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Five pre-season narratives proven wrong so far this season

Pre-season predictions are often wide of the mark and the current Premier League season has been no different, with a number of narratives having been proven wrong over the course of the campaign.

From marquee men expected to shine to transfer windows slammed and scorned, we’ve looked at five popular pre-season narratives that have been dispelled in 2021/22 to date.

Arsenal’s sub-standard summer

Mikel Arteta was under pressure following a heavy summer spend and poor start to the season, as Arsenal found themselves bottom of the Premier League and without a point or goal in late August.

Arteta was handed around £142m to invest last summer, though initial verdicts were mixed with many questioning the wisdom in the Gunners’ recruitment.

Few are doubting Arsenal’s series of signings now, however, with a run of nine wins from 12 games having lifted the North Londoners into the top four.

Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White are expected to be named in the England squad this week after impressive first seasons at the Emirates, the scrutinised price-tags on the pair barely mentioned in recent months given their consistency in Arteta’s side.

Takehiro Tomiyasu has become a fans’ favourite for his committed approach, whilst both Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga have shown potential despite being signed with one eye on the future.

The decision to sign Martin Odegaard on a permanent deal has also proven a masterstroke, spending around £30m on the Norwegian despite an unspectacular loan spell last season.

Odegaard has got better and better as the creative hub of Arteta’s side and the Spaniard has shaped the Premier League’s youngest squad into a competitive force on the verge of a Champions League return.

Manchester City ‘need’ a centre-forward

Manchester City sought star signings during the summer with huge bids for Jack Grealish and Harry Kane, the latter viewed as the perfect replacement for the outgoing Sergio Aguero.

Aguero departed the Etihad having scored a record-breaking 260 goals in the club’s colours, but found himself on the fringes of Pep Guardiola’s side last season as the Spaniard sought more from his number nine.

Kane’s ability to create and convert chances – finishing as the Premier League’s leading scorer and assist provider in 2020/21 – made him an ideal arrival, but the champions were unable to prise the England captain from Spurs.

City’s failure to sign a centre-forward left the club short of options and raised questions over their title defence, though evolution and innovation from Guardiola has allowed the champions to continue flourishing.

Phil Foden has operated for much of the season as a false nine, though Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling have all also occupied a central role during the campaign.

City’s forward line has represented carousel of creatives inter-changing positions, with two advanced central midfielders stationed high up the pitch in support of the front three.

The results have seen City move top of the Premier League with only Liverpool having scored more goals this season, whilst Guardiola’s side remain in the chase for Champions League and FA Cup success.

Five players – Riyad Mahrez, Sterling, Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Foden – have reached double figures for goals in all competitions, the shared attacking work-load setting the foundation for another successful season.

Romelu Lukaku will turn Chelsea into title contenders

Thomas Tuchel’s remarkable transformation of Chelsea last season saw the Blues head into the campaign in optimistic mood, the German having inherited an inconsistent side before turning the club into Champions League winners.

Chelsea’s success in Europe was built on a resolute defence, though the west Londoners lacked a regular goalscorer as Jorginho finished as the club’s leading Premier League scorer on seven goals in 2020/21.

Chelsea addressed their need for a centre-forward with the £97.5m club record capture of Romelu Lukaku, an addition which made it hard to think the Blues would be anywhere but right at the top of the table, contesting the title.

Lukaku had been named as Serie A’s Most Valuable Player in 2020/21 after firing Inter Milan to the title, scoring 24 goals and providing 11 assists for Antonio Conte’s side.

The Belgium international also arrived with a point to prove in English football, despite a previous record of 113 goals in 252 games in the Premier League.

What had been deemed an ideal signing has instead proven an awkward fit, with Lukaku struggling to make an impression and failing to convince Tuchel.

The German has opted for Kai Havertz at centre-forward ahead of Lukaku in recent weeks, the former’s movement and intensity better suited to leading the line at Stamford Bridge.

Too much turnover at Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace were among many people’s favourites for relegation this season, given the huge turnover at Selhurst Park last summer.

Roy Hodgson’s reign came to an end and with it a mass exodus of senior players, with 10 experienced names leaving at the expiry of their contracts.

Patrick Vieira – a relative rookie in management terms – arrived as Hodgson’s replacement and fears the club’s huge turnover could prove too big a challenge were increased after the Eagles failed to win in their opening three games.

Instead Vieira’s recruitment has proven savvy and shrewd, bringing in a group of players who have given Palace a dynamic side the fans have related to.

Conor Gallagher has been a revelation since signing on loan from Chelsea, whilst the club’s captures of Michael Olise, Marc Guehi and Odsonne Edouard have given the Eagles a core of exciting talent with room to develop in South London.

Palace have lost just twice to sides outside the Premier League’s top six this season and have been comfortably clear of relegation fears, a top-half finish well within their grasp ahead of the run-in.

West Ham will struggle to juggle commitments

West Ham exceeded all expectations to finish sixth in the Premier League last season, the overachievement from David Moyes’ side leading to Europa League qualification.

Expected to kick on in the transfer window given the lure of European football at the London Stadium, the Hammers’ business was instead underwhelming with the failure to sign a centre-forward particularly criticised.

With Michail Antonio as the club’s sole recognised option at centre-forward, it was expected that West Ham would be unable to build on their 2020/21 achievements and fall back towards mid-table mediocrity.

However, the Hammers have shown both robustness and resilience to compete on multiple fronts this season, sitting sixth in the Premier League once again and moving into the Europa League’s knockout stages.

Reaching the Champions League could prove beyond West Ham, but Moyes’ side have shown this season that their improving team can continue to challenge the Premier League’s best teams.

Read – Five of the best teams to be relegated from the Premier League

Read Also – Iconic: Five of the greatest hat-tricks in Champions League history

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