EPL TALK: How are the fans' optimism levels after the first matchday?

SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this weekly review:

First-match fan optimism level – Oh No: Arsenal

WHAT HAPPENED: It was a fairytale beginning Brentford had hardly dared to dream of: a sparkling win in their very first EPL match in history, in front of their warm and boisterous fans, beating one of the mainstays of the elite league.

But while the shock 2-0 win over Arsenal on Friday was a big boost for the newly-promoted club, it was conversely a massive dampener for the Gunners’ hopes of reviving the illustrious north London club to challenge for top honours. 

Fans were baying for blood on social media, with former stalwarts shaking their collective heads at the ailing fortunes of the club. Emmanuel Petit, part of Arsenal’s 1997/98 title-winning squad, had this damning verdict, “I’m losing interest in this club. They give me no emotions.”

Wow. Just how did it go so wrong for Arsenal? A couple of seasons ago, there was strong optimism in the air when Mikel Arteta – a former Gunner who was highly-touted to be a top-class manager – strode into Emirates Stadium. 

The Spaniard promised to weed out the underperforming players, while injecting new blood and fresh impetus into the club, which had won so stylishly under Arsene Wenger not too long ago.

Flash forward to now, and Arteta still has not got rid of the players he doesn’t want. He has not brought in exciting players. And while some of the youth-team graduates such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe do impress, the Gunners squad seem far too lightweight to mount a strong challenge for trophies.

Friday’s Brentford loss has amplified the fans’ discontent at Arsenal’s bumbling attempts at revival, and they may not have the patience to suffer another mediocre season under Arteta. The clock is ticking for the Spaniard.

WHAT’S NEXT: It does not get easier for Arsenal, as they face title favourites Chelsea and Manchester City next, making it very possible that the Gunners may go into the first international break of the season without a single point on board. Meanwhile, Brentford could build on their first success with winnable matches against Crystal Palace and Aston Villa.

First-match fan optimism level – Meh: Manchester City

WHAT HAPPENED: Yes, the defending champions lost their first match. Yes, it was to a Tottenham Hotspur side with a new manager in Nuno Espirito Santo and without star striker Harry Kane. Yes, their new £100 million signing Jack Grealish did not play well.

But, come on, no Manchester City fan is getting too worried over this loss. After all, City recovered from a really slow start last season to eventually win the EPL title by 12 points. With so much firepower in their expensively-assembled squad, they could easily embark on a long winning run at any point in the season, and be at the top of the table in a flash.

In fact, the EPL may not be the top priority of Pep Guardiola’s side this season – not when he has not won the coveted Champions League title for City’s rich Abu Dhabi owners. Last season, the Spaniard brought City all the way to the final, but made a series of baffling tactical decisions that cost them the title against Chelsea.

So this season, City have to start all over again in their obsessive pursuit for the European Cup. And there is a sneaky feeling that they may not take their EPL title defence too seriously, if it hampers their Champions League assault. 

Of course, neither Guardiola nor the City players would admit so, but judging from the opening-match defeat, their fans are either pretty confident that they will get over the setback or they don’t really give much care to the title defence. One hopes it is the former.

WHAT’S NEXT: Two home matches for Man City, the first against newly-promoted Norwich City, and then against Arsenal. Both should provide good opportunities for City to notch up victories to begin their title charge. Meanwhile, Spurs next face Nuno’s former club Wolverhampton Wanderers, before taking on another newly-promoted side, Watford.

First-match fan optimism level – Oh Yes: Manchester United

WHAT HAPPENED: While title challengers Chelsea and Liverpool began the new season with comfortable 3-0 wins over Crystal Palace and Norwich respectively, it was Manchester United’s 5-1 demolition of Leeds United at Old Trafford that got their fans really excited and optimistic about a genuine league duel with neighbours Man City.

Facing what would seem like a tricky opposition, the Red Devils carved apart the Leeds defence repeatedly, as key midfielders Bruno Fernandes (a hat-trick) and Paul Pogba (four assists) ran rampant. It was a superb statement of intent in front of their massive home crowd. 

There were murmurs that Man United’s second-place showing last season was fortunate, as 2020 champions Liverpool endured a horrendous injury crisis that derailed their season. Also, they began last season with much uncertainty; a 1-6 thrashing by Tottenham gave fans much pessimism and displeasure.

Yet, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s two-season tenure, United have improved steadily from third to second. Could they make the big leap to become EPL for the first time since 2013? 

It would take a mighty effort to overtake Man City, as well as fend off the formidable challenges of Chelsea and Liverpool, but Solskjaer has assembled his best team this time around, with the additions of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane further strengthening his already-deep squad.

The Leeds rout has further kindled their rabid fans’ optimism that this could be the year that the Red Devils win their first EPL title after the retirement of their great manager, Alex Ferguson. Make no mistake, it will require a monumental effort against tough opposition, but unlike last season, at least Man United have their fans on their side from the very first match.

WHAT’S NEXT: Man United will tackle two away matches before the international break, against Southampton and Wolves. Both seem winnable if the Red Devils can maintain their opening-day form. Meanwhile, Leeds will seek to rebound from the heavy defeat with matches against Everton and Burnley.

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By Malvi

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