Premier League preview: Did Arsenal pull it off? Will United collapse?

One way or another, it’s that time again. Turn on the dramatic music, fire up the content generator and get ready to soak up the hottest takes: the Premier League season is upon us once again.

It is of course not yet clear what form this edition of the proud football soap opera will take. It is, after all, the fun of it.

As the 20 richest league teams in the world return to the field this weekend, several questions remain. The answer to these questions will go a long way in determining how things play out.

The obvious question before the start of each new Premier League season is which team is likely to have won at the end. Unfortunately, in the league’s current incarnation, it’s not a particularly interesting investigation. Manchester City will win it, having won four of the last five editions, and they will most likely do so by taking on a fiery but ultimately futile challenge from Liverpool. Although, this time there is only a small caveat.

The idea that Erling Haaland’s presence will disrupt City’s pace enough to impact the squad has been overblown; it can be a tricky marriage for a few months, but the two are more than enough to thrive despite it.

Far more important is the fact that Haaland is currently just one of 16 senior outfield players at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. It would be a risk in a normal season. This one has a big big World Cup in the middle, making it a colossal bet.

It looks like heaping Arsenal with faint praise to suggest Mikel Arteta’s side have won pre-season – largely because they have – but, amid all the hype and hype , the past few weeks have produced some genuinely encouraging signs for the Spaniard and his compatriot. documentary stars.

Gabriel Jesus, certainly, has the ability to be a transformational signing, and his former Manchester City team-mate Oleksandr Zinchenko may not be far behind. Arsenal look like a much more complete team than a year ago. Not one ready to challenge City or Liverpool, perhaps, but one that could end the club’s long exile from the Champions League.

The biggest obstacle to Arsenal’s resurrection lies just down the road. Not at Chelsea, where a chaotic transfer window will most likely end with a stronger yet less cohesive squad, but at Tottenham transformed by Antonio Conte, the kind of supernova manager who arrives, pushes his players to the limit and then implodes. . The concern upon his arrival at Spurs was that the club had an almost diametrically opposed approach.

That, it seems, was no problem. Tottenham are really in win-now mode. Ivan Perisic, Richarlison and Yves Bissouma have been brought in to transform a team that was good enough to enter the Champions League last year into one that can push for the title. given the strangeness of the season, it does not seem impossible. Spurs have a chance under Conte, indeed. He did everything he could.

In what has perhaps been the purest distillation of modern football imaginable, Cristiano Ronaldo received a rousing welcome upon his return to Old Trafford last weekend. Manchester United fans clearly wanted him to know how much he meant to them, even though he made it clear he did not want to stay at the club.

About 45 minutes later, after being substituted, Ronaldo left the stadium at half-time, against the wishes of his coach, Erik ten Hag, and apparently convinced that he did not need to stay.

Believe it or not, there has been progress at Manchester United this summer. Ten Hag is a smart date. The club have made some smart signings. But it’s curious progress, tempered by the fact that United don’t appear to have a roster of signings beyond the players ten Hags knew and loved and undermined by the Ronaldo saga. As things stand, he might be forced to stay just because no one else wants to sign him. How ten Hag handles that will define the first few months of his reign.

From one point of view, this season should be the best chance since 2016 for a team outside the traditional Big Six to race for a Champions League place. The whole campaign will be affected by the World Cup, and it’s not ridiculous to suggest that the superpowers – supplied as they are by players traveling to Qatar – might be more likely to tire afterwards.

Whether a team can break out of the peloton is another matter. Newcastle ended last season on a Saudi-funded high, but it was noticeably calmer than the LIV golf series this summer. Leicester and Wolves seem to be stagnating. That perhaps leaves West Ham – bolstered by a few smart additions – as the only viable candidate. Even more likely, of course, is that David Moyes’ team can’t keep up either and that at the end of a season like no other, everything will be exactly as before.