10) Mesut Ozil
Arsenal have scored 29 times this season. Alexandre Lacazette (7), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7), Aaron Ramsey (4) and Alex Iwobi (4) lead the way in terms of goals and assists, while Mesut Ozil has directly contributed to as many goals as Danny Welbeck (3), and only one more than Granit Xhaka.
Ozil has started just four of Arsenal’s nine-game winning run. His last assist in any competition for club and erstwhile country was on April 5. He is the highest-paid player at the Emirates Stadium, yet Arsenal’s most complete performance of the calendar year came without him on Sunday. Perhaps it is unfair, but with the sort of attacking talent surrounding him, the German should be thriving. Instead, he is fading into the background.
9) Alireza Jahanbakhsh
The long wait finally came to an end on Friday. Brighton struck up a relationship with Alireza Jahanbakhsh over the summer, but had yet to introduce him to the family. They wanted to make sure he was ready, that he could make as positive a first impression as possible, that he wouldn’t offend everyone and accidentally kick the dog during a particularly heated game of Pictionary.
I swear that’s never happened to me.
Against West Ham, the 25-year-old was promising. He was bright, satisfactory and numerous other synonyms for ‘OK’. Which is forgivable on his first ever Premier League start. But this is a player who scored 22 goals last season, who featured heavily at the World Cup, and who Brighton made their most expensive signing ever. That statement has been followed with little more than a whisper, Jahanbakhsh making six substitute appearances totalling 97 minutes, before finally being given his full debut.
He will surely get better, and he will surely be given more opportunities now he is firmly in the picture. But two months into the season, the regret is that he is only just really getting started.
8) Crystal Palace
Manchester City lost to Manchester United, who themselves were beaten by both West Brom and Brighton. Chelsea, who defeated Liverpool, were shocked by Newcastle on the final day. Arsenal and Tottenham both lost twice. Crystal Palace were therefore the only Premier League team to avoid defeat in the last six games of the 2017/18 season, earning more points than any side in that spell.
The momentum Roy Hodgson had cultivated on the pitch was maintained off it, with Wilfried Zaha resisting the temptation to leave Selhurst Park for potentially greener pastures. Palace could have had a much stronger summer in terms of transfers, but the arrival of Max Meyer was certainly eye-catching.
Yet that late-season form has been consigned to the distant past by early-campaign struggles. This is by no means new territory for Palace, but their only Premier League wins so far have come against promoted Fulham and relegation-threatened Huddersfield. The Terriers and Cardiff (both 4) are the only teams to score fewer goals (5), and Newcastle and Cardiff (both 6) are the only teams to lose more games (5). They were expected to break the glass ceiling and push towards the top half, but they can barely even touch it.
7) Southampton’s signings
While Danny Ings has every chance of winning his bet with a “humble” former teammate, he is perhaps the only success story of Southampton’s substandard summer. The club’s other four new signings have been varying degrees of underwhelming, and did not feature at all against Chelsea.
Jannik Vestergaard has been fine, as relatively solid as his name implies, yet found himself dropped on Sunday. He was joined on the bench by Angus Gunn, whose only two appearances since joining for £10m have come in the League Cup. That is an awful lot to pay for an inexperienced back-up.
At least the 22-year-old made it that far. Neither Mohamed Elyounoussi nor Stuart Armstrong were in this weekend’s matchday squad, £23m worth of talent consigned to purgatory. Not that Mark Hughes should be blamed, for they have not scored or assisted a single goal between them in 453 combined Premier League minutes.
Liverpool will be cancelling the ‘feeder club’ agreement.
6) Jack Wilshere
To slightly paraphrase popular author Ian Fleming: ‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action. And four times does not reflect awfully well on Jack Wilshere, does it, lads?’
Wilshere started each of West Ham’s first four games of the Premier League season. He was at the tip of a midfield three against Liverpool, ahead of Declan Rice and Mark Noble. He then dropped back to partner Noble against Bournemouth, and then Carlos Sanchez against Arsenal and Wolves. West Ham lost every match, with Wilshere’s ankle surgery adding injury to insult.
The Hammers have been beaten just once in the subsequent four games, Manuel Pellegrini building from a midfield platform of Noble, Rice and Pedro Obiang. Wilshere is more talented than each but can no longer rely on reputation or loyalty to guarantee him a starting place.
