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Premier League 2019-20 fans’ verdicts, part one: Arsenal to Liverpool

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Arsenal

Despite our lowest finish in decades, the faithful seem remarkably optimistic about “project Arteta”. When we overcame our Man City hoodoo in the Cup semi it felt like a real watershed – so it was maybe fitting that we fell flat on our faces at Villa only a few days later. A timely reminder that we lack the resources to mount a sustained title challenge. Leaving Özil and Guendouzi out in the cold was controversial, but as a contrast to the vagaries of Emery’s tenure, the uncompromising intent to impose his vision was refreshing. Seems he’s striving to build the sort of spirit and mentality which might ultimately result in an outfit we can be proud of.

Stars/flops The fearlessness of our youngsters has been great: Martinelli, Saka, Tierney and others. Honourable mention also to the stalwart efforts of stand-in keeper Emiliano Martínez.

What needs to happen this summer? It’s all about Aubameyang. If he fails to commit, the focus is all up front. If he does, Mikel can sort out other issues, such as: can Saliba and Mari save us from having to bolster our backline? And if Özil and Guendouzi are out, how do we rebuild a more creative midfield?

In an otherwise grim year, what one moment made you smile most? Seeing a Premier League player finally wield their influence for positive social change: Marcus Rashford forcing Bozo into a U-turn over free school meals.

• Bernard Azulay goonersdiary.co.uk @GoonerN5

Aston Villa

Obviously, thrilled to finish 17th – but the Roy Keane in me would point out that we were dead and buried pre-lockdown and we benefited from playing four teams in flip-flops in the last fortnight. I’m delighted with, and for, the manager, though, who scripted the rescue act while mourning his father. He’s had limited raw material to work with but has learned quickly, shored us up at the back later on (props to John Terry there as well) and strikes me as a really good bloke. The fact he’s a Villa fan doubtless helped dull the social media fury when things looked dark. It’s easy to forget he also took us to Wembley this year.

Stars/flops The head of recruitment has been fired, which says a lot about how well the board think we spent £140m this year. Fishing for gold in the Belgian and Turkish leagues is a flawed strategy and none of the gambles worked. Fortunately, Grealish was just magnificent for almost every minute of the season, in terms of leadership, workrate and creative brilliance. It was fitting he should score the survival goal.

What needs to happen this summer? We need to spend heavily again – but on five players, not 12. A proven scorer costs £40m+, but that’s still better than three non-scorers for £15m each. And as for Jack … history tells us that losing a superstar in their pomp (Gray, Platt, Yorke) doesn’t always mean calamity, but I’d be gutted. The romance of having genuine Villa fans as manager and captain has generated such a feelgood factor that to lose it would be a shame in these fake, badge-kissing times. Give us one more year Jack, then go to Spain.

What made you smile? The continued brilliance of When Saturday Comes magazine. In trying times, it’s been a real tonic.

• Jonathan Pritchard

Bournemouth

It’s hard not to focus on those VAR decisions in the Burnley game in February: disallowing a goal for a dubious handball, then turning another goal for us into a penalty for them for a shoulder-ball. It was devastating. To make it worse, we then had the spectacle last month of VAR and goalline technology both failing to notice Sheffield United scoring against Aston Villa – which would have kept us up. But it wasn’t just about that, of course. Eddie Howe made mistakes – but he is one of us. We wouldn’t have had five years in the division without him.

Stars/flops Aaron Ramsdale was our best player in his first Premier League season, Nathan Aké was consistent enough to impress Manchester City – but Ryan Fraser was the obvious flop. One goal and an early exit.

What needs to happen this summer? The squad needs a pretty big revamp – but at this stage I’m more worried about who we can hold on to than new signings. That said, we really do need a couple of new options up front, whether Josh King and Callum Wilson go or not. I’d also expect a centre-back, and a left winger to replace Fraser.

What made you smile? My friend telling his two young sons that they may not see Bournemouth in the Premier League again, to be met by two disbelieving faces. They’ve only ever known top-flight success …

• Peter Bell afcbchimes.blogspot.co.uk; @cherrychimes

Brighton

To put it in football terms: I’m over the moon, for two reasons. We’ve got our fourth season in the Premier League ahead of us, and Graham Potter has us playing some lovely, exciting football. Our first win of this year - over Arsenal after a late goal from Neal Maupay in our first match back in June - showed we’d used lockdown well and focused on particular games. We never looked like going down after that.

