Premier Previews: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Everton

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With the league season starting this weekend, we've asked experts on each team to assess their chances in the new term. Bookmark these pages for hindsight-fuelled mockery in May...

ARSENAL – Ben Welch
Last season in a tweet
Went from one disaster to the next after a pre-season full of mishaps. Turned our fortunes around to secure Champions League football.

Positive changes over the summer
Being proactive in the transfer market and sewing up big deals early on. Previously, Arsenal have fought in vain to keep their big-name stars and replaced them with unproven talents. This summer Arsene Wenger changed tack and set about his business as soon as the final whistle blew at the Hawthorns.

Le Professeur has splashed out on established internationals Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla and snapped up French striker Olivier Giroud, who finished joint top scorer in Ligue 1 last season. The RvP transfer saga looks like it’s going to drag on, but if the Dutchman does decide to jump ship the Gunners are equipped to cope without him.

Negative changes
If you thought an MP’s expenses form was eye-watering, wait until you see Arsenal’s ticket prices. They make shelling out for a moat at Douglas Hogg’s manor seem like a bargain. Ticket prices for ‘A’ category games will be on average £62 – an increase of 23%.

FFT's bet partner Coral offer 11/1 on Arsenal winning the league – or 9/4 on winning any trophy 

Who to follow on Twitter
Daily Mirror football reporter and resident Gooner @johncrossmirror is worth a follow. Covers Arsenal home and away, breaks exclusive stories and offers insight and opinion without being overtly partisan: "Hodgson giving youth its chance. But is it REALLY better to put reserves in from big clubs rather than regulars at 'unfashionable' teams?"

What to watch out for
After a 44-year association with the club, 16 as Wenger’s right-hand man, Pat Rice retired at the end of last season. He helped guide the Gunners to three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. Towards the end of his tenure Arsenal fans criticised him for being too much of a ‘yes man’, but his influence in the dressing room, work on the training pitch and bond with the players will be sorely missed.

Former youth and reserve team coaches Steve Bould and Neil Banfield have been promoted to assistant manager and first team coach, respectively. Their knowledge of the youth team could see some rough diamonds break through to the first team squad.
Ben Welch writes FourFourTwo's Performance section.
For Arsenal news from across the web, check FourFourTwo's Arsenal club news feed page

ASTON VILLA – Simon Lucas
Last season in a tweet

Inhibited, insipid, humiliatingly unambitious football, cravenly defensive even when behind. Never has a Villa side been so easy to dislike.

Positive changes
The departure of a manager who combined cramped, tedious football with dismal results is a big boost. The appointment of a manager young and thrusting enough to be called a whizz-kid is bigger still. The wage-bill has been trimmed by the off-loading of some over-paid, under-achieving players, while replacements have been identified and signed with a good deal more alacrity than Villa fans are used to. The poisonous atmosphere that permeated every aspect of the club towards the end of last season (statistically one of the very worst in Villa’s entire 138-year history) is gone for now.   

Negative changes

Villa are still paying decent money to under-achievers (Stephen Ireland) and to straightforward liabilities (Alan Hutton). The need to further trim the squad before any more new players can be brought in has become doctrine over the summer. And while the owner is taciturn at the best of times, ever since the Alex McLeish fiasco reached critical mass his silence has been deafening – the only time you’ll hear the name ‘Randy Lerner’ at the moment is when the media reports on the possible sale of one of his professional sports clubs. Oh, and club captain Stilyan Petrov isn’t out of the woods yet.

FFT's bet partner Coral offer 1500/1 on Villa winning the league – or 7/1 on them to go down

Who to follow on Twitter

@AVFCBlog (sample tweet: “for what it’s worth the new home kit is claret and blue”) is nicely opinionated, deliciously intolerant of criticism and seems very well-informed – the Karim El Ahmadi Arrousi transfer was news here days in advance of any other source. @JohnGregory77 (sample tweet: “Doug wanted me to win PL and CL and then the Euros in Holland in 2000. Apart from that not much really…”) is exactly what you’d expect: a touch jingoistic, self-regarding and self-deprecating, and with an overwhelming Bruce Springsteen fetish.   