It was meant to be different, the exciting new chapter after his story at Arsenal was brought to an end. Yet it has been more of the same, regular games pierced with the crushing inevitability of injury, with his club moving on and developing without him. It has been more false dawn than new dawn at the London Stadium.
5) Salomon Rondon
Once is misfortune; twice is carelessness. Newcastle loaned Islam Slimani on the final day of the January transfer window, and saw an existing injury problem restrict him to just one start in 14 Premier League games. The Magpies learned from their mistake, deciding to bring in Salomon Rondon on loan three days before the summer deadline. The Venezuelan has started three games and assisted one goal in between his various fitness issues.
He is the latest wrong answer to the age-old question concerning Newcastle strikers. The 29-year-old can hardly be blamed for having an entire club’s hopes placed squarely on his shoulders, nor for struggling under such pressure. But when Dwight Gayle has scored as many league goals as his parent club this season, disappointment is inevitable. Rondon has netted nine, eight and seven goals in three Premier League campaigns; few will bet against him lowering that bar once more in his fourth.
4) Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Maurizio Sarri made sure he hammered home the point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Sunday. “Potentially, he is a great player because he has quality, very important qualities from the physical point of view, from the technical point of view,” he said of Ross Barkley. “Now he’s improving from the tactical point of view.”
Sarri had used the exact same holy midfield trinity in his critique of Ruben Loftus-Cheek earlier in the week. The 22-year-old is blessed with the ideal physical attributes and wonderful technique, yet is far from completing the puzzle. Where Barkley has taken the time to listen, to learn, to evolve, his club and international teammate has settled back into his Stamford Bridge comfort zone.
This is a player who showcased his ability at the World Cup, and who was courted by clubs throughout Europe as a result. Loftus-Cheek was supposed to truly announce himself this season, yet seems further away from realising his potential than ever. He has played just 99 first-team minutes, and has a similar number of fresh problems.
3) Alexis Sanchez
It was one of the longest barren runs of his entire Premier League career. Alexis Sanchez had gone 865 minutes without scoring a single Premier League goal for Manchester United, with a 983-minute dry patch in Arsenal’s 2015/16 season about to be eclipsed. That drought coincided with an injury that sidelined him for two months. There was no such excuse this time around.
The last-gasp winner against Newcastle will boost the confidence of a player who has found that in precious supply since moving to Old Trafford. It was only his fourth goal in 25 appearances since joining in January. And while there might now be an upturn in fortunes, he has undeniably done more harm than good as his one-year anniversary at Old Trafford looms. Sanchez’s best performance in Manchester remains that beautiful piano piece at his unveiling.
Liverpool spent the most; they are second. Chelsea spent the second-most; they are third. Fulham spent the third-most; they are…wait, Fulham are 17th?!
The Cottagers are no stranger to making a splash upon promotion to the top flight. They were outspent by only Manchester United in 2001 – their previous summer as a new Premier League club. They broke their transfer record twice, bringing in Champions League winner Edwin van der Sar for £7m, then Lyon striker Steve Marlet for £11.5m. Jean Tigana would lead them to 13th place.
Slavisa Jokanovic might take that now were it offered to him. Fulham’s £101.7m outlay was an impressive statement of intent that has failed miserably thus far, with a top-heavy squad finding it impossible to maintain its balance. Aleksandar Mitrovic’s five goals, Andre Schurrle’s three and Luciano Vietto’s four assists have been the slightest of silver linings on an ominous cloud.
“At the moment, we haven’t shown a Premier League level,” was the manager’s frank admission at the weekend, and while Fulham should be admired for their ambition, they ought to learn to walk before they can run. Or defend before they even contemplate doing anything else. Tipped as the potential dark horse by many, they have barely managed to get out of the gate.
1) Mohamed Salah
It is no crisis, but it is an undeniable cause for concern, and most certainly a disappointment. Mohamed Salah shattered records for Liverpool in his debut season; he is barely denting them in his second.
There was always likely to be a hangover after the champagne campaign. Salah scored 44 goals in 2017/18 despite having never netted more than 20 in any of his previous seasons, so it was always probable that such form was the exception, not the new rule. That does not detract from the regret of seeing the Egyptian struggle to cope with the burden of expectation.
Salah is finding the right positions. Only Sergio Aguero (38) and Aleksandar Mitrovic (34) have had more shots than his 32, but they have both scored five goals apiece. Last season’s Golden Boot winner has only managed to score as many goals as Pedro, despite starting twice as many games as the Chelsea winger. We are not angry, just disappointed.