Premier League predictions: Arsenal to beat Chelsea to the title?
Chelsea remain the favourites to defend their title, but Gunners can pip them to the post with Man United and Man City in pursuit
The Premier League returns this weekend with another season of thrills and spills in store and the prospect of a nail-biting title race.
Chelsea won the title at a canter last season, but their rivals have all bolstered their squads this summer, while the Blues have failed to convince in pre-season, and even lost the Community Shield to Arsenal.
So how will the big guns perform this season and who will be crowned champions? Here's what the experts, and The Week, are saying:
Could this finally be Arsenal's year? In 2013-14 Arsenal could not last the pace, and last season they were out of the running by Christmas. But the second half of last season's campaign could prove pivotal. The Gunners started playing pragmatic football and even got one over on Man City at the Etihad. That, and a first ever victory for Arsene Wenger over Jose Mourinho in the Community Shield, could lay the foundations for something special this season.
"For the first time in many years, Arsenal's players appear honestly to believe they can do it," notes The Guardian. "There were a few cynical heads in the past. Not any more. The air of general confidence is quite striking."
Player to watch: Petr Cech
Jeff Powell of the Daily Mail, one of the few pundits to back the Gunners for the title, believes the former Chelsea keeper is the signing of the summer. Phil McNulty of the BBC agrees. "In one fell swoop, manager Arsene Wenger has solved a serious problem and added a figure of authority, respect and success into his dressing room."
The reigning champions strolled to the title last season and are favourites to retain their crown. It is hard to find a pundit who is not backing the Blues to become the first side since Manchester United in 2009 to defend the title.
But there are warning signs for Chelsea. There has been no repeat of what Goal.com calls last summer's transfer window "masterclass", while a hectic pre-season campaign has been mixed. They were outplayed by Arsenal in the Community Shield.
If they cannot reproduce the sparkling early season form of the last campaign and adopt an attritional approach from the start it might not be plain sailing.
"Depth remains the biggest concern," says Goal, not least in attack where Diego Costa's hamstrings are a worry, and new signing Radamel Falcao represents a major risk. "The good news is that Chelsea's strongest XI – physically dynamic, tactically versatile and impeccably balanced – are still unmatched in England and capable of beating any of the European superpowers on a favourable day."
Player to watch: Eden Hazard
Now established as a global superstar, Hazard is "a class above anything outside of La Liga last season and, at 24, a star perfectly positioned to make another giant leap forward in his game", says Goal. Oliver Holt of the Daily Mail agrees, describing him as "the greatest talent in the Premier League".
Louis van Gaal has one task this season, continue United's upward trajectory and challenge for honours. "Last season Van Gaal was given something of a free pass," says Goal.com. "If United don't have a proper tilt at title glory this time around, serious questions will be asked."
But there are reasons for optimism, as the Daily Mail explains. "Van Gaal's track record tells us that, while it may take a while, he more often than not gets it right. United's midfield now looks like one of the best in the country and the manager tells us he has the balance he craves. The new £750m kit deal and unstoppable commercial machine mean the kitty has never been as overflowing. Oh – and Champions League football is back (as long as they get through the play-off)."
On the downside the defence looks shaky and if David de Gea leaves then things will get even worse.
Player to watch: Morgan Schneiderlin.
Oliver Holt of the Mail picks the midfielder from Southampton over others including Bastian Schweinsteiger. Schneiderlin "was exactly what Manchester United needed to anchor midfield and improve the team. He was also exactly what Arsenal needed so that makes it an even better signing".
Terrifying up front, particularly after the arrival of Raheem Sterling from Liverpool, City's real problem remains the defence, where manager Manuel Pellegrini failed to find a settled centre-back pairing.
"Too often in a limp title defence last season, a squad of lavish talent looked short of inspiration and drive. They are too good to be like that again. But if they are, the speculation swirling around Pellegrini will become more turbulent," says Phil McNulty of the BBC.
Opinion seems split on whether City will regroup or fail to convince once again after a weak title defence last time out.
"Once again it appears City will need an extraordinary season from Sergio Aguero to challenge for major prizes," says The Guardian. "City should be good for a top-four place next season. They do not appear to be gearing up for a fully committed title challenge."
Player to watch: Raheem Sterling.
The most expensive English player in history will be under intense scrutiny. Some will hope to see him languishing on the bench after the way he conducted his Liverpool exit, but he should be a key component of Pellegrini's side.
This is a make or break season for manager Brendan Rodgers. The Liverpool boss was lucky to keep his job this summer, but the club's owners, Fenway Sports Group, backed him and gave him the funds to rebuild his squad for the second summer running.
"This season there will be no room for excuses. Rodgers has the tools he asked for. Now he has to deliver," says the Liverpool Echo.
But will the likes of Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino fill the holes left by Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling?
"Liverpool's propensity for remarkable runs and deep slumps mean that it is hard to know what to expect of them in 2015-16 but the eight-point gap between them and the top four last season felt like a gulf," says Goal.com "Sterling's exit threatens to widen it. Bridging it would be a considerable feat."
Player to watch: Roberto Firmino
The Brazilian playmaker's fortunes could reflect Liverpool's. Will the untested Brazilian form a fine partnership with fellow-countryman Philippe Coutinho or will he be this season's Mario Balotelli?