The way I see it- Title Contenders for the Premiership 2003/2004

Last updated : 13 August 2003 By Jason Hogan
So, without further ado, here's my view on the title contenders are though I will leave the best (and no, I'm not talking about that lot from Old Trafford) until last. Instead I will start with…


Not for the first time, Gerard Houllier has had a busy summer. He has actually made five more new signings this summer though the two that obviously stand out for everyone are the captures of Harry Kewell and Steve Finnan.

Houllier has had a habit of signing someone and saying that this player is the final piece of the jigsaw and Harry Kewell is that latest recruit to have that tag slapped on him.

There is precious little doubt that boy is a good player and, on his day, he can be even more than that but Kewell has been highly inconsistent in the last two seasons and if he is going to fulfil Houllier's latest prophecy then he will need to improve his consistency and quick.

Finnan is also a good player and, like Kewell, he potentially gives Liverpool a new dimension at right back. He likes to take people on in the last third of the pitch, he will get crosses in and defensively his style reminds me a lot of Dennis Irwin.

Yet, having briefly talked about the merits of those two players, I just have to wonder whether they will able to play their natural games within a Liverpool team that generally do not play the game in an expansive way.

There have been a lot of faces that have changed at Anfield under Houllier's stewardship but over that time the name of the game has always been the same.

Houllier, unlike Wenger, Ferguson, Robson or even Claudio “the Tinkerman” Ranieri, does not send his team out to win matches week in and week out- he sends them out to avoid losing and take things from there.

You can't blag your way to the Premiership title by using smash and grab tactics. They simply will not work every week but that's the mentality Liverpool have under Houllier and I don't see that mentality changing despite the new acquisitions and, because of this, I don't think that Liverpool will ever win the league whilst Houllier is the manager.


Let's cut to the chase. We all know there is a new regime down at the Bridge, who is at the forefront of the regime and what has been spent there as a result.

All I can say is, in spite of all the money that has been spent and on whom, I think that Chelsea only actually have two, maybe three players currently on their books that would get into the Arsenal side - and they were already at the Bridge long before the Cossack from the King's Road came along- Eidur Gudjohnsen, John Terry and William Gallas.

I'm not saying that there is anything wrong in buying players for the future and (with the exception of Veron) the fact that Chelsea have bought players of ages ranging between 19 and 25 only serves to endorse that policy.

However if you scratch a little below the surface, Chelsea did not buy these young players for peanuts, they have been brought in a net cost of £60 million.

Now, as the saying goes, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. So, irrespective of age, if you splash out top (maybe even excessive) dollars for players particularly in the current climate and give these players to match, then it would not be unreasonable to expect these players to come in and make a huge difference to the fortunes of a club immediately and not in two or three years time.

Of course football doesn't work like that. Maybe this little West London revolution may bring success but let's put it this way- I think a lot more time AND money from the Cossack's sugar fund will have to be spent up before this lot become champions of this country.


I'm sure that there are plenty of football mad Geordies that tune into Sky Sports news on a regular basis and I wonder what went through their minds when new broke that Bobby Robson had effectively put the cheque book in cold storage until January.

True, Robson has spent in excess of £20 million over the last calendar year bringing in the likes of Bramble, Viana, Woodgate and Darren Ambrose.

It's also true that the Magpies are not in the Champions League proper as yet and therefore, adopting a stance of financial prudence is not altogether a bad thing.

However, when I look at the Newcastle squad, particularly in midfield, I have to admit that I am slightly surprised all the same.

Let me illustrate what I mean. Cast your mind back to last season and Newcastle's home game with United. The Magpies, who were beaten 6-2 that day, started that game with a midfield consisting of Robert, Dyer, Jenas and Solano. If I remember correctly, their opponents in midfield that day were Giggs, Butt, Keane and Solskjaer.

What was the difference? Well, the Geordies may have had a midfield consisting of players high on energy and skill but then again none of them really have a defensive side to their nature.

Who would YOU have picked from this lot to win you a 50-50 ball in central midfield when it really mattered? Kieron Dyer or Roy Keane? Jermaine Jenas or Nicky Butt? No contest really, is it?

That was decisive on that day and that is the root of my argument now; Newcastle do not have anybody that you could earmark as a truly defensive, ball winning central midfielder. I know that they have brought in Lee “ the master of the cheap shot” Bowyer in to add a bit of bite (plus a couple of fists, a knee and a couple of elbows) to their midfield but again he is not renowned for his ability to screen his back four, is he?

So, whilst they do not have that type of player at their disposal, even as an option, I feel that they will continue to fall short in terms of winning the title.
They will be, as usual, good fun to watch though.

Manchester United

Anyone that knows me will also know by now that I'm loathe to waste too much time talking about this lot.

As an Arsenal fan, all I can say is that they are better bet for the title than all of the above. Time will tell as to whether they will necessarily be better than the last of the contenders.


See, told you I would save the best until last, didn't I? I know, I WOULD say that, wouldn't I?

Am I going to apologise for it? Not whilst there is a “Y” in every day of the week.

That said, I'm not stupid enough to think that you can't change the record books and whether I like it or not (and believe me, I don't), I know that the Arsenal are faced with the task of reclaiming a title that they really should be defending instead.

Unlike a certain club I could mention, we do not have a Russian sugar daddy that can go around buying just about everything that moves. Yet at the same time, I think that it is significant that the likes of Henry and Vieira are still very much with the Arsenal and were never remotely interested in joining a regime that even now is based on a mixture of cash, froth and, in relative comparison to what Arsenal have done over the last 15 years alone, little substance.

Maybe there will be a day when Vieira does leave Arsenal. In fact I can honestly say that even if Vieira DOES go on to sign a new contract this week, it would be no surprise to me if he then walked out of Highbury and moved to Real Madrid this time next year.

Whether my theory is right only time will tell but right now, Messrs Vieira, Pires and Wiltord all know that from a footballing point of view, there is no other place in Europe for them all to be.

All that really remains for me to ponder now is whether we will ultimately put the record straight.

Well, on one hand, if the players we have are half the men I think they are then there should be absolutely no need to motivate them.

On the other hand I would be lying if I said that I do not have concerns over our defensive set up. For a start, we will be up the old creek without a paddle if Campbell is missing from the line up for any significant period of time over the season particularly when you take into account that there is no longer any guarantees whatsoever that Keown will remain fit and injury free for most of this campaign.

It's interesting (and indeed significant) that Kolo Toure has come almost out of nowhere to become Campbell's central defensive partner in Keown's absence but although he has acquitted himself fairly well in recent games, not least in Sunday's game against “you know who”, the fact is that the boy is still very raw and far from tried and tested.

In short, the way we defend over the course of this season will determine our fate exactly like it did last year. I just hope that lightning doesn't strike us down twice in a row.