What to watch out for
The Villa Academy has done sterling work over the last few years: Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan and Ciaran Clark have all established themselves, to a lesser or greater extent, in the past couple of seasons. This season hopes are high for Gary (brother of Craig) Gardner and the superbly named Samir Carruthers. Other than that, it’d be nice to think Villa will actively attempt to give the ball to Darren Bent, rather than following last season’s pattern of leaving the best centre-forward they’ve had in 15 years all on his own and ignoring him.
Simon Lucas is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi and writes other bits for the Guardian and Observer.
For Aston Villa news from across the web, check FourFourTwo's Aston Villa club news feed page

CHELSEA – Charlie Skillen
Last season in a tweet

A game of two halves – fortunately, the AVB-inspired awfulness that dominated until March was left in the shade by remarkable Champions League glory.

Positive changes
Chelsea have needed an added spark of creativity for a long time, and although last season’s player of the year Juan Mata bringing his own brand of diminutive Spanish playmaking to the fold was crucial to winning two trophies, the Blues have gone attacking-midfielder mad in the close season. The additions of Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar will bolster the creative force in the team and silence any remaining ‘bus-parking’ accusations. Also, and whisper it quietly, they could be just the trick to get Fernando Torres back to form...   

Negative changes

If Torres endures another difficult spell, the Stamford Bridge faithful will start to notice a large Ivorian-shaped empty space spearheading their toothless attacks. Although Didier Drogba’s departure couldn't have been more fitting, his absence leaves Chelsea with only Daniel Sturridge – whom Roberto Di Matteo prefers on the wing – to deputise for Torres. With Frank Lampard eschewing the late surging runs for a calmer, deeper passing game, finding goals could be a problem. Drogba’s skill, aerial presence and bi-annual devastation of Arsenal will all be sorely missed.

FFT's bet partner Coral offer 5/1 on Chelsea winning the league and 8/1 on Fernando Torres to be Premier League top scorer

Who to follow on Twitter

Fulham Chronicle reporter Dan Levene (@BluesChronicle) is a must-follow for Chelsea fans. His coverage of every game home and away and frequent debates with fans on everything ranging from the right-back problem to beer at away grounds make him the most-followed journalist for Chelsea news.   

What to watch out for
Ryan Bertrand picked a great time to play his first Champions League game. His assured performance in the final, as well as participating for Team GB at the Olympics, will give the young left-back unbridled confidence for the new season, and is comfortable either stepping in for Ashley Cole or working in tandem with the No.3. Finally, Chelsea might have a first homegrown talent to break though since John Terry.
Charlie Skillen is a freelance football writer.
For Chelsea news from across the web, check FourFourTwo's Chelsea club news feed page

EVERTON – Aaron Sharp
Last season in a tweet
Big-name exits could have seen a year of damage limitation. But after some shrewd work in January, 7th on a shoestring is no small success.

Positive changes
The sale of Tim Cahill will have been a blow to more sentimental Toffees, but the spring-heeled Aussie's departure should be seen as an opportunity, not a loss. It displays David Moyes' desire to evolve his squad, but it also opens the door for Everton's youngest pretenders to stake a claim for the No.10 position. Although Jack Rodwell has joined Manchester City, highly-rated 18-year-old Ross Barkley and Marouane Fellaini have also shown glimpses of promise in advanced midfield roles and with a shirt now up for grabs, the prospect of a new supporting star for Nikica Jelavic is a tantalising one.

Negative changes
Much to the fans' eternal frustration, Everton remains a club of little change. So one cause for concern this season lies in the fact that David Moyes is still yet to fill the gaping hole in the right side of his midfield. Stints for Seamus Coleman, Leon Osman and even Victor Anichebe in the role have left a lot to be desired; although Steven Pienaar has been permanently reunited with Leighton Baines down the Blues' potent left flank, there is now a real need for balance.

FFT's bet partner Coral offer 200/1 on Everton winning the league and 5/2 on them finishing above Liverpool

Who to follow on Twitter
@executionerbong is an insightful Blues blogger with an eye for tactics and strategy. Think for Evertonians.

What to watch out for
Ask any Evertonian what they’re looking forward to seeing this season and most will return one answer: Ross Barkley. Comparisons to the Blues’ last academy wunderkind are unfair, but the Wavertree born midfielder needn’t be the next Wayne Rooney. If he can live up to his own already considerable billing then the Premier League may have a new name to remember, and the Goodison Park faithful can finally forget the last one.
Aaron Sharp describes himself as "Journalist. Exile. Toffee. Moyesian."
For Everton news from across the web, check FourFourTwo's Everton club news feed page

Arsenal, Villa, Chelsea & Everton
Fulham, Liverpool, Man City & Man United
Newcastle, Norwich, QPR & Reading

Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland & Swansea
Tottenham, West Brom, West Ham & Wigan

Championship • League One • League Two