An XI of players who shone during dull Big Six seasons

Matt Stead
Liverpool's Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League Quarter Final, Second Leg match at Anfield, Liverpool. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday April 14, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Liverpool. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Despite this season marking Arsenal’s worst ever start to a Premier League campaign, Mikel Arteta’s team have at least given their supporters some moments of joy in the Europa League and the Gunners will certainly bring some smiles back to disgruntled fans if they can avoid relegation. Here’s an eleven made up from players who brought some momentary cheer for their respective ‘Big Six’ clubs during their poorest Premier League seasons.

 

 

Goalkeeper: David de Gea
Manchester United had never finished lower than 3rd in the Premier League under Sir Alex Ferguson but just one year on from his last game in charge, the Red Devils had sunk to 7th in the table. Fergie’s replacement David Moyes failed to make a year in charge, receiving his marching orders in April 2014 after a dismal defeat to his former club Everton. Despite their terrible form, David de Gea still received plenty of plaudits and looked like one of the only genuine world-class players in the United team that season. He went on to win the first of his four Matt Busby Player of the Year awards at the end of the campaign, becoming the only goalkeeper to win the accolade.

 

Centre-back: Neil Ruddock
In January 1994, long before United fans had to think about life after Fergie, they had Liverpool’s perch in their sights. Former captain Graeme Souness was in charge at Anfield at the time but wouldn’t see out the month as boss, with the Reds faltering in 8th. United, who were powering towards a second Premier League title, arrived on Merseyside looking to pile the misery on their rivals and came out of the blocks firing, with Steve Bruce, Ryan Giggs and Denis Irwin all scoring to put the Red Devils three ahead. However, two Nigel Clough goals put Liverpool back in contention before Neil Ruddock headed in to equalise late on to endear himself to the home crowd in his first season on Merseyside. Roy Evans soon took over the managerial reigns but couldn’t make any progress in league, with his side finishing behind Sheffield Wednesday and Wimbledon in 8th, their joint worst Premier League finish to date.

 

Centre-back: Dejan Lovren
Fast forward 22 years and Liverpool once again ended a season 8th in the table, although this time a change of manager proved to be an inspired choice. Brendan Rodgers departed Anfield in October 2015 after a lacklustre start to the season, with current boss Jurgen Klopp arriving in his place. The Reds’ Premier League form remained inconsistent under the German but a strong Europa League campaign gave fans a sign of things to come.

Bitter rivals Manchester United were brushed aside in the last 16 before a dream match against Klopp’s former side Borussia Dortmund awaited in the quarters. A 1-1 draw in Germany gave Liverpool a seemingly crucial away goal that was quickly extinguished after two quick strikes from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the return leg. A 4-2 aggregate lead for Dortmund with 25 minutes remaining looked to be more than enough, with Liverpool needing three goals to turn the tide. Philippe Coutinho and Mamadou  Sakho scored to make things interesting, before free transfer extraordinaire James Milner crossed for Dejan Lovren to head home the winner in injury-time and set up a losing final with Europa League specialists Sevilla.

 

Centre-back: Steve Howey
Despite their success over the course of the last decade, Manchester City were often pretty dreadful in the early years of the Premier League and dropped out of the top flight in 2001, just one year after winning promotion back to the big time. A dire run of form made the Citizens look like certainties for the bottom three in early April before a win against Leicester City gave fans some hope. Joe Royle’s side headed to Old Trafford knowing a defeat would see them all but relegated and a tense game (one that included Roy Keane’s infamous challenge on Alf-Inge Haaland) looked to be heading for a 0-0 draw before a Teddy Sheringham penalty gave the champions the lead with 20 minutes remaining. Steve Howey managed to bundle in an equaliser from a corner late on to send City fans wild and get them dreaming of survival but defeats to Ipswich Town and Chelsea in May saw the side finish in 18th.

