New Season, New Top 4

New Season, New Top 4

August 2021 | Sport

The new Premier League season has kicked-off, amid serious questions about the competitiveness of the league. Can anyone catch the top 4?

This weekend marks the start of the Premier League season, barely days after the conclusion of the last one. Some Spanish and Brazilian players didn't have a break at all, jumping straight from the Euros or Copa America to the Olympics with barely a break in-between.

The season opened with an impressive performance from the popular new boys in Brentford. This was a team that have been close to promotion for years, bottling it on multiple occasions before finally winning last year's play offs. They have some form to back up their top flight aspirations after beating multiple Premier League sides in last season's cup competitions.

The Arteta Question?

A poor Arsenal team were on the receiving end of that defeat. Losing 2-0 in the first full capacity game at the brand new Brentford Community Stadium. It was a familiar pattern for Mikel Arteta's team. They had plenty of possession without ever really looking like scoring. Ben White had a debut to forget after being completely outclassed by Ivan Toney.

There is undoubtedly talent in the Gunners squad, but there is plenty of deadwood too. The sudden decline of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has left them without a reliable goal scorer, and it shows. At present, they resemble a 90s Spurs team in both application and ambition. Too many players simply aren't up to Premier League standard, often going missing when the game gets physical.

It's not clear if the leadership at the club understand the depth of the problem. Nor do they appear to have any desire to fix it. The failed pursuit of Aaron Ramsdale shows just how far they have fallen. A change of manager will go a long way to addressing the situation but is only a small part of the solution.

United Resurgent

Not too long ago, Manchester United were in a similar predicament. Years of mismanagement and poor recruitment left them floundering in midtable with an unqualified manager. Consecutive seasons of Champions League qualification has turned them around. It would have been unthinkable for an elite defender like Raphael Varane to join them two years ago. Now he's part of the strongest United team since Fergie's retirement.

There are genuine questions about the ability of the Red Devils to mount a serious title challenge. However, they're in the conversation. Better depth in midfield is probably required, as is some consistency from the mercurial Paul Pogba. Watch out for Mason Greenwood though, who has been moved back to his natural position as a centre forward. After several seasons on the right wing, he may be poised to have his breakout season as an elite striker.

Closed Shop?

United's resurgence has led to a debate about the reemergence of a closed shop top four. Leicester will have something to say about that. They have added some useful depth in midfield and attack. Their competitors for the Champions League have strengthened even more. They're unlikely to get as close to the promised land as they have in recent seasons.

Liverpool have added world class rotation options to the team who won the league two years ago. They'll be in the title mix again. Chelsea have brought an elite striker to fix their much discussed issues in front of goal. As a result, they are many people's favourites to win the League. The current champions will have something to say about that.

Manchester City have their own challenges in front of goal. They create more chances than any other team, but struggle to convert them. A hot streak by Ilkay Gundogan helped substantially last season, but is unlikely to be repeated. The solution is obvious: buy Harry Kane. However, it's not clear if they're willing to spend enough money to tempt Spurs to sell their main man. If they don't, they may end the season without silverware.

What Price Kane?

Spurs are more open to selling Kane than media reports indicate. A few years ago, informed pundits seriously suggested that Tottenham were a better team without the England captain. That wasn't true then, and it's still not true now. Although Pochettino's Spurs were nowhere near as reliant on Kane as Mourinho was. Nuno has already beaten Arsenal and drawn with Chelsea in pre-season without him.

Kane would need to be replaced if he does leave. However, this summer would probably be the best time for a club in Spurs' position to buy a top level striker. Italian, German and Spanish clubs can't afford to pay large transfer fees, with only Athletico Madrid able to overcome pandemic induced losses. Many of those clubs need to sell to cover their losses, which has already led to Spurs getting better defensive reinforcements than they otherwise would have been able to.

If Spurs can find a 20 goal a season striker to replace Kane, then they may be able to challenge Leicester and the top four. This season is already a transitional one, so any new signing will be given more time to adapt than in previous years. For many fans, winning the inaugural Europa Conference League is a higher priority than a top four league position. Top six is still expected though, and failure to achieve it will be seen as unacceptable. A long promised rebuild is finally underway in North London, which will temper expectations. After a chaotic summer, optimism is high in N17. Their rivals wish they could say the same.