After finishing 3rd last season the last thing Arsene Wenger would have wanted would be another media circus around his key player Cesc Fabregas but given his history and the never ending need for the media to have something to print the Barca/Cesc link has refused to go away with Fabregas even saying that he has his heart set on Barcelona, however Wenger has stayed firm and it seems Arsnenal's stance coupled with Barcelona's financial trouble seems to have staved off any potential sale this summer, however i fully expect Fabregas & Wenger to have come to an agreement like Ronaldo & Ferguson did with one more season then Cesc will go to Barca.
Marouane Chamakh (Free from Bordeaux) A powerful and quick striker, he's been coverted by a number of clubs for a over a year since he shot to prominence in 08/09 helping Bordeaux win the French league with 13 goals and end Lyon's 7 year winning streak however had his heart set on a move to Arsenal which he completed this summer on a Bosman. He is a highly though of talent and at 26 still has some good years ahead of him, however question marks will be raised over how quickly he can adapt and more importantly can he live up to the 20+ goals a season Arsenal need from a striker? his record of 56 league goals in 230 league appearances isn't overly impressive but with more creative players supporting him he might just be able to replace Adebayor's goals that Arsenal missed last season
Laurent Koscielny (undisclosed, reported to be between £8m-£10m from Lorient) Another player with French roots (as well as being eligible for Poland thanks to his Polish roots) he is unproven at the top level but does have time on his side as he is only 24. He is a powerful defender who also possesses great anticipation and awareness of the situation around him and is given credit as one of the reasons the unfancied Lorient finished 7th in Ligue 1 last season. Expected to slot in next to Vermaelen next season at the heart of the Arsneal defence, like his centre back partner did at the start of last season he will have to settle in very quickly.
Fran Merida (Free to Atletico Madrid) After all the hype and court case's around him joining Arsneal (he had to pay Barca just under £3m after walking out on them) he's failed to live up to expectations and also cited home sickness in his decision to return back to Spain. Whilst his junior team mate Fabregas's career has flourished Merida's career has stalled slightly and at the age of 20 will be hoping he gets his break through next season
Phillipe Senderos (Free to Fulham) Another player that's run down his contract after hitting a brick wall at Arsnenal. When he first joined the club big things were expected after starting off well however after a while of not progressing he fell out with Arsene Wenger and spent loan spells with A.C Milan & Everton before leaving in search of first team football
Eduardo (Undisclosed, reportedly £6m, to Shakhtar Donetsk) After scoring against England in 2006 Eduardo came to the attention of the Premiership and ended up signing for Arsenal in 2007 and settled in well, however a horrific injury picked up in February 2008 ruled him out for a year. The start of the following season he was marred in controversy when UEFA charged him with 'deliberately deceiving the referee' and banned which was later over turned on appeal, although many around the Arsenal camp feel he wasn't the same after his horror injury and this incident and a move was on the cards with the interest in Chamakh
Arsenal are also reportedly close to signing Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer as a player/coach for around £3m who is expected to be bought in to help bring on Wojciech Szczęsny as Wenger has reportedly lost faith with Almunia & Fabianski
Key Player - Without a doubt Cesc Fabregas, heartbeat of the midfield and main creative player, although Robin Van Persie needs to stay injury free as without him Arsenal struggle for goals
Prediction - If, as i expect, Arsenal hold on to Cesc Fabregas then a top 4 finish is a certain, i expect them to be very similar to position to the last 2 years, challenging with Man Utd & Chelsea until February/March time then the lack of depth in there squad costs them. I expect them to finish 3rd again this season
Ongoing story - Martin O'Neill (and Villa fans) must be sick of Manchester City. Last summer it was Gareth Barry and this season it's James Milner, speculation (as usual fuelled by the media) has been running rampant that Milner wants to leave and during the World Cup he was very non-committal on his future however after England elimination he held a meeting with O'Neill & owner Randy Learner and expressed a desire to leave the club, however after last summer Villa are in no mood to be receptive either to Milner or City, standing fast on their valuation of £30m and reportedly rejecting two bids (for £20m & £23m) leaving Milner now stuck in limbo, he's stuck his neck out trying to get a move and if City look elsewhere he could be stuck at Villa for next season with some very angry Villa fans on his case.
Players In - none so far, Villa have been linked to several players but nothing concreate has happened although i put this down more to Martin O'Neill's ability to keep bids out of the press as well as focusing his time on the Milner situation
Players Out - only one name of note, Wilfred Bouma who came over with a great reputation from PSV but, sadly, was a victim of another horror injury and after missing the last 2 season's Villa decided not to renew his contract
Key Player - assuming Milner goes the form and fitness of Gabriel Agbonlahor & Ashley Young could be key, they didn't have great seasons last season and O'Neill will be looking for them to step up
My Prediction - if the defence stays as solid and dependable as last season & Agbonlahor and Young hit form then a EUROPA league spot should be nailed on, however i think it would take Spurs & City to self destruct spectacularly for them to challenge for 4th this season. A repeat of 6th wouldn't be a tragedy and i expect them to finish their or their abouts.
Ongoing Story - Birmingham doesn't really have one this summer, the club has a lot of stability with Alex Mcleish as manager & Carson Yeung as owner, he came in saying that Birmingham had £40m to spend but that never really materialised and Birmingham were left competing at what realistically is considered their level, finishing well clear of the relegation zone in 9th but not troubling the teams above them for EUROPA league spaces.