 

Right-wing: Darren Anderton
A 15th-place finish in a 22-team Premier League and two seasons in 14th spot during the 20-team era are Tottenham’s worst showings over the last 30 years or so. The 15th place came under the reign of former star player Ossie Ardiles and his unique brand of attacking football in the 1993/94 season, with a seven-game losing streak at the start of the new year a particular lowlight. The form of a young and injury-free Darren Anderton did give Spurs fans some hope of a turnaround in fortunes, though, with the former Portsmouth star leading the assist charts at White Hart Lane that campaign and picking up the club’s Player of the Year award in 1993.

 

Central midfield: Gavin Peacock
Chelsea’s 10th-place finish in 2016 is the side’s worst finish of the Abramovich era but back in the Premier League’s nascent years the Blues were regular mid-table dwellers. The 1993/94 season saw them finish 14th, one place above London rivals Spurs after a terrible run of form in late 1993 saw Glenn Hoddle’s side go 11 games without a win. But some fine performances in the FA Cup did give fans at Stamford Bridge something to smile about. Gavin Peacock scored in the quarter-final against Wolves before bagging two in the semi against Luton Town to set up a Wembley date with Premier League champions Manchester United. The Red Devils ran out 4-0 winners in the final, gaining a measure of revenge over a Chelsea side that did the double over them in the league, with Peacock scoring both goals in two separate 1-0 wins.

 

Central midfield: Steven Gerrard
Kenny Dalglish rescued Liverpool from their doomed Roy Hodgson experiment half-way through the 2010/11 season, leading the Reds to a 6th-place finish. However, the next year brought more struggles at Anfield as the club equalled their worst Premier League campaign by coming 8th. Captain Steven Gerrard did manage to lift the mood, with the Merseyside-born midfielder scoring a superb hat-trick against local rivals Everton in March 2012, two weeks after he’d lifted the League Cup at Wembley following a penalty shootout win over Cardiff City.

 

Central midfield: Georgi Kinkladze
After a top-half finish in the inaugural Premier League season, Manchester City’s form gradually declined over the next few years, culminating in relegation in the 1995/96 campaign. Georgian midfielder Georgi Kinkladze made his debut in the summer of 1995 and soon became a fan favourite, giving the Maine Road faithful some hope of survival after bagging his first goal for the club against Aston Villa in the middle of a three-game winning streak. He later scored twice against perennial escape artists Southampton, including a mesmerising goal that saw him twist around the Saints defence before steadying himself to calmly chip the ball over Dave Beasant. Despite the win, City ending up going down on goal difference.

 

Left-wing: David Ginola
After the failed Ardiles experiment at Tottenham, former England international Gerry Francis took over as manager and guided the club to mid-table safety over the next few years. However, a terrible run of form early on in the 1997/1998 campaign saw the side pick up just one win from ten games and left them languishing in 16th. Francis resigned and Christian Gross came in, with the Swiss leading his team to the heady heights of 14th come the end of the season. New signing David Ginola did provide fans at White Hart Lane with some cheer, though, leading the assist charts at the club and scoring six times in the league, including a beautiful strike against Liverpool in a thrilling 3-3 draw.

 

Striker: Robbie Keane
Six years later Tottenham once again found themselves in 14th at the end of a frustrating campaign, with club legend Hoddle losing his job early on in the 2003/04 season after picking up just four points from the first six games. However, Robbie Keane managed to show his class throughout the year, finishing as top goal-scorer for the side. The Irish hero bagged a hat-trick against former club Wolves and converted a last-minute penalty against Arsenal at White Hart Lane in late April to deny the Gunners all three points. Unfortunately for the home fans the moment proved to be bittersweet, as a draw was all Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ needed to claim the Premier League title.

 

Striker: Ian Wright
That moment may seem like an eternity ago for Arsenal fans now and they certainly won’t be pleased if the current side end up equalling their lowest Premier League position this season. The club’s only bottom-half finish occurred in 1995, with the Gunners ending up in 12th, struggling in the aftermath of title-winning manager George Graham’s controversial departure. Things could’ve been even worse were it not for the form of Ian Wright, with the London-born striker bagging 18 goals in the league, 11 ahead of his closest team-mate. Wright was also in fine form in Europe, scoring nine times in a run to the Cup Winners’ Cup final, including vital goals against Auxerre in the quarters and Sampdoria in the semi-final.

James Wiles – whose Instagram has a whole load more XIs