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Vieira lifts Arsenal for title defence

Published: Friday 13 August 2004, 16.27CET
Arsenal FC start the new English season boosted by the news that Patrick Vieira is staying at Highbury. features

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Published: Friday 13 August 2004, 16.27CET

Vieira lifts Arsenal for title defence

Arsenal FC start the new English season boosted by the news that Patrick Vieira is staying at Highbury.
"You win some, you draw some," state the T-shirts commemorating Arsenal FC's unprecedented unbeaten run to the 2003/04 English title.

Vieira boost
It is well over a year since Arsenal were defeated in the Premiership, and a loss that would have been especially keenly felt has been avoided with Patrick Vieira's decision to stay at Highbury and snub Real Madrid CF. "My love for Arsenal and the ties I have here were too strong for me to break," said the Gunners captain.

Money no object
Vieira's departure could have had a greater impact on the title race than even Roman Abramovich's millions at Chelsea FC or the arrival at Stamford Bridge of UEFA Champions League-winning coach José Mourinho. The latter presides over €136m worth of new talent - more than the rest of the league has spent combined.

Drogba threat
Striker Didier Drogba (€36m) is perhaps the most exciting of Chelsea's seven signings, but defender Ricardo Carvalho (€30m) could prove the most influential as his ambitious young manager bids to continue his extraordinary run of success.

Ferguson challenge
While Wenger, constrained by Arsenal's Ashburton Grove stadium project, has spent sparingly, Sir Alex Ferguson has dipped into Manchester United FC's formidable reserves in an attempt to avoid missing out on the title for the first time in successive seasons since the Premiership began in 1992.

'Worst start'
In come Gabriel Heinze (€10.5m) and Alan Smith (€10.4m), whose excellent goal in Sunday's 3-1 FA Community Shield defeat by Arsenal offered a rare highlight in what Ferguson described as his "worst start" to a season. With nine key players missing, Wednesday's UEFA Champions qualifying win against FC Dinamo Bucuresti came as welcome relief, but Sunday's opener against Chelsea will be more testing.

Foreign feel
Mourinho heads a new contingent of foreign managers, with Rafael Benítez installed at Liverpool FC and former France coach Jacques Santini paired with Dutch sporting director Frank Arnesen to improve Tottenham Hotspur FC's fortunes.

Gerrard key
A top-three finish might be asking too much of Valencia CF's title-winning coach, but Benítez started his Anfield career on a high with victory in the Champions League at Grazer AK. The decision of Steven Gerrard, scorer of both Liverpool goals in Austria, to stay is the best news of the summer for Liverpool fans, who could yet tolerate Michael Owen's departure to Madrid should Djibril Cissé (€21m) live up to billing.

Race for fourth
The battle for European places will again be compelling. Newcastle United FC, in Bobby Robson's last year in charge, and even Birmingham City FC and Middlesbrough FC - ahead of their first continental campaign - have all been active on the transfer front.

Charlton surprise
Aston Villa FC are eyeing Europe too, while Charlton Athletic FC could spring a surprise after a successful summer for manager Alan Curbishley; Denmark's Dennis Rommedahl and England's Danny Murphy look particularly good buys.

Cottage return
Fulham FC are lifted by their return to Craven Cottage as Chris Coleman, like Paul Sturrock at Southampton FC, begins his first full term in office, while Sam Allardyce should ensure Bolton Wanderers FC consolidate on their eighth-place finish. Blackburn Rovers FC could improve with Barry Ferguson's recovery from injury.

Survival goal
Survival will be the priority for Portsmouth FC and promoted West Bromwich Albion FC, Norwich City FC and Crystal Palace FC. Financial problems have also set the alarm bells ringing at Everton FC and Manchester City FC; their fate could depend on whether they hang on to coveted strikers Wayne Rooney and Nicolas Anelka.

Last updated: 13/08/04 17.40CET

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