Let battle commence!

With the main challengers being Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Bobby Robson and a couple of French crusaders, the Premiership is becoming more like a medieval battle than a football league.

Arsene Wenger has thrown his gauntlet at Ferguson's feet and the duel is about to begin again, while Robson and Gerard Houllier will watch the joust carefully, ready to lance their opponents should they show signs of being unwary.

If history is anything to go by then Manchester United, stung by ending last season trophyless, should romp home in every competition in the new campaign.

That is what happened in 1998-99, after Arsenal had won the double. With Jaap Stam and Dwight Yorke signed in the summer, United went one better, adding the Champions League to the two domestic trophies.

There are, however, different circumstances this time which indicate that this new season will be just as nail-biting as the last.

Firstly, there is nothing like suffering disappointment to inspire players' to new heights. When Arsenal won the double, Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit went on to win the World Cup too, and the following season was inevitably a comedown.

Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars looked burned out from their long World Cup campaign too, and in the end Arsenal were relieved to finish second in the Premiership.

Fast-forward four years, and this time Vieira, Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord will all return after a dismal World Cup, and no doubt anxious to prove themselves once more.

Furthermore, Bergkamp, Edu and Francis Jeffers have had the summer off, as had Robert Pires, who should be back from his serious knee injury at the start of October.

Player burn-out is a real problem for Premiership sides, especially those at the top who have to play so many Champions League games too, but Arsenal's players will have had as much rest as many.

Ferguson too will have players anxious for the fray after missing out on the World Cup. Roy Keane is one of course, as well as Ryan Giggs, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

In Nicky Butt, he has a player who spent much of last season on the bench but who made such an impact on the world stage that he was drawing admiring remarks from the likes of Pele. He too will be desperate to prove another point to his manager.

Liverpool boss Houllier will have to hope that the demands of Korea and Japan have not taken too much out of Michael Owen and Emile Heskey.

It should all mean another mouthwatering contest, with Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool once again the main contenders, and Newcastle hovering in the wings waiting to take advantage of any slips.

Leeds and Chelsea will have to really raise their game if they are to break into the top four, and certainly the new man at the helm at Elland Road will need some time to settle in.

Other teams who could challenge for Europe include Tottenham and Blackburn, who flirted with relegation but ended up finishing 10th and will be in the UEFA Cup courtesy of their Worthington Cup success.

Fulham, Aston Villa, West Ham and Middlesbrough should maintain mid-table respectability but it could be a tense season for Everton, Sunderland, Charlton, Bolton and Southampton.

At the other end of the table, it will be a surprise of major proportions if the feat of last season is repeated, when all three promoted clubs survived.

West Brom and Birmingham have their work cut out, and if either finishes the season fourth-from-bottom that will be a great result.

As for Manchester City, it will be fascinating to see how they fare under Kevin Keegan. Given his track record, squad and buying power they could easily finish in the top half of the table.

All this week, femail.co.uk will be looking at the Premiership teams, with features on players and managers.

Tomorrow we look at the top contenders for the title - Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle United and Leeds United.

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