- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The fanfare around the arrival of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho in Manchester means London’s finest have been little more than a sideshow heading into the 2016-17 English Premier League.

Don’t, though, discount the chances of Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal being in the title conversation next May.

After putting up the worst ever Premier League title defense last season to finish 10th, Chelsea surely will be a different proposition this time round under new coach Antonio Conte and with summer signing N’Golo Kante running its midfield.

Tottenham got a taste of challenging for the title last season, eventually fading away in the final weeks to finish third, and its young and dynamic squad will be better for the experience.

Then there’s Arsenal, a regular in the top four but a team that so often flatters to deceive when the championship trophy looks to be in sight. Many say they are a world-class striker away from ticking every box.

With West Ham also seemingly on the rise and playing a first season in its new home at the Olympic Stadium, maybe there’s life outside Manchester this season, after all.

Of London’s three top sides, Chelsea could be best equipped to go all the way. The team’s unraveling last season was almost as mystifying as Leicester’s march to the title, but the squad is largely the same as the one that romped to the league trophy in 2014.

Throw in Conte and the ubiquitous Kante - following his departure from Leicester for $40 million - and Chelsea has all the ingredients of a title winner, with its motivation rebooted.

The schedule also helps. No European football this season means plenty more time with Conte - a “master tactician” in the words of Guardiola - on the training ground and extra rest between games. None of the travel and fatigue that comes with midweek games in the Champions League and Europa League.

Look how that benefited Liverpool three seasons ago, and Leicester last season. And Conte experienced a similar situation in his first season at Juventus, in 2011.

“I took over after they had finished seventh,” he said. “We didn’t play in the Champions League or the Europa League and our energy was only focused on the league. We won the title.”

New to the Premier League, Conte is sure to be one of the characters this season. The Italian is fiercely passionate about his job and can get animated to the point of wild in the technical area. But inside, there’s a calm and calculated technician who knows how to get the best out of his players, which he showed as coach at the European Championship where Italy went out in the quarterfinals against Germany on penalty kicks.

“I want to transfer my passion to my players,” Conte said on joining Chelsea.

If Eden Hazard rediscovers his form of two seasons ago and Diego Costa can focus on scoring goals rather than clashing with the opposition, Chelsea will be hard to stop. The central-midfield axis of Kante and Nemanja Matic might prove to be the best in the league.

A second-place finish last season maintained Arsenal’s record of qualifying for the Champions League every full season in Arsene Wenger’s 20-year reign, but there was frustration that a chance had been missed to end a league title drought now stretching 12 years.

One potential area of weakness may have been filled by Wenger with the signing of Switzerland defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka but the most obvious issue - the lack of a proven striker - remains glaring. Attempts to sign Leicester’s Jamie Vardy and Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette have failed, leaving the not-always-convincing Olivier Giroud as first-choice striker.

For Arsenal’s increasingly disenchanted supporters, that isn’t enough, but there’s still time for late business in the transfer window.

It’s also been relatively quiet across north London at Tottenham, whose only signings have been holding midfielder Victor Wanyama from Southampton and Vincent Janssen from the Dutch league. Janssen will provide much-needed back-up for main striker Harry Kane.

Under forward-thinking coach Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs - led by Kane, playmaker Dele Alli and a tight defense marshalled by Toby Alderweireld - played the best football on a consistent basis last season and were the main challengers to Leicester in the last two months.

This will be their last season at White Hart Lane before a move to a new ground adjacent to the current stadium: What better way to say farewell than winning the league for the first time since 1961?

Tottenham will be playing in the Champions League for the first time since 2010-11, with home games staged at Wembley Stadium to meet UEFA requirements while work is done near the stadium, so it’s an exciting time for the club.

Indeed, all three of London’s top clubs should be excited going into the new season, looking to prove there’s more to the Premier League than Manchester.

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