The first half of the Premier League has flown by and with the majority of this season’s matches completed already, it is a perfect time to examine just who has had a dream start and who has flopped at their new side. There were a plethora of signings in the summer transfer window, with players coming in on all budgets. When considering how successful these moves have been so far, I believe that the key factors are consistency, value for money, and just how integral they have become for their new paymasters. So, who have been the top 5 best and worst signings of the season to date?
Big Sam’s Senegalese sensation certainly did not draw the attention of fans worldwide when he arrived in East London six months ago. Now however, the versatile front man has taken to Premier League life like a duck to water, going on to notch up 6 goals in his first 6 starts in England’s top division. This led to him being the first man to achieve the feat since Micky Quinn for Coventry City in 1992, and in fact secured October’s Player of the Month in the process.
While West Ham United’s terrific start to the season cannot be solely attributed to the form of one player, Diafra Sakho has been a huge part of the change in fortune at Upton Park. Capable of playing through the middle by himself or using his pace on either flank, the reported £3.5 million man has threatened Premier League defences from the day he arrived. Such a low transfer fee is pittance in today’s market and represents perhaps the bargain buy of the summer.
Upon capturing the former Arsenal and Barcelona star, José Mourinho reportedly punched the air and celebrated audibly. If the first portion of this campaign is anything to go by, he was certainly not underplaying the value of Fabregas to his side. Much revered has been the Spaniard’s ability to provide chances and goals for his team-mates, frequently displaying an uncanny knack of landing the ball perfectly in their path. With 14 assists to his name at Chelsea to date, what we already knew about the pass master has been further reinstated with his form thus far.
The cost to acquire the mercurial playmaker approached £30 million; top dollar even in the times where players such as Gareth Bale are changing hands for triple that. Having already churned out a great deal of match-winning performances and with a regular frequency, Mourinho and Abramovic can already feel that it was money well spent.
So successful has Chile’s World Cup star been during his first six months under Arsene Wenger’s stewardship, one has to wonder why he was ever allowed to leave the Camp Nou. Financial stresses can be the only possible reason, with his £32 million supplying the funds for the pursuit of Luis Suarez. Sanchez has the outstanding ability to wriggle away from a defender’s attention, create himself the yard of space that he needs before dispatching a finish beyond the goalkeeper with aplomb.
With 12 goals already this term and countless defenders having nightmares, his place in the top 5 would already be safe, even disregarding the reliance that Arsenal have placed on him. Playing off either flank or holding his own down the middle against hardened Premier League defenders, several of his goals have come at vital moments for The Emirates side, clinching draws or snatching a tight victory. Without him, it is almost certain that Arsenal would find themselves off the pace for the top four challenge already.
Having lit up La Liga and on the even broader stage in Europe’s elite club competition, Diego Costa was courted by Mourinho and Chelsea for much of the latter half of last season before a deal was eventually agreed to bring him to Stamford Bridge. While his season in 2013/14 was undeniably brilliant, those heights had never been approached previously at any point in his career. Although the former Atlético striker would surely be brimming with confidence, there were doubts amongst some that he could continue the sparkling form and translate it into goals on English soil. 17 minutes of Premier League action later, and he was well on the road to proving any doubters wrong.
After scoring the first in a winning debut for his new side, Costa has not looked back. What Chelsea lacked up front last season; a hardened edge and ruthless finishing, has been discovered in abundance with their summer signing from Spain. Sitting at the top of the goalscoring charts so far with 15 strikes amassed in the league already, Costa has been the natural finisher that The Blues have been searching for. Scoring with either foot, his head, outside or inside the box, and unconventional finishes have set him on the way to the golden boot and should make Mourinho very happy with his summer acquisition.
The similarities between Bojan and Lionel Messi were clear to see and indeed discussed for much of the Stoke trickster’s career to date. His impressive rise through La Masia would surely lead to a long term career in Catalonia. However, 7 years after his breakthrough, the Potteries is his destination to exhibit the mastery of the football that is so engrained in Barcelona’s approach to youth development.
Under Mark Hughes, Bojan has flourished and added some essential physicality to his game. For the first few weeks following his bargain buy of less than £2 million, the Spaniard struggled to cope with the aggression and upper body strength of Premier League defenders. Under Hughes’ advice, a break from the limelight was taken to bulk up, and Bojan has returned at the top of his game. Everybody is aware of his dribbling ability and instantaneous acceleration, but his eye for a killer pass seems to have progressed just as far. Although a player of Bojan’s qualities and physical stature do not fit with Stoke City’s image, he has embraced the floating role behind a target man and certainly has the ability to exploit the space left between the lines. The former Roma player has knuckled down, rewarded the manager’s faith in him, and is beginning to prove on a regular basis that the skilful players can indeed perform on a rainy night in Stoke.
After his widely covered departure from a long term home at Old Trafford, Rio Ferdinand would have been desperate to prove that his days at the top of the game were not over and that the experience gained could serve him well. However, the fresh start given to him at Loftus Road by Harry Redknapp has not been a fruitful one. After a short stint in the team in the first few weeks, his most frequented location on a match day is on the substitutes’ bench.
For a player who arrived in London on a massive wage packet, a great deal was expected from him in order to fulfil the faith placed in him by Redknapp. It seems that during QPR’s pre-season, it was made all too clear that Ferdinand could no longer perform as one of only two centre-halves, instead requiring an additional pair alongside him in a back three. With the remainder of the team highly unsuited to this formation, the disturbance could not be justified when his performances failed to emerge from the dip. I cannot see much of a future for Rio Ferdinand at either QPR or even in the Premier League as a whole, and the Londoners would do well to get him off the wage bill as soon as possible.
