Friday, March 1

The Fiver | Arsenal, expectation and the trouble with being champions of pre-season


It’s back! The best league in the world at saying it’s the best league in the world returns to our orbit on Friday night, and The Fiver is ready. We’ve lined up the essentials – tin hat, Tin – and will be foregoing the not inconsiderable pleasure of George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations on 4Seven so that we can watch Crystal Palace v Arsenal. There’s been a remarkable renovation – pick that segue out – at Arsenal. According to our chirpy and occasionally decipherable nephew #5r, they’ve already won pre-season. We think he’s referring to the bargain buys of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, though he also swears by Fábio Vieira’s Fifa ratings.

Arsenal are top of the Premier League form table, or they would be if Bournemouth didn’t insist on calling themselves AFC Bournemouth. Arsenal did win six of their seven pre-season games, scoring 26 goals in the process – compelling evidence that The Fiver has lost the plot and now appears to be using friendly results as a guide of what will happen when the real thing starts. But these are upbeat times at the Emirates, even by traditional opening-weekend standards, and we wouldn’t be doing our reliably half-@rsed job if we didn’t acknowledge as much. Arsenal have the most exciting young squad in the league, and their probable XI at Palace includes only two players over the age of 25. No wonder their fans are daring to dream that, if all goes to plan, this could finally be the year they reach the promised land of fourth place.

Their coach, Amazon Video sensation Mikel Arteta, shares the optimism. “We are ready to go to a different level,” he said, unveiling plans for Werner Herzog to direct season two of All or Nothing. “[Breaking into the top four] is not going to get any easier, so we can just focus on what we are trying to do, what we can do, because we cannot do everything at the same time, and we are confident that we’re going to be able to do it,” he continued, as a confused Fiver searched forlornly for an “Arteta” dropdown on Google Translate.

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This season is Arteta’s best chance to disprove the perception that he is a high-class coach trapped in the body of David Brent. He is understandably excited about the signings of Jesus and Zinchenko from Manchester City, a rare example of a team selling to their feeder club. “They have been inspired by top players, top professionals, ruthless winners for many years … and now it’s their turn to do the same. We want them to inspire our younger players … and show them what it takes to win, and the level of detail, hunger and dedication that you need to keep winning.”

Never mind winning – one of Arsenal’s challenges is to start drawing. Last year they lost 13 league games, more than the most absurd Manchester United side in decades. One of those was against Palace, a 3-0 shellacking in April which fatally undermined their confidence. Friday night is a chance for Arsenal to show that, now that they have found Jesus, they are a different proposition.


Join Rob Smyth at 8pm BST for live minute-by-minute updates on Crystal Palace 3-3 Arsenal. Yes, we’re feeling optimistic.


3 August: “Contrary to inaccurate reports from numerous media outlets this evening, no agreement has been reached with any club to sell Marc Cucurella” – Brighton release a statement insisting no deal has been struck with Chelsea for the left-back.

5 August: “Following reports from numerous media outlets this week, we can confirm an agreement has been reached with Brighton and Hove Albion for the signing of Marc Cucurella” – if this tweet confirming a £62m deal for Cucurella is anything to go by, perhaps a b@nterific mocking tone will define Chelsea’s era of Todd Boehly.

£62m, though?
£62m, though? Photograph: Chelsea FC


“Surely PSG would be the ideal club for Cristiano Ronaldo at this stage? A club that allows him to leave work early every year, having usually wrapped up the league in April and often ended their Big Cup campaign even earlier. A club representing the city of the Sun King; and a club where stars are stars and coaches are optional. Bon voyage!” – Justin Kavanagh.

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“I know this doesn’t fit The Fiver narrative, but I have to object to Ed Taylor winning the letter o’ the day by unsubtly suggesting the Premier League has not attracted new fans. I guess Sky Sports are giving teams £5bn to provide TV coverage for the same people that were watching Division One in 1992” – Graham Haslam.

“Big Website’s analysis of the Premier League teams’ chances this season has been interesting, but wordy. The season can be boringly, but succinctly, predicted as follows: Manchester City – winners; Liverpool – nearly-winners; Manchester Utd – under-achievers; Arsenal – Arsenal; Spurs – Spursy; Chelsea – Big Cup-focused; Last season’s also rans – aiming to be this season’s also rans; New boys – hoping not to be the following season’s old boys. All a bit obvious, but at least this season we get to have a break while the top players sweat buckets in a hot place” – John Lawton.

Send your letters to [email protected]. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … John Lawton.


Martin Tyler has apologised after appearing to link the Hillsborough disaster with hooliganism. The Sky Sports commentator, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about 30 years of the Premier League, referred to “Hillsborough and other hooligan-related issues”. He later apologised and said: “There is no connection at all between the Hillsborough disaster and hooliganism – I know that, and I was not implying that there was.”

Nottingham Forest have been charged by the FA over the unruly pitch invasion at the end of their playoff semi-final against Sheffield United in May.

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Eddie Howe showed he can multitask by inking his name all over a long-term Newcastle deal while also warning fans that FFP will put the brakes on the club’s spending. “We haven’t got the free rein, the free hand, that maybe has been perceived within the media,” he parped, while scrawling furiously.

It’s this kind of showboating with a whistle that earned him the deal.
It’s this kind of showboating with a whistle that earned him the deal. Photograph: Serena Taylor/Newcastle United/Getty Images

Pep Guardiola has admitted Bernardo Silva could be on his way through the Etihad’s door marked Do One. “If he stays it is perfect and in the end if he has to leave it is because football is like this; the player has a desire,” he sighed.

Maxwel Cornet is poised to swap the claret and blue of Burnley for the claret and blue of West Ham, who met the striker’s £17.5m release clause.

And Bournemouth have snapped up the goalkeeper Neto from Barcelona.


The Premier League is back – and so is our 10 things to look out for blog, baby!

Composite picture, ahoy!
Composite picture, ahoy! Composite: Shutterstock; Tottenham Hotspur FC/Getty Images; Liverpool FC via Getty Images

The Premier League’s power risks being dimmed by another season of flux, toots Barney Ronay. While David Hills looks at the new (and sometimes weird) stuff coming down the track in the coming top-flight season.

Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey gets his chat on with Ben Fisher about his muckers Usain Bolt and Raheem Sterling, his childhood in Jamaica and working under the gaze of Steven Gerrard.

Our final two pre-season Premier League previews, before it stops being the pre-season, feature Jacob Steinberg on West Ham and John Brewin running the rule over Wolves.

David Hytner on Tottenham, Djed Spence and what the acquisition of the young scamp tells us about Antonio Conte’s ambitions.

Eric Devin on the intriguing things to look out for among Ligue Urrrrrrrrn’s other 19 non-Qatari-owned clubs this term.

And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!


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