Arsenal overlooked, Liverpool overhyped: pre-season predictions revisited for Christmas

Matthew Stead
Arsenal player Bukayo Saka scores

Liverpool were supposed to be champions with Arsenal out of the top four, Fulham getting relegated and Darwin Nunez outscoring Erling Haaland. Silly experts.

Take a look at our pre-season predictions in full if you absolutely must.


We start, as is convention, at the beginning. ‘Who will win the Premier League?‘ the anonymous MC asked, to which the 10 chosen correspondents offered only two answers. And weirdly enough, neither of those was Arsenal. Matt Stead, Ian Watson, Will Ford, Dave Tickner, Jason Soutar and Lewis Oldham retain their reputations – rest assured that each will leave them in tatters soon enough – while the rest were lured in by Liverpool. Oh Sarah Winterburn, John Nicholson, Ian King and Joe Williams, you silly folk. They convinced themselves with talk of adaptation, Erling Haaland settling in and the Reds winning the Community Shield. Never trust the Community Shield.


Then came the impossible question: name the rest of the top four in order. For some strange reason, no-one foresaw Newcastle storming the Champions League stage and so the most teams anyone got right in the current top four was three. Johnny, Ford and bias Spurs nonce Tickner only managed to get Manchester City and Spurs as they were all pulled in by a combination of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United. So again, Winty, Stead, King, Watson, Williams, Soutar and Oldham at least emerge without making fools of themselves. Big fan of this from the boss though, tipping the Gunners to come fourth: ‘But I have been burned by Arsenal before so I say this with almost zero conviction.’ Twice shy and all that.


And now to the opposite end of the table with relegation. Again, not one expert tipped all of the current bottom three to be there (they might have expected them to be thereabouts, mind) at this stage. In fact, six of the 10 did not pick any of Nottingham Forest, Southampton or Wolves, and the other four only said one of them. Winty was alone in forecasting Forest doom; Stead and Ford knew Wolves were doomed – as the latter put it, ‘any club paying £20.5m for Nathan Collins absolutely deserves to’ – and Johnny stuck Southampton’s name out there. Everyone but Tickner said Bournemouth. Everyone but Stead said Fulham. But this is utterly phenomenal work from King: ‘Fulham and Bournemouth, obviously, but beyond that it’s one from about five or six. I’ll stick with my previous prediction of Leicester for the good of consistency, but it might just as easily be Brentford, Leeds, Everton or more.’ That ‘or more’ is doing all the heavy lifting after naming six clubs, none of whom are in the relegation zone.


The pleasant surprise is always fun, loose a concept as it is. Crystal Palace (11th) were a popular choice for King, Ford and Soutar. Leeds (15th) was an OK shout from Watson and Oldham. Johnny and Tickner, who should have stuck to his guns of Manchester United ‘not being a hot mess’, went Forest (18th). Winty or Williams probably win this with Brighton (7th) and Brentford (10th) respectively. But take a bow, Matt Stead: ‘West Ham qualifying for Europe again seems both pleasant and surprising. They will be the only club separating the Big Six.’ Idiot.


Next was the Golden Boot which, looking at the current rankings, really ought to have been a landslide. Right? Right?! Guys?!?! You know that’s not how this works. Tickner summed it up perfectly with his opening line: ‘Not saying Erling Haaland – that’s too dull.’ He, Winty, Soutar and Oldham plumped for Sir Harold of Kane – and to be fair he is second, six goals behind and the World Cup penalty stuff will either shatter him or turn him into another ruthless goalbot. The others who thought well too far outside the box were Stead (Raheem Sterling or Gabriel Jesus), Ford (Mo Salah) and chaos fetishist Williams (Darwin Nunez). Johnny and both Ians went with the boring old Haaland pick because they are boring.


When it came to the new signing with the greatest positive impact, rightful winner Gabriel Jesus was the majority vote – although Tickner did note that ‘Arsenal can only go so far because their manager thinks you can recreate Anfield with some speakers’ – and Christian Eriksen got the nod from Johnny and King. Williams said Yves Bissouma and Stead went for the only World Cup semi-finalist of all players mentioned: Nayef Aguerd. Those who said Jesus are still fools because they all based that vote on him scoring actual goals.


To flip that, the massive flop section is always fun. No-one specifically embarrassed themselves here. A couple of shouts each for Gianluca Scamacca and Richarlison. Fabio Vieira, Jesse Lingard, Luis Sinisterra and Diego Carlos also get a mention. While picking the Aston Villa centre-half, Soutar cast shade on Taiwo Awoniyi by confidently stating he would only ‘score two league goals all season’. He is, of course, already on three. Fair play to Watson as he absolutely nailed Kalidou Koulibaly struggling ‘for reasons I can neither explain nor fathom’. It probably is either a Chelsea player or that dafty Kalvin Phillips. Poor Tickner, though: ‘Balls on the block here, and flop will be too strong a word, but Haaland doesn’t quite feel like a Guardiola player and might be a brilliant minor disruption to a well-oiled machine.’ Ah.


Over to the best bargain signing and Winty, Johnny, Watson and Soutar get gold stars for tipping Eriksen. Again, a real smorgasbord of random transfers here, from Bernd Leno (Stead) to Marc Roca (King), Aaron Hickey (Williams) and Bissouma (Ford and Tickner). Saving the best until last is Oldham with Nick Pope. Not sure why everyone went really sensible here.


In terms of PFA Player of the Year, the current favourites are Haaland, Kevin de Bruyne, Kane, Phil Foden and Jesus. Only two of those players were backed by our sorry lot, with Johnny and Oldham predicting another win for De Bruyne and Tickner and Soutar expecting a World Cup-inspired success for Kane. Hmm. The rest make for some curious reading: Jack Grealish (Watson) is 16th in the odds, Thiago (Winty) is 17th, Heung-min Son (Stead) is 23rd, Riyad Mahrez (Ford) is 34th, Trent Alexander-Arnold (King) is 53rd and Luis Diaz (Williams) is 54th.


Some points are clawed back on the first Premier League manager to leave question. Four of us knew Ralph Hasenhuttl could not continue to cling on for much longer, while there were assorted shouts for Bruno Lage, Thomas Tuchel and Steven Gerrard to either walk or be pushed. Winterburn and Tickner both seemed to be on to a good thing with Brendan Rodgers but that seems to have died down; he’s safer than nine other managers, including recently appointed Southampton head coach Nathan Jones. The hat tip goes to Williams here: ‘Scott Parker. It would’ve been incredible if he’d failed to get Bournemouth promoted last season, considering the squad he had, and I’m not yet convinced he’s a top-level manager.’


All but two of the predicted Champions League winners reached the knockout stages. While everyone backed either Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid or Liverpool, Soutar was led ever so slightly astray by blind faith in Rangers – ‘Rangers with Alfredo Morelos scoring 17 goals. In the final’ – and Ford told us that ‘knockout football is silly’. But clearly not silly enough for Barcelona to make it that far.