Not so Super Mario came to Anfield with huge expectation on his shoulders and has not even come close to delivering. Balotelli’s first few matches for Liverpool were actually relatively promising; a determined display against Spurs on his debut and scoring a crucial goal against Ludogorets. Since then, motivation has seemed to evaporate and has unfortunately become partnered with a selfish attitude which, whilst not producing on the pitch, is a highly frustrating trait. Famously having attempted more shots on goal than any other Premier League player so far this season, he has yet to net on the domestic scene.
With a recent return to fitness, the limited play time that he has been offered speaks volumes for Brendan Rodgers’ current thoughts on the maverick. When, and not if, he is sold, I would be amazed if Liverpool could even recoup half of the £16 million they splashed out on the Italian less than six months ago.
Hatem Ben Arfa:
It would be an understatement to say that Hatem Ben Arfa’s footballing career has stagnated over the last 24 months. From the levels the Frenchman was at when he beat half the opposition to score a goal running from his own half, only a few weeks ago he was hauled off before half-time in a game for Hull City. Steve Bruce criticised his effort, desire, and mental approach in the post-match comments. It is not up for debate that Ben Arfa possesses outstanding natural ability and flair, but he will forever be held back if the team’s needs are not appreciated too.
After enduring a less than pleasant 12 month spell at St James’ Park, Bruce secured a loan deal for the French winger in what was seen as somewhat of a coup at the time. Ben Arfa was seen to be a player who had been frozen out but only needed his talent nurtured to become a threat to almost any side in the not too distant future. In a brutal assessment of his move to the K.C. Stadium, Hull City terminated the loan prematurely and, unwanted on Tyneside, Ben Arfa has ended up in his native France with Nice.
For a player who can dribble past others at will when on his game, and even pop up with the odd spectacular strike, he had the chance at Hull City to re-establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. Hardly an opportunity that he grabbed with both hands.
Some people may believe that this is a controversial choice but in my opinion, Romelu Lukaku has been a huge disappointment since his £28 million permanent switch to Everton in the summer. This was a club record fee and after his displays on loan last campaign were a significant factor in the Merseysiders having a successful year, it is entirely understandable that the Everton faithful expected a great deal from the big Belgian.
Whether it is as a result of this fee weighing heavily on his shoulders, or in fact he is not quite at the level to perform consistently for a top club, but Lukaku has not even approached the heights of last year. Everybody thought Mourinho to be crazy for not giving the youngster a chance to shine at Stamford Bridge, but possibly his true colours are starting to emerge. While it has to be said that he has still bagged a few goals for Martinez’s Everton this season, the numbers are hardly as impressive as last term. Indeed, his overall build-up play and movement have not been up to scratch. He certainly has time on his side and the Goodison Park crowd will not lose faith in him just yet, but Lukaku needs to start justifying his price tag.
Another Premier League side who broke the bank and their transfer record in the process was West Brom when they picked up Brown Ideye for £10 million. Six months later, and fairly consistent rumours suggest that they would be more than willing to listen to offers for the Nigerian. Having only played 11 times for The Baggies thus far, Ideye has only been able to muster 1 goal in his first season in England.
After ex-manager came out with some extraordinary comments regarding the forward’s fitness issues, a few consecutive appearances have at least now been achieved. However, not nearly enough has been shown by the man who cost more than any other signing in West Brom’s history. I imagine that a move to a European league is in order, perhaps suiting his style of play more and I can only hope for fans at The Hawthorns that the club can receive an offer at least approaching the £10 million they spent.
Let us know @TBRFootball who you think have been putting in consistently brilliant performances for their new clubs, and who has flopped since the summer at pastures new.
Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive
Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.
Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.
But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.
Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.
For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.
Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.
But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.
After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:
“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.
“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”
“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”
With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.
When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.
Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.
But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.
Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…
Özil against Watford was falling down when a gust of wind went past him. It was appalling. Welbeck yesterday was one of the worst dives
— Joe B ??????? (@JblincoTHFC) March 16, 2018
Only just seen the Welbeck dive, he must be embarrassed even appealing for that.
— Joshhh (@JJonesTHFC) March 16, 2018
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
If you had any doubt about how this country treats Dele Alli (one of its brightest prospects in years) look at the difference in how the media and in particular fans, are talking about the #Welbeck dive. ? #COYS #THFC
— Gary Ford (@Spursfordie) March 15, 2018
Imagine if this was @dele_official who did this and the media onslaught! Danny Welbeck you diving cheat! Hope the likes of @talkSPORT @GaryLineker @alanshearer to name a few subject Danny to the same treatment they have subjected Dele too this season! https://t.co/MXFMAkOGcN
— H (@LittleMissTHFC) March 15, 2018
— Lucas (@MoughtTHFC) March 15, 2018
Welbeck is a cheat end of. Ruined a good game.
— THFC (@RaoullyT69) March 15, 2018
Look how everyone destroys Dele over diving. No one will comment on Welbeck’s dive. Shocking! #THFC
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
— Steve Williams (@spurssteve69) March 15, 2018
Welbeck dives. Dele will be in trouble in the morning. #THFC
— Stephen Vincent (@StevieV14) March 15, 2018
If Dele Alli did what Welbeck just did?
— Billy Adams (@ThfcAdams) March 15, 2018
Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?
Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.
Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.
They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.
These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.
Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.
In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.
The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.
Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.
Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.
Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.
The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.
Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.
It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.
When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.
If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.
There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.
Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.
It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.
It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.
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