Introducing YOUR Premier League club’s breakout star for 2016/17
Arsenal – Alex Iwobi
He has an eclectic range of attacking abilities which make him him dangerous in all sorts of forward positions.
Iwobi has really already emerged. Eight starts, two goals and regular flashes of ability in 2015/16 suggested that a tipping point had been reached, but 2016/17 should see his evolution from curiosity to outright star. He has an eclectic range of attacking abilities which make him him dangerous in all sorts of forward positions and, with some refinement and greater upper-body strength, he could become a regular game-changer in any number of them.
The Nigerian is fascinating because he could be anything at all: an outright forward, a supporting striker, or a winger. He's a malleable footballer with the ability to specialise in several different areas and, because that narrowing process will largely take place over the next 12 months, he's one of the players to watch in the division as a whole rather than just at Arsenal.
Meanwhile, although still some years away from league football, Reiss Nelson might also appear in the early rounds of the League Cup. An inside forward with an eye for goal, Nelson will enter the season off the back of an excellent U17 European Championship and his attacking movement and dizzying array of skills makes him someone to be aware of even now.
Bournemouth – Lys Mousset
Le Havre have a proven record for developing excellent players (Paul Pogba, Steve Mandanda, Dimitri Payet, Riyad Mahrez) and Mousset could well be the next.
There would have been a time when spending £5m on 20-year-old French forward with no top division experience would have been seen as a risk, but in today's market and within the context of the Premier League's wealth, Bournemouth's decision to recruit Mousset from Le Havre looks a sensible gamble.
Fourteen goals at Ligue 2 level illustrate his promise and, while there are natural caveats over the value of edited highlights, it's not hard to see what caught Eddie Howe's eye. Sharp acceleration, good height, calm finisher; Mousset ticks a lot of boxes, although the speed with which he makes decisions in front of goal will need to hasten if he’s to be a success.
According to French Football Weekly, he has a good "sense of tactical and positional awareness" and "like most players who emerge from the club’s academy, his technical ability on the ball (was) vastly superior to most other players of his age in Ligue 2".
The newly fit Callum Wilson will stand in the way of first-team opportunities, as will the improving Benik Afobe, but Le Havre have a proven record for developing excellent players (Paul Pogba, Steve Mandanda, Dimitri Payet, Riyad Mahrez) and Mousset could well be the next.
Burnley – Andre Gray
Gray is already in his mid-twenties, but his career's sharp trajectory makes him worth his place on this list: from Luton Town in the Conference to the Premier League in two years.
- 2012-13 (Conference): 17 goals, 44 apps
- 2013-14 (Conference): 30 goals, 44 apps
- 2014-15 (Championship): 16 goals, 45 apps
- 2015-16 (Championship): 25 goals, 43 apps
Originally a beneficiary of Brentford's statistic-based talent identification processes, he earned his move to Turf Moor off a single impressive season under Mark Warburton. After then moving north for £6m, he was collecting the Championship Player of the Season and Golden Boot awards in Burnley's colours, having scored 23 goals from 41 starts.
A good finisher with smart vertical movement and a harrying, hassling approach which will serve him well in the Premier League, he should translate to the top level. Paul Walsh, who runs Burnley's matchday media for local radio station 2BR, acknowledges that Gray retains some rawness but sees him as someone who, after adjusting to the thinner air, will have all the attributes needed to score goals in a higher division.
Chelsea – Nathaniel Chalobah
Chelsea have a lot of talent at youth level and Lewis Baker, Tammy Abraham and Charly Musonda are all very intriguing. In the short term, however, Chalobah is probably best positioned to make significant strides.
Having grown up as a centre-half, his defensive attributes are very sound, but his year on loan at Napoli has evidently added a welcome degree of composure to his possession play. He was never a regular at Stadio San Paolo, but his time abroad appears to have sanded away some of his rougher edges and made him at least eligible for one of Chelsea's deep-midfield roles.
A year on from his clunky performances in the European U21 Championship, he was a smooth, composed presence at the base of the English midfield in Toulon and quietly one of the tournament’s best players.
As a broader point, this is absolutely the time for the club to start using their academy to supplement the first XI. Though it's never outwardly been Chelsea's focus, the level of ability they possess between the U16 and U19 age groups is arguably more concentrated than it is anywhere else in the country. That's an opportunity which should not be wasted.