ESPN commentator Jon Champion on the Premier League
ESPN's man with the mic Jon Champion looks ahead to the weekend's Premier League action. Watch ESPN’s live and exclusive coverage of Bolton versus Manchester United live on ESPN from 4:45pm on Saturday
Now the dust has settled on the summer’s transfer activity, we know what we're dealing with for the next four months and can take more realistic stock of where clubs stand in the Premier League.There was some good business, some moderate business and some panic business, and I'd probably put Arsenal’s in the third category. The sides who have done best over the summer have generally been those who have done their business early, such as Manchester United and Wolves. The uncertainty of not having your squad in place at the start of the season, and indeed for pre-season, doesn’t aid cohesion.
At Arsenal more than anywhere else we’ve seen the problems an unsettled summer can cause a manager. It’s a period where the tone for a season can be set and the tone at Arsenal is certainly not what they would have wanted. The players they have brought in had all been available – for the right price – for a while, so if Arsene Wenger had been really keen to sign them, he would have done so far earlier. The fact he signed them with minutes to spare suggests they were moves born, if not of desperation, then at least of severe concern. Saturday’s match with Swansea is a very important game for Arsenal, following that 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford. From Swansea’s perspective it’s a very good time to be visiting The Emirates, if there is such a thing. I’d still expect Arsenal to win the game, but the manner of the performance is just as important. Obviously a win is a must but it needs to be a good win, not a scrappy one. If Swansea play the sort of game they have in their first three games they could come unstuck. They have to be careful, as even though Arsenal have got problems, Swansea still wouldn’t have one player in a combined XI – and this is where Brendan Rodgers needs to show a pragmatic edge.
You have to feel for Everton's David Moyes. Just as all the speculation surrounding the future of Phil Jagielka had died down, his most creative player – Mikel Arteta – was sold to satisfy the bank. He’ll be a significant loss. Another window has passed without Everton spending a penny on a new signing, despite losing a key player. Regardless, I still expect them to finish in the top half. A siege mentality is developing among the coaching staff as they realise they are operating in very difficult circumstances. Aston Villa are still settling down under Alex McLeish and Everton will be keen to show what they are about. I fancy the Toffees to win.
Manchester City versus Wigan is a mismatch – the two sides may be in the same league, but they're from different worlds. Wigan have started the season well but to get anything at Eastlands would be an extraordinary bonus. In years to come we may look back at City's stunning performance last time out at Tottenham as a crucial moment in their development – the moment when they really arrived as genuine title challengers.
Also evolving are Stoke, who have gone from a fairly unrefined outfit to one playing with two flying wingers. Even though Peter Crouch is a giant, he's shown with England that he's a footballer too. I think he'll fit in quite well – they certainly needed another striker.They welcome Liverpool on Saturday in a replay of what was a key game last year. Stoke won to prove they're a genuine Premier League force, while Liverpool's problems under Roy Hodgson really came to the fore. What a difference eight or nine months can make. Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool have beaten Bolton and an out-of-sorts Arsenal, and going to Stoke is arguably the biggest test of their season so far. Stoke fans will be buzzing at the thought of their new signings, and there will be a lot of questions asked about Liverpool this weekend, as although they are very good going forward they are little shaky at the back.
Sunderland perhaps have the opposite problem. Steve Bruce has 80% of a very good team, but what he lacks is a goalscorer. What he lacks is Darren Bent. With Asamoah Gyan sustaining an injury on international duty and Conor Wickham seemingly not quite yet ready for the Premier League, there could be some particularly frustrating afternoons ahead for the Black Cats.Saturday’s opponents Chelsea are still clicking into gear. Juan Mata and Raul Meireles will add a creative spark, but it will be interesting to see the exact impact of the new coach, Andre Villas-Boas. What we have seen so far has been very much in the Mourinho model. Sunderland away might be a tricky game for Chelsea, but it'd be harder if the Wearsiders had somebody to convert the chances they'll undoubtedly create.
Wolves will now see a home match with Tottenham as the sort they can win. All doesn’t seem well at Tottenham, not helped by the fractured relationship between the chairman and the manager over the Luka Modric saga. It'll be interesting to see what happens when Emmanuel Adebayor is added to the mix. Redknapp is currently trying to put out a few fires; if the Togolese striker shows his bad side, the Spurs boss will be left facing a raging inferno.A trip to Molineux is not one you look forward to when you’re out of form and have those kind of distractions, and Tottenham will go there rather nervously.
