As Manchester City prepared to begin the English Premier League season this weekend as the reigning title holder, crosstown rival Manchester United stole the spotlight in usual fashion.

In signing Dutch forward Robin Van Persie, the Red Devils plucked last year's top scorer (30 goals) from London archrival Arsenal and will pair him alongside Wayne Rooney, who was second with 27. While the 29-year-old Van Persie is in the prime of his career, there may not be enough soccer balls to go around at Old Trafford.

Cost-conscious Arsenal, which finished third last year, has plenty of fans who aren't happy, too. But it earned a rumored $36 million for its trouble and has a host of replacements: Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla.

For the first time since 1995, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea are all expected to be doing the chasing. Manchester City remains the favorite thanks to the $1 billion spent on players since being taken over by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour in 2008.

- Craig Stouffer

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com