Stars/flops Potter has been excellent. Tariq Lamptey, Alexis MacAllister, Leandro Trossard, Maupay and Yves Bissouma look really exciting and can only improve. We’ve had a year of Potterball and the players seem increasingly comfortable with it as time has gone on. As usual, no flops.

What needs to happen this summer? We could do with another striker (who couldn’t?) but we’ve landed a great signing in Adam Lallana, and hopefully defender Ben White will stay with us now after starring on loan at Leeds. I’m very optimistic that we can be more than just survivors next season - we’ll be gunning for the top 10.

What made you smile? Tempting fate maybe, but it’s hard not to smirk at the thought of Leeds fans coming to terms with the news that we’re not going to sell White to them. He was comfortably their player of the season.

• Steph Fincham

Burnley

The final game was disappointing, but it’s still been another exceptional season. We’ve had ups and downs but the end result is a top half finish – and to go past 50 points is something very special for our club. We were the only team to take a point from Liverpool at Anfield and we won at Manchester United for the first time in 57 years. It’s largely thanks to the best manager in English football. The longer he stays with us the better.

Stars/flops So many stars, including Nick Pope, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Dwight McNeil and leading scorer Chris Wood. But the whole squad have done well, really – with one obvious exception. Ben Gibson didn’t like the subs bench, so went crying all the way back to watch Middlesbrough instead.

What needs to happen this summer? Jeff Hendrick and Aaron Lennon have gone and will need replacing. Ideally we’ll focus on finding a wide player, a central midfielder, a young right-back who could eventually step up, and a central defender who doesn’t whinge. Most importantly, though, we need to keep Sean Dyche. I have to pinch myself time and time again at what he’s given our club since he walked through the doors in October 2012.

What made you smile? Looking back, it’s the trip to Newcastle in February. It’s not that it was a good game – it was a grim 0-0 – but it was the last time I was able to travel with my friends to an away game. I’ve really missed that in the last few months. As have so many other football fans.

• Tony Scholes uptheclarets.com; @utcdotcom

Chelsea

Kepa Arrizabalaga imploding so dramatically was a surprise to me, and on too many occasions our defence went totally missing – 54 goals against and 12 defeats tells a story. But it’s still been a fantastic achievement to finish fourth with a transfer ban, and with it being Frank Lampard’s first season managing in the division. He’s been great, as has his use of academy players.

Stars/flops Mount, Kovacic, Pulisic, Abraham, Willian and Giroud were the outstanding players for me. All of them had indifferent spells at times, but all showed resilience and bounced back to great effect. Special mention, too, to Pedro who has been a brilliant servant and sadly didn’t get the send-off he deserves. As for flops: Kepa, Rüdiger, Christensen and Emerson were all a disaster at the back.

What needs to happen this summer? Some great transfer work has already been done, but there’s plenty to do. We still need a keeper – Jan Oblak or Nick Pope would do nicely. I’d also go for Ben Chilwell or David Alaba at left-back and Lewis Dunk at centre-back, I’d loan out Kepa (assuming no one will buy him) and would cash in on Rüdiger, Barkley, Kanté, Emerson, Batshuayi and Moses.

What made you smile? Lampard giving it to Klopp and his bench during the 5-3 defeat. Frank comes across as a nice guy in the media, but that moment highlighted the passion and aggression of a born winner. A close second was seeing Mourinho and Spurs celebrating Europa League qualification.

• Paul Baker In memory of Trizia Fiorellino

Crystal Palace

It’s been a traditional Palace season: all ups and downs, ending on a proper down with seven defeats in a row post-restart. To be the only team ever to avoid Premier League relegation without scoring more than twice in a game says it all. Beating Brighton at the Amex and doing the double over West Ham meant we finished above both, but in truth the football has been dull and predictable. Given the age of the first team and lack of striking options, though, you could argue that Roy Hodgson has performed a minor miracle in keeping us up.

Stars/flops Jordan Ayew was a revelation: surely the best £2m ever spent by a club. He won Players’ Player of the Year, the goal of the season award, and the Fans’ Player of the Year. Cahill was a very canny free signing and Guaita impressed again. Sakho, though, only managed 11 starts due to fitness issues, and Zaha and Townsend on the wings had less effective seasons than expected.

