Many of you probably remember my three bold predictions heading into last season. If not, let me recap them for you:
Now, you might be thinking to yourself "Please, no, stop, don't do this again, you're not smart, you'll bring shame to your family and they'll pretend to not know who you are when out in public." And you'd be right. But I'm not here to play it safe and conservatively. No, sir or madam. I play for keeps, and I play with reckless abandonment. Kinda like Mathieu Flamini.
So with that all said, here are three bold predictions for the 2015-16 season that you can probably guarantee will not happen now that I've committed to them.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will score more than 18 goals in all competitions.
The Ox has suffered through two straight seasons filled with injury, rehabilitation, and catching up. He's more physically fit heading into this season than in any other prior summer, and with a bit of attitude and recognition on his part that he's entering the youthful prime of his career that needs the sort of on-pitch validation, he's put himself in contention to have an Aaron Ramsey 2013-14 emergence.
The midfield hasn't been this stocked full of distributors in a very long time, and with Arsene Wenger showing a willingness to rotate among his squad members when they've displayed full health, there's not an excuse for Oxlade-Chamberlain - a man Wenger's himself tipped to succeed this season - to capitalize on the chances he'll invariably receive. If this preseason's been any indication, expect the Ox to become one of the most important players at the club.
Arsenal will concede fewer goals in league play than Chelsea.
This isn't actually as bold of a prediction as I initially thought when conceiving my list. Maybe it's because the bad things that happen to Arsenal register for far longer than the good, but having to deal with an inconsistent starting back four and holding midfielder for the first half of last season, along with Wojciech Szczesny's bad form that led to David Ospina deputizing for the vast majority of the second half of the campaign, Arsenal only finished four goals worse than Jose Mourinho's side in the league in terms of goals allowed.
Maybe it was in large part of Francis Coquelin's loan recall from Charlton, or Ospina providing something (what that something was, I'm not entirely sure - but it was something). Perhaps, as I'd like to believe, it was that the squad finally returned to a state where the majority of the players were healthy and available for selection along with a spate of highly-competitive matches that they netted positive results from that allowed them to gel as a unit both on and off the pitch. The reality is, for all the turmoil that the club endured for half the season last year, they only finished out four goals allowed to Chelsea - who led the league in this stat (Arsenal finished 3rd; Southampton were 2nd with 33 goals allowed).
There's nothing to indicate that Arsenal will trend down from last season in this department. They've added Petr Cech, whose presence alone yesterday was enough to distract Eden Hazard on a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are both healthy and rested heading into Matchday 1, which wasn't the case last summer. And, of course, there's the fact that this Arsenal side have gone nearly 200 minutes without allowing a side like Chelsea to score on them, along with other scoreless streaks and impressive defensive displays against other EPL title-contending clubs that should count for something.
All in all, while Arsenal's offensive technique and goals might draw the most headlines and Vine-worthy moments, it'll be the defensive performances that will vault them high up the table. Which leads me into my last bold prediction...
Arsenal will win the English Premier League this season.
Why not? Give me one reason why Arsenal can't win the league this season. Go on, I'll wait.
Listen, Chelsea stormed out to a lead last season that wasn't in any threat of being overturning due to the ill health and bland performances from their main title challengers. Mainly because they gobbled up PEDs like Skittles and spun their blood on a daily basis to ensure most of their players were able to quickly recover, but also because, outside of a couple matches, they were consistent from start to finish. That is, they were mature enough to win the title.
Looking at Arsenal, there's nothing right now to indicate they're not on the same level, heading into this season, as Chelsea. They've kept every starter from last season for the first time in many summers, along with most of their trusted backups. They've added one of the best keepers in the game. They've gone out and won the ding danged preseason treble, which counts in my book. They brought in JEFF for crying out loud!
Arsenal's second half of last season, baring the losses to Monaco, Swansea City, and Tottenham, was damn near perfect. They were healthy, they were firing in goals, and they were defensively astute. They've followed up that run-in with a perfect record in preseason that was capped with Arsene Wenger's first-ever defeat of a Jose Mourinho-led side and main threats to the title.
And here's the dirty little secret no one really wants to discuss: Arsenal have a deeper squad than Chelsea. Mourinho managed to lead Chelsea to a title on the back of a pretty thin squad that maintained superior health and lost very few matches to injury relative to their title challengers. Again, because they're a bunch of PED freaks. To say, with assurance, that the same thing will happen this season is risky. At some point, the body will break down from all the drugs they take and time will catch up with them. Look at Diego Costa, for instance, and his hamstring that's obviously not responding to their nefarious doping cycles.
Arsenal have a squad whose members have experience in big matches along with the requisite talent that's expected from a Wenger side. With proper health, this side's built to withstand the rigors that the EPL demands from its title holders.
It's a side that's given me more optimism than ever before leading into the start of the season, and while this may be a bold prediction, it's not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds. The only question is: will Jose Mourinho show up to shake Wenger's players' hands as they collect their medals next May?