From Arsenal's midfield to West Ham's depth, Seb Stafford-Bloor previews the upcoming season by examining each side's most notable plus and minus
Probably the variety of options in attacking midfield. The anchoring position remains a little problematic, with nobody really sure whether Francis Coquelin is quite good enough to fill it, but further forward the range is deep and useful.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are the headliners, but Arsene Wenger can deploy any of Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to contrasting effect, with Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey also capable of moonlighting in similar areas. The emergence of 17-year-old Reiss Nelson is also intriguing, although probably not quite relevant to the season ahead.
Reiss Nelson: the teenager is one to watch
Defensive stability. Arsenal’s pre-season has been full of experimentation. As recently as the Emirates Cup at the end of July, Arsene Wenger was still trialing a back-three system which employed Mohamed Elneny at its centre. It looked fashionable, it proved that Wenger is open to change, but it didn’t necessarily work. Shkodran Mustafi is still unavailable, so that perhaps confuses the issue, but the lack of a definitive pairing (or trio) so close to the season is a worry.
Their forwards. Eddie Howe was accused of overpaying for Jermain Defoe but, while the reported salary and signing-on figures were startling for a player in his mid-30s, he does now have a broad range of abilities at the top of the pitch.
Josh King may not be a pure forward, but he provides many of the same functions; Benik Afobe brings a more traditional, physical threat; while Callum Wilson, though probably now third or fourth choice, is an underrated finisher. Adding Defoe obviously came at a price, but his arrival has Bournemouth looking far more dexterous.
Josh King scored 16 in 36 matches for Bournemouth last season
Still the defence. Versatile 22-year-old Nathan Ake and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic have arrived and will help, but the suspicion remains that Bournemouth’s players at the back just aren’t quite good enough. They’ve adapted to their new environment well enough to stay in the division, but they routinely look outmatched against the better sides.
Their home form. Fortress Turf Moor became a bit of myth at the end of last season: Burnley have only won three Premier League games at home in 2017. Nevertheless, lovely traditional ground (with splendid views) though it may be, most teams don’t seem to enjoy their visit.
Admittedly, it’s only a relative strength. Burnley’s home form is good and important because their away performances - not just last year, but in their entire Premier League history - have been dreadful. If they're to see a third Premier League season in succession, their survival efforts will again have to begin at Turf Moor.
Sam Vokes applauds the fans who help make Turf Moor a relative fortress
Midfielder Jack Cork has arrived from Swansea, but he’s not a signing which solves Sean Dyche’s biggest issue: his team don’t create enough chances. In fact, if their ‘possession, possession, move the ball wide’ method doesn’t succeed, they don’t seem to have an alternative approach.
Individual quality, the type which wins Premier League points, is going to be an issue. Newly promoted teams have survived because of their cohesion before, but Anthony Knockaert will have to produce an excellent season if Brighton are to survive.
The good news is that he’s equipped for the challenge. A delicate but driven player with the ball at his feet, he’s capable of making the sort of impact that Riyad Mahrez did when he emerged from the Football League. It didn't work out for Knockaert with Leicester in 2014/15, but he's come on tremendously since then.
Anthony Knockaert has plenty of potential
Goals. Where are they coming from? Glenn Murray scored 23 times last season and was front and centre of Brighton’s promotion push. On past evidence, he won’t come close to that number at the level above.
Antonio Conte’s iron-clad structure. Chelsea are not a flair team. They may possess players capable of picking locks and pirouetting through gaps, but that’s the velvet glove around their iron fist.
Last season, their success - after the B.C./A.D. crossover at the Emirates - was predicated on locking opponents in their own half for long periods and controlling the centre of the pitch. They stretch the field with their aggressive wing-backs and when defences spread themselves to meet that threat, Conte has the attacking players to exploit the gaps. They won the title last season because they were, by far, the most stable and well-coached team in the division and nobody should expect that to change.
Chelsea were the best-coached team in the league last season
No matter what anybody thinks about Diego Costa, Chelsea will certainly lose something with his departure. The goals and the combinations with Eden Hazard and Pedro will be an obvious miss, but so too his attitude. Costa is a snarling beast of a forward and Alvaro Morata isn’t in any way comparable.
That isn’t to say that he’s an inferior player - in fact, despite what we saw at the Community Shield, he might be a better finisher - but the change and subsequent disruption to the chemistry will be something which has to be overcome.