What needs to happen this summer? It feels like the most important transfer window since we were promoted. The squad is too old and the manager clearly doesn’t have faith in the youngsters in the ranks, except Tyrick Mitchell. Signing Nathan Ferguson was a positive first step: we now need more exciting, fresh young talent. Will Zaha have to be sold to fund it? We’ll see.

What made you smile? Ayew’s stunner at home against West Ham which bafflingly didn’t even make the top 10 goals of the season list on MOTD.

• Chris Waters @Clapham_Grand

Everton

A calamitous season, really: plenty of abject performances, very few memorable games, and a bottom-half finish. Not for the first time the Everton job proved too big for a promising manager – Marco Silva was gone before Christmas. Chelsea at home, under Duncan Ferguson, was probably the high-point. Now, at least, we have a top-class manager in Ancelotti – but recovery will take time.

Stars/flops Holgate, Digne, Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison all managed to enhance their reputations, but they were the only real positives. The whole of the midfield, collectively and individually, flopped – and, in goal, Pickford had a very poor season.

What needs to happen this summer? Quite a bit. We need to buy a complete new midfield for starters – plus cover for both full-back positions, and, ideally, a new goalkeeper. Our list of players for sale should be a long one: rivals are welcome to their pick of Bernard, Sigurdsson, Delph, Walcott, Iwobi and Pickford, plus all the deadwood from 2017-18.

What made you smile? Speedo Mick and his epic charity walk from John O’Groats to Lands End, which he completed in his Everton swimming trunks in December. A fantastic man who beat his own difficulties to help so many others since – always with a smile, too.

• The esk TheEsk.org @theesk

Leicester

A classic Jekyll and Hyde season. If I’d been given a preview of this season’s final table last August I’d have been delighted – but our collapse from 14 points clear of fifth in January to dropping out of the top four is tough to take. Signs were evident from mid-January and Rodgers’ failure to get a handle on it is concerning. So, while 2019-20 will go down as a season of major progress, it’s also one of missed opportunities.

Stars/flops The media view was that we missed Maddison and Chilwell in the run-in, but the most notable absence was really Ricardo Pereira. He’s a stalwart in defence and also our most positive attacker - we’re simply a different side when he’s on the pitch. As for flops, it’s hard to single any player out but Chilwell certainly hasn’t performed as well as the pundits think. Not that I’m complaining if it fetches us £80m when he eventually leaves.

What needs to happen this summer? We need more players of quality all over the pitch if we’re to be a top-six regular. If we don’t deliver on that, our European commitments next season and the shorter break mean next year could be more like post-lockdown than pre-Christmas for Leicester.

What made you smile? Jamie Vardy becoming a Premier League centurion and the oldest golden boot winner since the 1940s. Magic still lives on Filbert Way.

• Chris Whiting clippings.me/chriswhiting @ChrisRWhiting

Liverpool

A season like no other, and certainly not like the past 30. We were superb from the first game against Norwich to the last at Newcastle. We had a couple of blips at the end, but we’d already won by then. The relentlessness of our play stands out, but if there’s to be any defining games, perhaps they came in December, right after we’d won the Club World Cup. Some thought we’d suffer from the travel to Qatar days before; instead we battered Leicester 4-0 away. The manager is more than boss. Brilliant, genius, incomparable.

Stars/flops The stars: Alisson, Adrián, Van Dijk, Gomez, Lovren, Robertson, Matip, Alexander-Arnold, Williams, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Milner, Keïta, Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Lallana, Firmino, Mané, Salah, Minamino, Shaqiri, Origi, Elliott (sorry if I’ve missed anyone out). No flops.

What needs to happen this summer? As the boss says, we can always improve. Perhaps, being picky, we don’t score enough goals or make enough assists from midfield. So, a creative midfielder. Julian Brandt from Dortmund or Kai Havertz from Leverkusen. Everyone’s talking about Thiago Alcântara at Bayern, who is undoubtedly a great player. But he’d expect to walk into the first team – do we need that?

What made you smile? Off the pitch, the work done by Spirit of Shankly during the pandemic. Outstanding, from their Help is Here campaign, where they delivered food and essentials to the most vulnerable in the Merseyside area, to their pressure on the club to take back their decision to furlough staff. All of it done on a voluntary basis.

• Steph Jones

• Part two: Manchester City to Wolves

Topics Premier League The Observer Arsenal Aston Villa Bournemouth Brighton & Hove Albion Burnley Chelsea features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content
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