Ben Foster (From Man Utd £6m) A good move for both the player and the club, after Joe Hart had such an excellent season on loan last year Man City were never going to let Birmingham keep him full time so Alex McCleish moved quickly to sign another young English keeper to fill the void. Foster has had a stop start career since moving to Man Utd and after a troubled start last season found himself relegated down the pecking order. Foster should be able to re-find his form and confidence behind a settled back four where expectations aren't to high
Nikola Zigic (From Valencia £6m) A towering striker at 6'7" he will bring a new aerial threat to the front line, although he struggled at Valencia he may well find Birmingham's style of football more to his liking, his ability to hold up the ball as well as winning headers higher up the pitch could help Birmingham improve, although i don't fancy him to score goals every week. After a poor World Cup he will have to overcome some sceptics early on
Enric Vallès (From NEC Breda for Free) A youngster from the Barcelona youth academy he didn't quite make the grade and ended up joining NEC where he only made 5 appearances before McCleish moved on the advice or an agent who compared him to Albert Riera he signed a contract after a week long trial after being released from NEC. One for the future more than this season
Christian Benítez (returned after loan spell) Benitez was initially expected to sign for £6m before a medical revealed a knee problem, meaning Birmingham re-negotiated the deal, eventually taking the player on loan with an option to buy for £6m at the end of the season which the club decided not to take up so he's returned back to Santos Laguna
Gary McSheffrey (Free, Coventry City) returning to the club he started his career with it wasn't a surprise to see Birmingham not renewing his contract after 2 loan spells at Notts Forrest (2009) & Leeds Utd (2010).
My Prediction - Don't think they've quite got whats needed to finish higher than 9th this season again, expect them to be around mid table and another finish in 9th would be considered a good season
Ongoing Story - The long drawn out saga of being taken over by Indian tycoon Saurin Shah who has been in talks to take over the club from the 'Jack Walker Trustees' who have basically run out of cash to invest, using money from last season's 10th place to re-invest this summer. Shah has targeted the club given its large Asian population and has plans to link the club with the IPL which his uncle, Niranjan Shah, is the deputy chairman which he hopes will increase exposure of the club to an Asian fan base. Shah began the due diligence process after weeks of talks on the 12/7 and is expected to finalise a deal soon.
Only player bought this summer is little know Hugo Fernandez, a player coveted by top clubs in both Spain & England but decided on Rovers because of their professionalism - they sent Sam Allerdyce & Michael Salgardo to meet with the player and persuade him to come to England. He signs from Union Deportiva Cornella, a small club from Catalonia, and was so highly regarded that at one point Barcelona offered him a trial.
Steven Reid (Free to West Brom) A player who joined after a promising start to his career at Millwall however due to a number of injuries failed to live up to his potential, last season he spent on loan at West Brom so it was no surprise when he signed for them after Blackburn let him go for free
Yıldıray Baştürk (Free Transfer) Only made one appearance, failed to do what most older players do under Sam Allerdyce and turn back the clock.
Paul Robinson has rediscovered some of the form that made him England No 1 although is helped by a settled solid defence in front of him, if David Dunn can keep fit he can be a key player but he spends more time in the treatment room than on the pitch. Morten Gamst Pederson can play a key role but Steven N'Zonzi, who had an excellent debut season for Rovers picking up the fans player of the year will be the key player for Rovers again
My Prediction - provided the key players stay injury free Blackburn should be safe from relegation, if a new owner is in place before the start of the season 'Big Sam' might be tempted to splash out and strengthen areas but i still see the team finishing mid table, somewhere between 10th & 12th.
Ongoing story - still celebrating an incredible promotion to the Premier League and working hard to make sure they have a stadium with four sides, the ongoing story is simply the fact that a team most people tipped for relegation from the Championship last season not only survived but got themselves promoted, surely not even Ian 'Ollie' Holloway can perform another miracle in keeping them up, can he?
PLAYERS IN - none to date, and this has to be a worry because the current squad won't be able to survive
PLAYERS OUT - no major players yet to leave
Key Player - Charlie Adam without a doubt, key to getting them promoted and scored very important goals
My prediction - if they don't break Derbys record for lowest ever points in a league season (11 07/08) that should be considered a success, although with Ollie in charge it certainly won't be a boring season, sadly though i predict them to finish 20th
Ongoing story - again a club that doesn't really have any on going stories except maybe their interest in tracking Jack Wilshire back on loan. Owen Coyle managed to guide the team to a solid 14th place although only finishing 9 points clear of the relegation zone will be a great concern to the club.
Robbie Blake (Free from Burnley) Owen Coyle didn't take long to go back and swoop for one of his favoured players, although at 34 he can't be expected to be a key player for the team and has probably been bought in thanks to his versatility and loyalty to Coyle
Martin Petrov (Free from Man City) Another 'elder' out of contract player that Coyle has bought in, although at 31 he will probably have more of an impact that Robbie Blake. An explosive player who can play either wings he started well in his City career before the Abu Dabi takeover saw him relegated to the bench and out of the squad after criticising then manager Mark Hughes, he could be an important addition to the squad
Ricardo Vaz Te (Free to Panionios) looked like a promising youngster when he first broke through with Bolton however failed to live up to expectations and was reduced to a bit part player from the bench
Key Players - Although constantly criticised by opposition fans Kevin Davies has established himself as an excellent holding striker and works hard for the full 90 mins of a game, his work rate earning him fans player of the year last season. Gary Cahill is an excellent center back who they sorely missed last year after a freak injury, he along with Jussi Jääskeläinen form the key part of the Bolton defence and to keep clear of the relegation zone they will need these players in key form.
My Prediction - Not to be sucked in to a relegation scrap would be considered a good season but i get the feeling they will be back amongst the bottom teams this season. However with Owen Coyle in charge they have a good chance of surviving and i would expect them to finish around 14th/15th this season