The stars of the 2016/17 Premier League
The curtain has come down on another enthralling Premier League campaign, leaving all of us solemnly contemplating what we’re going to do with our lives for the next three-odd months.
This week, we look at shining lights of the year: those who have walked off with their head held high and who will have an extra piña colada on the beach this summer break.
Chelsea’s surprise vanguard
Considering the Blues lifted a big, shiny trophy last weekend, it goes without saying that they’re the big winners of the season.
So, well, we won’t say it then.
What is worth focusing on is the manner in which some of the team’s key performers rose out of obscurity to deliver displays that no one saw coming. Chief among them, Victor Moses.
Despite claiming the Europa League in his first season at the Bridge, the Nigerian was dispatched to what would become a string of unremarkable loan spells at Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham. That Antonio Conte bucked the trend by selecting him to remain with the first team squad this term was a surprise in itself. His becoming irreplaceable came out of nowhere.
When Chelsea switched to the now favoured 3-4-3, Moses found a perfect home for himself in the right wingback slot. Enough pace to bother defenders, but enough steel to be an asset at the back, he made the position his own — to such an extent that the Blues looked somewhat awkward on the right when he wasn’t on the pitch. Along the way he also helped himself to three goals.
At the opposite side of the formation, Marcos Alonso benefited equally from a change in shape. Signed from Fiorentina, the question was whether the former Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers left back would be an able back-up for César Azpilicueta.
Like Moses, the Spaniard decided to inscribe his name on to the team sheet. Alonso has offered a key dimension in a ruthless Chelsea attack, often stretching the game so the likes of Eden Hazard and Pedro have more space to operate in and around the box. The cherry on top of the humble pie he has dished to critics has been his contribution of four assists and seven goals of his own — a remarkable return for a left wingback.
The ever-consistent Azpilicueta himself is another golden surprise. Although he proved his dependability a long time ago, the right-back-turned-left-back was given yet another job to do in the backline — on the right side of a centre three — and he did it with aplomb. As we run out of synonyms for reliable, suffice it to say “Dave” has barely put a foot wrong during a campaign in which he played every minute.
Ironically, out of the dismal showing that was the Arsenal Premier League campaign, a true success story has emerged. Growing steadily for four years, Gooner disappointments and the aggrieved fans they breed have lit the fuse on an online phenomenon.
Founded in 2012 by lifelong fan and former building surveyor Robbie Lyle, ArsenalFanTV has taken back the supporter narrative from the snobby, mainstream punditry cartel and given it to regular human beings. Home or away, win or lose, rain or snow, Robbie is outside of the stadium ready to offer a platform to those eager to dissect the performance of the men in red and white.
Cult figures have even begun to emerge from the interviews, with Troops, Ty, DT, Claude and others becoming internet sensations, thanks to their snark, malarkey, humour and furious disdain.
Now, opposition fans are tuning in in significant numbers. Limp, infuriating displays have rightfully angered the Arsenal faithful and their post-match reactions are a sight to behold … or at least highly entertaining. Fights flare up, epic Kanye West-esque rants break out and viewers are deluged with cries of “Wenger must fuck off!” ArsenalFanTV has become the first stop for post-game viewers and the numbers reflect that — almost 460 000 subscribers and often more than a million cumulative views per game.
Some Arsenal fans might not like that their pain has been put on display for the masses, but Robbie and the lads are not going anywhere soon, especially if their heroes continue to provoke them so.
Kane, Alli and England
You can’t help but feel a shade of sorrow for Spurs. Second twice in a row, with a record points total this time around that would have been enough to clinch the top spot in eight out of 24 Premier Leagues.
The disappointment has done little to dim the horizon, though. As Leicester and Hull would attest this week, this team remains bright, hungry and relentless. Harry Kane managed to secure the Golden Boot in those games — a magnificent achievement considering he missed eight games through injury. It is also the first time someone has finished as top scorer consecutively since Robin van Persie did it in 2013.
The Englishman’s imperious stature has put to bed any lingering delusions that his proficiency is a flash in the pan.
Spurs’s future seems to rest firmly on Kane’s shoulders and another consecutive award-winner — Dele Alli. The PFA Young Player of the Year once again used the league as a stage to showcase his prodigious talent and precocious reading of the game. Where Kane draws upon determination and doggedness to get the ball into the back of the net, Alli’s sublime touch has the markings of a man who was born to play football.
The champions themselves got a front-row seat to witness just what he is capable of as he proceeded to run riot at Stamford Bridge.
Tottenham won’t be the only ones salivating at the prospects of their two stars. Kane and Alli have been instrumental in ushering in a return to hope that the English national side can amount to the price of their boots.
The golden generation of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and company promised so much but delivered so little, a failure that relegated the usually painfully patriotic, optimistic English press to a stupor of pessimism.
But now they have their heroes, two undeniable talents on whom they can pin their hopes and dreams and desires.
Ridiculous talk of the Three Lions lifting the World Cup in 2018 has even begun to resurface.
Everything is right in the world once again.