Anaheim, CA (PressExposure) August 13, 2009 -- The first question to ask is: will the Premier League be a four-horse race again? My answer is yes, despite the Â£100m Manchester City have spent.
I don't see how Mark Hughes' side can climb from mid-table to champions in just one season, particularly since most of the players they have signed (Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor) have been or would be useful rather than vital players at top-four clubs. If they'd signed Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Rio Ferdinand, I'd view their chances differently... but they look like a side that can challenge for a top-four place rather than the title.
Looking at the usual contenders, then, it's difficult to identify a side that have strengthened since last season. Manchester United have lost Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the two best footballers in the world, so it's difficult to conclude they will be good enough to win a fourth consecutive Premier League crown despite the astute purchases of Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia. Chelsea are virtually the same side they were last season, and have appointed a manager whose track record is better in cup competitions than league tournaments, while Liverpool have lost Xabi Alonso, signed the less impressive Alberto Aquilani (who starts the season with an ankle injury) and bought the best right-back in England in Glen Johnson.
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The prices of 3.1 (21/10) on Chelsea, 3.50 (5/2) on Manchester United and 5.0 (4/1) on Liverpool represent a 32%, 29% and 20% chance respectively of those sides winning the title, which looks about right to me. You could argue that Liverpool perhaps have the best chance of improving on last season's showing, since Fernando Torres missed 10-12 games through injury and yet they were only four points off the top at the finish - but none of the three leading candidates really appeals.
To me the underrated title contenders are Arsenal. That may go against nearly all of what you're reading in the papers right now, since Arsene Wenger is constantly criticised for his lack of spending in the transfer market and departed former captain Kolo Toure has complained about a lack of leaders in the dressing-room, but the Gunners appear to have the greatest potential for improvement.
Firstly, Andriy Arshavin will be at the club from the start of this season rather than joining midway through the campaign. The Russia international had an immediate galvanising effect at The Emirates Stadium following his arrival last January and has the potential to become one of the best players in the Premier League.
Secondly, Arsenal have a number of young players whose improvement this season will make the squad better without Wenger actually having to spend any money. Armand Traore, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Carlos Vela and Theo Walcott all fall into that category - so in six months time Arsenal's squad may well look a look a lot more rounded than their critics would have you believe.
I'm not saying the Gunners should be title favourites - but I am saying their price of 11.0 (10/1) is too big. Those odds give Wenger's side just an 11% chance of winning the title, whereas I feel their chances are better than that.
Don't forget that just two seasons ago Arsenal led the way in the title race until the final third of the campaign despite being written off before the season had began. By backing Arsenal each-way to regain the Premier League you'll earn a pay-out at a third of the odds should they finish in the top two.
Recommended bet: 1pt each-way Arsenal to win the Premier League title at 11.0 (10/1)