Arsenal, Chelsea battle to forge new identities as Tottenham look for distractions
Ahead of each round of fixtures in the Premier League, W2W4 looks at the main storylines to keep an eye on. Arsenal and Chelsea seek to forge new identities while Mauricio Pochettino wants Tottenham focused in light of some disappointing news about their new stadium.
1. Expect the unexpected as Chelsea face Arsenal
Once upon a time, you'd know what sort of game you were in for when Arsenal visited Chelsea. For the most part of the Roman Abramovich era, muscular, strong-willed Chelsea would flex Arsenal aside, apart from the few occasions when the Gunners' more subtle attempts to play through their opponents would come off. The results weren't always predictable, but the pattern was.
Not this time. This is perhaps the most interesting game between these two teams since Abramovich arrived in England, simply because these are two teams simultaneously in flux, with new managers, new styles, new players and new outlooks. Both are feeling their way into new eras, Unai Emery trying to fill the shoes of a club institution whose own decline saw the club stagnate, while Maurizio Sarri has to introduce his style of play, a process that will require some patience, into a club not known for it.
We don't know how this game will go because we don't know who or what these two teams are yet. Is this the start of a brave new era for both or a pair of doomed successions? Will both managers make these teams their own? Will they be allowed to? These questions won't be answered on Saturday, but that they exist makes this an unpredictable and potentially highly entertaining game.
2. Will Tottenham use their distractions as a positive?
You would forgive Tottenham for feeling a little distracted at the moment. This was supposed to be their final game in their temporary Wembley home, but the delays to the new White Hart Lane mean that at least another two will come, and you wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be more. Mauricio Pochettino's job is to make sure this off-pitch disruption doesn't impact his players negatively, and with that in mind the language he used in his prematch press conference was perhaps telling.
Pochettino said this would be their "toughest season" and that they would have to give "200 percent" because "100 percent is not enough." He described his squad as "warriors" who "want to win," and himself as "a winner and I love the challenge." It's the oldest trick in the managerial book to create a bunker mentality, to tell a team that everyone out there thinks you can't do it, so prove them wrong. But it's been in the book so long because it works. Spurs aren't many people's idea of an underdog, but the stadium problems, combined with their non-existent transfer activity, might be harnessed by Pochettino to make them think they are.
3. West Ham need a good first impression
While West Ham's performance was not good in their opening game of the season, you can just about let a team off if they run into Liverpool when Jurgen Klopp's side are in the mood. It's when the slightly more prosaic challenges present themselves that excuses disappear: challenges like, with the greatest of respect to Eddie Howe's side, a home game against Bournemouth.
Manuel Pellegrini currently has a degree of goodwill if only because he is not any of the managers who came before him, but we have seen how quickly the mood can turn at West Ham when things start to go south on the pitch. Pellegrini has a number of new players to knit together, but a victory in his first home game as Hammers boss will certainly afford him a little more time and leeway to do that. If they lose to the Cherries and play like they did on occasion last season, it won't be a calamity, but neither would it be the start he needs.
4. Might Lingard give Manchester United a pep up?
Anyone who follows Jesse Lingard on any sort of social media can't help notice that this is a man with plenty of energy. He's an effervescent character, and while you suspect he might be a bit much after a while, he's certainly the sort to give a dressing room a bit of spark. It's thus perhaps a happy bit of timing that Lingard is set to feature in United's trip to Brighton on Sunday.
Old Trafford doesn't seem to be a very happy place at the moment, whether that's through Jose Mourinho's unrelenting miserablism, or Paul Pogba's ambiguous state of mind -- it feels like they need someone to give them a pep up. Could that someone be Lingard? He's a man who remains an underrated player, but apart from his actual abilities, can be a galvanising force too.
5. Can Cardiff make their mark?
Cardiff are, by common consensus, not only favourites to be relegated this season, but to finish bottom of the table. And with good enough reason: this is a side who, based on talent alone, should have been nowhere near promotion last season, and with relatively limited additions over the summer, logic states they should be nowhere near survival too. The flip side is, this is a team who are approaching the season with little expectation, who know that nobody gives them a chance, and if Neil Warnock delights in nothing else, it's taking an underdog to success.
Cardiff will feel a little like a team with nothing to play for at the end of a season, free of pressure to a point, but in every game, and that makes them unpredictable. This weekend sees their first home game of the season, against another team struggling against the odds in Newcastle. Cardiff will bloody a few noses this term, and don't be surprised if the first comes Saturday.