EPL Week 1 Predictions: Opening Premier League Picks, Key Players and Fixtures

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2017

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP - Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku celebrates his goal against Manchester City in the first half of their match at NRG Stadium in Houston on Thursday, July 20, 2017. It is the first time the teams have played the Manchester derby outside of the United Kingdom. (Eric Christian Smith/AP Images for International Champions Cup)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

Arsenal and Leicester City will officially get the 2017/18 Premier League season under way at the Emirates Stadium on Friday, when new Gunners striker Alexandre Lacazette figures to be a key player.

In fact, new strikers are the common theme of the opening round of fixtures. Manchester United signed Romelu Lukaku from Everton to score the goals to fire them to a title, and he gets his first chance on his Old Trafford debut against West Ham United on Sunday.

Speaking of Everton, Wayne Rooney's return to the Toffees will garner a lot of attention when the 31-year-old takes to the Goodison Park pitch against Stoke City on Saturday, looking to prove the old magic hasn't gone.

Here are the opening fixtures and picks:

  • Arsenal vs. Leicester City: Arsenal 3-1
  • Watford vs. Liverpool: Liverpool 2-1
  • Chelsea vs. Burnley: Chelsea 2-0
  • Crystal Palace vs. Huddersfield Town: Palace 3-1
  • Everton vs. Stoke City: Everton 2-1
  • Southampton vs. Swansea City: Southampton 1-0
  • West Bromwich Albion vs. Bournemouth: 1-1
  • Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Manchester City: City 3-0
  • Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur: 2-2
  • Manchester United vs. West Ham United: 2-1

Date and time details for all the fixtures are available at the Premier League's official website.

                   

Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal

Arsenal paid Ligue 1 club Lyon an initial £46.5 million to sign Lacazette earlier this summer. The deal, which could rise to as much as £52.6 million, per BBC Sport, represented a club-record fee for the Gunners.

Lacazette is being counted on for goals at Arsenal.
Lacazette is being counted on for goals at Arsenal.Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images

Such a level of investment was a tacit acknowledgement from Arsenal about their lack of consistent firepower up front. It's a reasonable admission since Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Lucas Perez have all been inconsistent when played through the middle.

Stumping up this much cash also showed the faith Gunners manager Arsene Wenger has in Lacazette to deliver the goals. He is counting on the 26-year-old to stabilise a position in a state of flux ever since Robin van Persie joined United in 2012.

There is already confidence Lacazette will live up to his price tag. In fact, former United, Real Madrid and Liverpool striker Michael Owen has backed the France international to win the Premier League Golden Boot.

Speaking to the division's official website, BT Sport analyst Owen lauded Lacazette's track record in front of goal: "Alexandre Lacazette is a proven goalscorer. He had the highest chance conversion rate in Europe’s top five leagues last season and Arsenal create plenty of chances, so he should get plenty of opportunities."

Owen believes Lacazette will capture the Golden Boot in his debut season in England.
Owen believes Lacazette will capture the Golden Boot in his debut season in England.Ian Walton/Getty Images

Laczaette's proficiency in putting chances away last season was summed up by Dave Fraser of The Sun: "Lacazette found the back of the net with exactly one-third of his shots, finding the net an astonishing 28 times, from just 84 shots."

Fraser also noted how "Arsenal's new man was the only player to shatter the 30 per cent-barrier" across Europe's top five leagues.

The pedigree for scoring goals is unquestionably there for Lacazette. Now he must prove he can do so consistently in England's ultra-competitive top flight.

The visit of a Leicester team still strong at the back will prove a good first test.

               

Wayne Rooney, Everton

Rooney is back at the club where he emerged as a 16-year-old boy wonder in late 2002. Now he's 31 and coming off a stuttering end to his decorated tenure at United.

Rooney's return will be key for Everton this season.
Rooney's return will be key for Everton this season.MB Media/Getty Images

It means the pressure is on the veteran striker to prove he still has what it takes to score at the highest level. Rooney is no lock to regularly start during his second spell with the Toffees, though.

The Merseyside club have also signed striker Sandro Ramirez from Malaga and continue to be linked with Arsenal target man Olivier Giroud, per Neil Jones of the Liverpool Echo.

Rooney has also had a busy pre-season and came in for ridicule from United fans on social media after an awkward display in Everton's UEFA Europa League qualifier second leg against MFK Ruzomberok on Thursday, per the Daily Star's Peter Truman.

Despite any early struggles during his Everton return, Rooney's experience of winning major trophies will prove invaluable to manager Ronald Koeman's squad. That's the view of former Toffees striker Kevin Campbell, who said, per another report from Jones: "To now have him in and around the squad, someone who knows how to win trophies, knows how to control gamesI think it's vital."

Rooney is out to prove he still has what it takes at the highest level.
Rooney is out to prove he still has what it takes at the highest level.MB Media/Getty Images

Rooney's best years are behind him, but he still boasts the technique, vision and scoring touch that are timeless at the top level. He will be the catalyst for Everton's bid to challenge the top six after a summer of big spending.

Getting off the mark in his second league debut in front of home support will be a great start.

                 

Romelu Lukaku

If Lacazette and Rooney are under pressure to deliver, it's nothing compared to the weight of expectation facing Lukaku at Old Trafford. He must prove he can justify the initial £75 million United paid to pry him away from Everton.

Lukaku's new manager, Jose Mourinho has already made it clear he wants more from the attacker he once shunned when in charge of Chelsea, per Charles Perrin of the Daily Express.

Mourinho is counting on a lot from Lukaku.
Mourinho is counting on a lot from Lukaku.PAUL FAITH/Getty Images

Mourinho's sentiment is echoed by United legend Ryan Giggs, who has urged Lukaku to improve, per Tim Clement of Sky Sports:

"He's still got to work on his first touch but he has already been scoring plenty at West Brom and Everton and will get more chances at Old Trafford.

What he won't have experienced is the pressure of being a Manchester United forward. He wouldn't have felt that before and you can't get away with the odd mediocre performance."

Lukaku is making a big step up, but the 24-year-old is still young enough to learn and get better.

On the surface, the Belgium international must improve against other members of the top six, after "21 of his 25 Premier League goals came against the bottom 13 teams in the league" last season, per Mark Jones of the Daily Mirror.

Lukaku is being asked to deliver on the big stage at United.
Lukaku is being asked to deliver on the big stage at United.AARON M. SPRECHER/Getty Images

However, United's problem last season was scoring against teams outside the top six. Home draws against Stoke City, Burnley and Bournemouth proved particularly damaging.

Lukaku's penchant for scoring against so-called "lesser" teams could be just what United need as they bid for the title during Mourinho's second season in charge.

West Ham will offer a stern first test, even at Old Trafford, thanks to the presence of former United striker Javier Hernandez. However, a home fixture against a side that finished 11th last season seems like the ideal opportunity for Lukaku to get his career with the Red Devils started the right way.

United, Arsenal and Everton are relying on new strikers to help them fulfil lofty ambitions in the new season. Fortunately, Lukaku, Lacazette and Rooney all look primed to make fast starts over the opening weekend.