calls a ‘number 6’, and there is no-one better suited to the job at United now than Schneiderlin. Did not play as much as he should have done last year but that should change now.
The big issue for Mourinho will be where to fit in the £100million man. There will be times when he plays alongside Schneiderlin in a 4-2-3-1, when United can afford to attack more, and others where he is pushed further up with two midfielders behind him. Finding the perfect platform will be Mourinho’s hardest task.
Not the highest profile summer signing at Old Trafford but a technical wizard who excelled in his three seasons at Borussia Dortmund, which is why Arsenal wanted him too. Likelier to be on the right of a 4-2-3-1, where he will provide creativity and intelligence.
Mourinho said very clearly that Rooney will not play in midfield this season for United, so he will have to partner with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front. Rooney will likely start as a second striker or number 10, but has a job to prove that he is still sharp enough for the job.
Never looked weighed down by his fee last season and showed pace, class and natural calm in front of goal. Likely to continue on the left this season where he will provide pace on the break, as long as he does the defending Mourinho demands too.
One final challenge for the big Swede who has won the league everywhere else he has played. Still has incredible strength and skill, even if he will be one of the slower strikers at the top this year. Just needs to find a way to be a focal point for his team-mates.
Spurs stutter as attacking options appear thin on the ground
Tottenham will have genuine hopes of building on last season’s Premier League title near-miss, but a look at their squad doesn’t impress quite like it did a few months ago. Spurs were able to boast in-form players in Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris, and went quietly about their business all season before pushing on in 2016 and pushing Leicester hard until their hopes faded in the ill-tempered draw at Chelsea.
This season, despite adding Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen to his squad, Mauricio Pochettino still looks one high calibre striker short of having a genuine shot at winning the title. Janssen made some strong contributions on his debut, but is yet to prove he can aid the workload with Kane and fill in for the England striker should he hit injury or a period of bad form.
Leicester come crashing down to earth after last season’s energy-sapping title charge
This time last year Leicester were favourites for relegation. Now, they’re coming off a defeat by the side who are favourites for the trap door this season. After an incredible 2015/16 at the King Power Stadium a drop-off was always going to come and it’s no surprise that it happened in their opening fixture of the new season.
What Leicester must now do is rekindle that energetic approach that tormented sides last season and triggered their rise from bottom to the top of the league table. While it’s almost inconceivable that Hull will repeat Leicester’s feat and win the title – take screenshot here – they reminded the reigning champions what a collective spirit can produce, and it’s now down to Claudio Ranieri to bring out that attitude once again form his players.
It’ll take time for Manchester City to learn the Guardiola way
There’s no looking beyond the fact that Manchester City were lucky to get life under Pep Guardiola way to a successful start. Sunderland looked like they had done enough to earn a point from David Moyes’s first match in charge when Jermain Defoe equalised, only for a Paddy McNair own goal to gift City the win.
There were plenty of signs among City’s performance though that showed they are a major work in progress. John Stones rushed out of defence to create the space that Defoe utilised to score, and the fluidity that is expected from any Guardiola side is yet to be taken on board by the squad. That will come in time, whether it be by education on the training field or the arrival of new signings, but there could well be troubled time ahead before the going gets good.
Relegation battle could be closer than ever
Saturday proved that the feared relegation battle that will play out over the next 10 months may be closer than ever. No side won by more than one goal, with many sides looking to avoid the drop meeting early in the campaign. West Bromwich Albion picked up an important win at Crystal Palace that suggests there could be troubled waters ahead for Alan Prdew if last season’s form in 2016 repeats itself, while Burnley got off to a bad start in a home loss to Swansea.
As Palace showed last season, strong starts can guarantee Premier League survival early in the season before the going gets tough and nerves start to set in. Early victories will go a long way to ensuring sides stay afloat come May.