Rated! YOUR Premier League club's best and worst player of 2017/18
Best: Nacho Monreal
The centre of Arsenal’s defence has been a disaster zone for some time, but Monreal should remain exempt from much of the criticism. Beyond his literal footballing worth, there’s also a spikiness to the Spaniard which these last few Wenger sides could have done with more of over the past few years. He’s a neat player, skilled too, but he’s also an outlier in the sense that he’s one of few in this group who visibly dislikes losing.
Since Wenger pivoted away from his trusty 4-4-2 last year, Monreal has also had to show his adaptability. Over the past year he’s been used as an orthodox left-back, occasionally a wing-back and, most recently, a centre-half. That his form has often been undisturbed by the chaos around him is quite an accolade and he has been one of few Gunners to actually enhance his reputation in 2017/18.
Worst: Shkodran Mustafi
Blunder followed blunder – 2017/18 left English supporters wondering how Mustafi ever won 20 caps for Germany. There may be a case for saying that Arsenal’s defence has long been weakened by its surroundings and, more precisely, the absence of a dependable holding midfielder, but that excuse only goes so far.
It doesn’t, for instance, explain the comedic misjudgement in the League Cup final. Or the ridiculousness of Antoine Griezmann’s equaliser in the Europa League semi. At the critical junctures of Arsenal’s season, Mustafi was unwittingly decisive and, more broadly, the erratic nature of his play appeared to destabilise the entire defensive unit.
Best: Josh King
Lewis Cook has frequently been very good – he’s an excellent player in the making – and Nathan Ake has stood out in spite of defensive issues around him, but Josh King’s value to that forward line has probably been worth just a bit more.
King’s game isn’t just about goals. He scored only eight times this season and is nobody’s idea of a prolific forward. Instead, he brings a verticality to Bournemouth which they lack when he’s not on the field, and has a range of movement which the supporting players depend on if the team is to be penetrative.
Worst: Asmir Begovic
Really, really disappointing. Begovic’s arrival was the most encouraging moment of Bournemouth’s summer, because he promised goalkeeping security that Artur Boruc couldn’t provide. After all, with a more rigid defence, Eddie Howe’s team might have challenged for a Europa League spot this season – particularly so given how weak that part of the league has been.
Sadly not, though. While becoming a back-up keeper at a big club is often presented as a no-loss scenario, spending so long on the Chelsea bench appears to have damaged the Bosnian. A formerly reliable and imposing player has become meek and insecure, with handling errors and soft goals polluting the second half of his season.
Best: Pascal Gross
Easy, because Gross was also the finest bargain signing of the season across the entire league (just £3m from Ingolstadt).
Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk were both close, each outstanding across the whole campaign, but Gross’s creativity and overall class were probably the difference between Brighton struggling manfully against relegation and actually surviving it. His winning goal against Manchester United effectively confirmed their survival too.
Worst: Anthony Knockaert
Not bad, just disappointing. Knockaert was so bright and so entertaining last year in the Championship that it was natural – although probably unrealistic – to hope for a breakthrough season. Still, there’s so much more to come from him and hopefully he realises that potential. If there’s another hope, though, it’s that he cuts back on the melodrama.
The Frenchman is prone to going down far too easily and fond of clutching his face at the slightest invitation, and that sense of theatre detracts from his ability. That’s a great shame, too, because his close control and willingness to take players on often makes him tremendous fun to watch.
Best: Nick Pope
Burnley were hardly short of candidates, but Pope warrants special praise for the challenges he faced and conquered. A couple of FA Cup appearances aside, he spent all of last season on the substitutes’ bench and, prior to that, had never played outside the Football League. Conversely, Tom Heaton had been part of the furniture in Sean Dyche’s defence, and had the relationships and understandings which come with long-term residency.
So for him not to be missed and for Pope to create a conversation about who the better goalkeeper actually is was remarkable. He may not be a high-wire, gravity-defying player, but his hands have been reliable and his reliability under crosses have taken the pressure off a defence which has been tested this season.
In August, nobody knew who Nick Pope was. In June, he’ll surely (surely?) be heading to Russia. What a rise.
Worst: Georges-Kevin Nkoudou
Nope, that didn’t work. Dig deep enough on Google and there are some very interesting stories about how loanee Nkoudou came to be a Tottenham player. Some of the anecdotes also reveal just what a ball-breaking negotiator Daniel Levy is.
Regardless, the Frenchman doesn’t seem to have much of a Premier League future.
Best: N’Golo Kante
Willian warrants a mention, so too Cesar Azpilicueta, but Kante also managed to survive his manager’s great sulk and give a fine account of himself.
Talking of “complete” midfielders is a cliché, perhaps even a lazy way of describing excellence, but he is remarkably rounded. His attacking contribution wasn’t what it was last season, probably because of Alvaro Morata’s issues and the general dysfunction in that part of the side, but his ball-retrieval and distribution make him the one player Chelsea can never be without.
Worst: Alvaro Morata
Morata may still improve and he wouldn’t be the first forward to rebound successfully from a fallow first season, but at times the Spaniard has seemed fundamentally ill-suited to Premier League life.
The abilities he does have (sharp anticipation, excellent heading technique) are dimmed by flaws (a willowy frame, brittle self-belief), which prevent them from ever shining as they probably should. A poor season and a reckless transfer from a club that now seems to recruit without rhyme or reason.
Best: Wilfried Zaha
In a category all of his own. Frank de Boer’s Palace team had more than one deficiency, but it’s not a coincidence that such an anaemic spell coincided with Zaha’s absence. Nor, obviously, was it a surprise to see him front and centre of their revival.
The defining factor is not only that obvious threat that he carries and the goals he scores, but how tightly he’s woven into nearly every aspect of his team’s play. Zaha has been the principal goal threat from open play and their most dangerous attacking player, but also Palace’s regular out-ball and a key link between defence and attack. Absolutely outstanding.
Worst: Wayne Hennessey
This doesn’t need to be unkind: Hennessey just isn’t a Premier League goalkeeper.
Palace supporters have been frustrated with him for a long time and will tell anyone who listens that their club needs to urgently invest in that position. They’re absolutely right. If Roy Hodgson continues, the improvement of his team must begin with a new goalkeeper.
Best: Jordan Pickford
Best? Really, the only notable performer. Dominic Calvert-Lewin had some encouraging moments and Seamus Coleman’s return from injury was certainly welcome, but only Pickford has been a true, consistent asset across the entire season.
Everton are a basket-case squad, ludicrously over-stocked with certain attributes and desperately short of others, and yet Pickford’s form has remained admirably impervious to those issues.
Worst: Morgan Schneiderlin
Just what has happened to him? Most likely, his transfer to Manchester United over-promoted the midfielder and left him so short of confidence that he’s been unable to recover. But then, some of the Goodison Park natives have been frustrated with his application and attitude, too, so there has to be more to the situation.
Michael Keane has been poor, Ashley Williams often calamitous and Sandro Ramirez was obviously a non-event, but all have asterisks against their failure. Schneiderlin doesn’t. He’s not under-talented, he isn’t ageing and immobile, and he didn’t have a cultural adjustment to make.
He and Idrissa Gueye should be one of the best central midfield pairings in the league and yet, although the latter has performed quite well, Schneiderlin has been of almost no consequence.