A new season is fast approaching, and Liverpool (a.k.a. Champions of Europe) have already begun their hectic pre-season training and friendly matches schedule this week. Last season Liverpool amassed a record breaking 97 league points but finished in second place to Man City, and one of the very few criticisms that could be levelled at Liverpool is the fact that they only managed a single win away from home against the other top 6 sides. Therefore if they are to improve and pick up the league title next May, their travels away to their rivals will have to yield more points.
So how are the other top 6 teams getting on in the transfer market so far, where do they need to strengthen, and what are their prospects and ambitions as we approach a new campaign? Here we take a look here at Man United and Arsenal, two teams who aren’t now just looking jealously above and beyond the gulf that exists between themselves and Liverpool, but are now nervously looking over their shoulder at the likes of Leicester City and Wolves who have ambitions to break into the top 6 themselves.
United are the team with perhaps the biggest challenge in preseason as the relatively inexperienced Solskjaer looks to transform a squad which is overpaid, overhyped and underperforming. The Glazer family have been the majority shareholders at Old Trafford since 2005, and have thus far managed to manoeuvre their way through pockets of fan dissent by delivering a scattering of trophies and marquee signings. However since the departure of Alex Ferguson and their last Premier League title in 2013, a succession of unsuccessful and unappealing managers have seen a growth in opposition to the owners, with rumours of a major Glazer-Out campaign being reignited for the new season.
Playing personnel such as Pogba, Sanchez, Martial, Fred, Bailly and Lukaku have all failed to demonstrate the attitude appropriate to a team that only a short while ago were seen as the benchmark for all other cubs, preoccupied more with their off the pitch profiles and sponsorship deals than their performances on it. Solskjaer has promised to shake things up, and has started by bringing in Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Palace and Daniel James from Derby County. However major surgery is required to the spine of the team with question marks over the commitment of de Gea, Pogba and Lukaku to remain part of the clubs future planning. It is in defence most of all where most surgery is needed, with Luke Shaw, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young all well short of the standard required to mount a challenge for the top four next season.
The club showed faith in signing Solskjaer to the permanent managerial position after an impressive first 3 months as caretaker manager following the departure of Jose Mourinho in December, but the somewhat rash nature of his appointment is an indication of a club which is badly run behind the scenes. It is unclear whether the club and vice-chairman Ed Woodward in particular have any clear transfer strategy in place, with a rumoured 3 man transfer committee headed by former player Darren Fletcher apparently attempting to emulate the stellar word of Michael Edwards at Liverpool. Retaining young and gifted talent is without doubt an aspiration for every Premier League club, but the decision to award Marcus Rashford a mind-boggling new contract is a sign of desperation. With the potential to earn £250K per week, Rashford joins a group of players such as Alexis Sanchez (on a basic salary of £390K per week) to become one of football’s top earners. Should the club continue with this scatter gun approach to contract and signings, they are destined for further misery in the upcoming season – all of which should be music to the ears of Liverpool fans.
Arsenal, once the penny pinchers of the league, have managed to find themselves in a crazy position. When they left Highbury and moved to the Emirates, they seemed to have had an upper hand on other clubs in terms of backroom management, shrewd player investment, sponsorship and club infrastructure. The effectiveness of that approach did not last long however as owners of clubs such as City poured in money into transfers and secured mega sponsorship deals. Arsenal have tried to mirror that approach with big salaries and big transfers in recent seasons, but their approach is all of a sudden beginning to backfire. Just last week it was revealed by Swiss Ramble that the club are in serious financial difficulty due to lack of Champions League football, mega wage bills, which will see the club announce a financial loss for the first time since 2002.
After Wenger’s departure at the end of the 2017/2018 season, new boss Unai Emery has attempted to foster an environment of unity at the cub, but he is being undermined by his players bad habits and bad attitudes. Just this week, club captain Laurent Koscielny has refused to travel on the club’s pre-season tour to America as he tries to push through a move away from the club. The financial situation means that Arsenal will not be spending big this summer, something that they would have been expected to do considering the real lack of game changers in the squad. Instead they will need to draw on youth players, free transfers or low price bargains, which does not bode well for a team who are starting their third season in a row away from the Champions League.
Despite having relatively strong attacking options with Aubameyang and Lacazette grabbing 35 league goals between them last season, Arsenal appear to be making a move to spend their entire transfer budget (a rumoured £40 million) on Wilfried Zaha, but that falls way short of Crystal Palace’s asking price of £80 million. Players such as Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser, Malcom from Barcelona and Kieran Tierney from Celtic have all been linked, but none are likely to arrive. The departure of Aaron Ramsey has left a gap in midfield which is unlikely to be filled without offloading some of the clubs high earners and under achievers. Scrutinising the clubs biggest wage bills, it is obvious that Arsenals decision makers at board level have a lot to answer for. Mesut Ozil (350K per week), Henrikh Mikhitaryan (£140k per week), Sead Kolasinac (£110k per week), Hector Bellerin (£100K per week) and Shkodran Mustafi (£100k per week) are all players who simply do not perform at the level to justify the payment they receive.
All in all, Arsenals prospects for the forthcoming season looks bleak – and if they fail to qualify again for the Champions League then they could be in for a prolonged period of frustration.
Up the Red’s.
LFC Fanatic, Dubai
Follow me on Twitter: @IrishRedDubai