Premiership Predictions III - The Battle for Qualification

Ah, at last! The heady reaches of the top half of the table, wherein we scope out who will lead the charge into the continental campaign next term. Before we get to the top four that will book their passage into the Champions' League, let's examine those who will be fighting tooth and nail for those precious millions of Euros - uh, I mean, precious qualifying spots in the UEFA Cup. Right, pride and accomplishment, pride and accomplishment, it's got nothing to do with the lining of gilded pockets, right?

Fighting For Table Scraps

5. Arsenal - Whaaa? Have I gone mad to break up the happy family of the Big Four? Arsenal have a glut of talented youngsters, but there will be a massive, gaping hole in the missing Henry. The Gunners struggled without their talisman last year, and I don't know that they've necessarily addressed his loss yet. The potential is there for greatness, but I don't see enough veteran heads and I don't see a team that can react when they get socked hard in the face by the likes of Bolton and Blackburn. Also, they may feel the sting of the African Cup of Nations more than most.

6. Newcastle - The Magpies have added a good deal of attacking talent, but last season's big problem was the defense. I think Big Sam can get that sorted and spark a bit of a revival at St. James' Park. I expect a slow start as the team gets sorted, but then they'll embark on the sort of brutal, "efficient" run of results that always stood Allardyce's army of outcasts at Bolton in such good stead. Can he bring trophies to Tyneside? I think a cup run would be the best bet cause it's not happening in the league, though they should squeak into Europe.

7. Everton - Depending upon cup results, seventh may not be enough for the Toffees to get back into Europe. This was a decent side last year and they've tweaked the roster a bit and made some minor upgrades, with maybe one or two more possible before the transfer window closes. The challenge will be for Moyes to avoid the "one season up, next season down" curse that's haunted the club during his tenure. I think they've increased the depth of talent enough to avoid that fate.

8. Aston Villa - Martin O'Neill has assembled a decent, if not terribly deep, squad and I think he may have pieces yet to add. If he can get rid of the horrible spell that destroyed the middle part of their campaign last year, they should be pushing for a spot in Europe. Carew has the potential to be a real factor for the Villains, and I see his form as the key to their season.

9. Blackburn - Rovers were a strong mid-table side last season and they look to have added some forward punch during the summer with the acquisitions of Rigters and Santa Cruz, who should take some of the scoring burden off of Benni McCarthy. Hughes' side will never lack for fight, and they should be there or thereabouts when the qualifying battle begins in earnest.

Well, that leaves us with our top four by process of elimination, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to see how I see that particular quartet shaping up. Also, I'll be trotting out the final installment of "Eeny, Meeny" and we'll see who I've thrown my lot in with for the season ahead on the brink of the first balls struck in anger. Until tomorrow!

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