I'm expecting Bolton against Manchester United to be a good game: Wanderers gave Manchester City a run for their considerable money before going down three goals to two. Bolton's advantage is the Champions League: Sir Alex Ferguson's side are off to Benfica on Wednesday so there may be some sort of compromise in his team selection. Sir Alex named unchanged sides for back-to-back Premier League games against Spurs and Arsenal but I don’t think that will happen for a third game in a row. That can only help Bolton, who now have a bit of specialist against Manchester United in David Ngog. Ngog had a good goalscoring record against United with Liverpool and has got a point to prove. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts in place of Ivan Klasnic; even though the Croatian has scored in all three games so far, perhaps Klasnic’s lack of work ethic may mean Owen Coyle prefers Ngog and Kevin Davies up front from now on. Coyle has also borrowed Dedrick Boyata from Manchester City and Gael Kakuta from Chelsea. Boyata should play every week with Kakuta more likely to come off the bench, but leading managers clearly trust Coyle to develop their players. After Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge accelerated their development at Bolton, word has gone round that the Reebok Stadium is a good place to send a talented young player who may not get a game at your club but needs Premier League experience. A United victory is a sensible view but Bolton led twice in this fixture last year before being pegged back for a 2-2 draw and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends as a draw again. With Manchester United and Manchester City going toe to toe – City putting in a strong performance, United trying to trump it – there has to be a stumble somewhere.
Worrying times for West Brom: they've played well without getting a single point, which is a bad sign. Their performances are encouraging but you need a bit of luck and a cutting edge, and they've shown neither. Having said that, at Norwich they'll be allowed to play their football and I quite fancy them at Carrow Road. It's the sort of game Norwich must aim to win if they want to stay up, but Roy Hodgson will have his team really up for it: I think they feel a sense of injustice after Stoke’s 94th-minute winner in their last game when Ryan Shotton kicked the ball out of Ben Foster’s hands. There's a good chance West Brom will pick up their first points of the season.
The most surprising transfer of the window was Scott Dann joining Blackburn, given their current position and off-field problems and his other suitors apparently including Arsenal. He's an excellent signing for Rovers, who have also kept Chris Samba and now have encouraging strength in depth at centre-back with Ryan Nelsen and the promising young Scotsman Grant Hanley.Steve Kean now needs a few signings that have been on the fringes, like Ruben Rochina and Mauro Formica, to come through and show what they're made of – and for Jason Roberts to score consistently, which he hasn't done for a number of years.On Sunday Blackburn face reasonably struggling opponents in Fulham, who seem overwhelmed with the amount of games they have had to play due to the Europa League qualifiers. Both sides need their lading men to stand up and be counted because the season's outlook for the losers of this game will look pretty bleak.
As his new side QPR host his last employers Newcastle, can Joey Barton keep his head? In the build-up he'll dominate the headlines, which is what he loves, but there's a lot more to this fixture – the first game for Newcastle since the apparent confirmation that Mike Ashley is not going to splash the cash.Andy Carroll left on deadline day in January but no big-name strikers have replaced him during the summer. I feel for Alan Pardew because I think he is being hung out to dry there by an uncommunicative owner and MD who have promised the club lots but returned nothing. Davide Santon is a good signing but will hardly set pulses racing, so it has been low-key for Newcastle – not what they are used to, and not how they like it.By contrast, under new ownership QPR have made some eye-catching acquisitions like Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anton Ferdinand. My opinion of QPR has changed: with their old squad under the old ownership they were nailed-on to go down, but they've given themselves a fighting chance – and if they're in contention to stay in the Premier League with the squad they've got, they'll spend again. Neil Warnock has more reasons to be cheerful than a few weeks ago.Despite the lack of a marquee signing, I like what Alan Pardew has done to get Newcastle's players pulling together. But QPR with Barton will be more of a force: a midfield enforcer might give Adel Taarabt – a game-changer, like Charlie Adam for Blackpool last year – the freedom he needs to create chances in the Premier League.That said, it'll be interesting to see how Taarabt and Barton get along because you have two top dogs, two legends in their own lunchtime and two players who have got things to offer but are perhaps not as good as they think they are.
Jon Champion is a football commentator on ESPN, broadcaster of Barclays Premier League, FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Premier League, UEFA Europa League and more.
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