I woke up this morning, thumbed through the Guardian on my phone (as is my custom most mornings), and came across the NBC Premier League team's predictions for the upcoming season, including the outrageous assertion from Robbie Earle that Arsenal won't win the league or even make the top four because they didn't replace Johan Djourou. (Seriously, he said that.)
Most pundits agree that there are six realistic title contenders, with Spurs and Swansea hanging out just below the success zone. Though many are gravitating toward Chelsea and Manchester City as ultimate league winners, some are making the case for Manchester United, Everton's in the mix because they're too good not to be entirely ignored, and Liverpool's in the mix because they came tantalizingly close to winning it all last year.
I'm surprised more experts aren't making the case for Arsenal, including my TSF brethren (though I think, deep down, it's more a case of "We really could win this, but let's not jinx it by saying it out loud"). Here are some points in Arsenal's favor, if you're wanting to make a case for them.
128 Days: For 128 days last year, Arsenal led the league, and then went 1-4-4 in a miserable nine-game stretch in which key players -- namely, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, and Theo Walcott -- were conspicuously absent. At Arsenal vs. Red Bulls, Arsene Wenger mentioned 128 days, Mikel Arteta mentioned 128 days -- could this be a wrong they're all conscious of righting this year?
Smart New Early Additions: Last year, City did its business early in the transfer window, and brought in key players who filled in at spots where City was lacking. Arsenal's done the same thing this year -- Alexis Sanchez and Calum Chambers, in particular, look like they're going to contribute immediately (and, if you count the Community Shield, they basically already have).
A Good Surprise for You: Despite all the Khedira/Carvalho smoke this summer, I feel like there's one more massive signing on the horizon in this window that will address either the perceived striker or d-mid need, or some other pivotal piece that fits into Wenger's celestial Tetris game. As we know from last year, Wenger's not sitting idly by.
But what of the other five contenders? Let's do this quickly but efficiently.
Everton: I love what Martinez is doing, and I think they've built a good overall squad, but I also feel like they're two or three players short of making a full-on title run. Fourth is a realistic goal, and probably vaults them into true contender status for next season.
Liverpool: While the transformation of Liverpool post-Suarez isn't as dire as last year's Spurs, who swapped Gareth Bale for the pu-pu platter of Soldado, Lamela, et al., it's still a lot to ask for Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard to lead this team to a title. Plus, they've got Champions League to contend with.
Manchester United: New coach, new players -- like Liverpool, they've got a lot of change to contend with at the outset, and they're also facing the crushing expectations of fans who are looking for Louis van Gaal to be the second coming of Sir Alex (since David Moyes was certainly not that). Their core players up front -- Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney -- are aging rapidly, and they're still a bit thin creatively. The rumored Arturo Vidal signing could transform them into a title contender, but for now, the mountain seems a bit steep.
Manchester City: They've certainly loaded up on talent without the splash of a Chelsea, and they look solid most everywhere, but they're still suspect in goal (Willy Caballero didn't impress in the Community Shield match, after all), and with two league titles won in the last three years, they might be putting more focus on Europe this season, since they've underperformed there.
Chelsea: On paper, this is the most dangerous team of all -- they've made considerable upgrades at striker and goalie, and they've assembled enough talent elsewhere to jettison David Luiz and Frank Lampard and look better for doing it. However, I feel like Diego Costa's going to have a rough transition into the Prem, Jose Mourinho is going to do rash, loudmouthy Jose Mourinho things that will make for an uncomfortable circus for players, and they'll slip up just enough along the way with defensive lapses and scoreless draws to finish 2nd or 3rd.
Here are some dates to circle on your calendar: August 23 at Everton, Sept. 13 hosting Man City, Sept. 27 hosting Spurs, and Oct. 5 at Chelsea. That makes for a front-loaded first seven weeks of the season, and though last year showed us the importance of not slipping late in the season, the crystal balls will be a whole lot clearer in a mere two months.