Ben Smith chronicles the trials and tribulations of all 20 teams that made up the Premier League season of 2018/2019, rating each team’s campaign out of 10.
In this edition, he focuses on Arsenal, Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley, and Cardiff.
Probably the most gripping of Premier League seasons in history has just come to an end.
The excitement of this year’s campaign will live long in the memory & has firmly cemented the English league as the best and most exhilarating competition on the planet.
From August onwards we have been entertained on a weekly basis with drama on an epic scale.
The season after a World Cup can often be below par as teams struggle to maintain energy levels for the gruelling fixture list ahead.
This year, however, has seen a campaign in which a huge variety of teams, players and managers can emerge with enormous credit.
The fact that the four finalists of both the Champions League and the Europa League were all English only furthers the argument that this is the greatest league on Earth.
But how did Arsenal, Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley, and Cardiff fare this season?
This was always going to be a season of transition for the Gunners.
The departure of Arsene Wenger came at a time when the club were in decline.
Consecutive seasons in the Europa League forced the hand of the Arsenal board and a new manager has been brought in to re-energize the club and the playing staff.
The club are operating under the ownership of American billionaire Stan Kroenke, who appears to be far more concerned with his sporting ventures in the US than with Arsenal.
He has failed to attend a single home game all season which speaks volumes about his commitment and passion for the club.
It has been a difficult first season for Unai Emery.
It was always going to be tough to replace a manager who had been at the helm for twenty years. That said, Arsenal’s capitulation late in the season is unforgivable.
On paper they had the easiest run in of their rivals and with five games remaining they were firmly in the driving seat for Champions League qualification.
One point from two home games against Crystal Palace and Brighton, coupled with heavy defeats at Wolves and Leicester have consigned them to a third successive season outside the top four.
Arsenal face a tough summer ahead.
History would suggest that Stan Kroenke will not provide huge sums of cash to rebuild the squad and therefore Unai Emery is probably going to have to sell players in order to buy new ones.
Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil are two players that could certainly be shown the door.
They both command huge wages and show nowhere near the level of consistency or commitment to play for a big club.
Any money raised needs to go into the defence, which is porous to say the least.
No team in England (including Fulham and Huddersfield) kept fewer clean sheets on the road than Arsenal this year. One solitary clean sheet away from home is a clear indication not only of the lack of spine in the team but also in their inability to defend.
The problem is that Arsenal are not going to be able to fork out £75m for a Van Dijk level defender so they will need to be very clever in their recruitment.
Lewis Dunk, James Tarkowski and Shane Duffy would all be upgrades on what they have at present and could be signed without breaking the bank.
Arsenal still have the opportunity for redemption in the Europa League final.
If they can overcome Chelsea they will have Champions League football back at the Emirates and this is crucial not only for revenue but also with regard to attracting the best players in world football.
Regardless of the outcome of the Europa League the manager will need to be significantly backed in the transfer market if Arsenal are to crack the Top 4 next year.
To quote Paul Merson Bournemouth are the classic “bag of revels”, you never know what you will get.
They are certainly a nightmare for any punters waiting on accumulators at the weekend. The period that best sums up their season came in Gameweek 34/35 which started with a thumping 5-0 win away at Brighton.
Eddie Howe’s side looked like prime Barcelona that day, intricate passing, wonderful movement and finishing and realistically they could have scored ten goals.
Four days later they were beaten 1-0 at home by an already relegated Fulham.
They are of course still punching above their weight and have done brilliantly to ensure another season in the Premier League, without any relegation worries at all.
However, if the club shares Eddie Howe’s ambition they will need to do much better with their recruitment.
They have spent a combined £37m on Jordon Ibe and Dominic Solanke – two players that haven’t come close to justifying their hefty price tags.
They must also keep hold of the talents of David Brooks and Ryan Fraser if they want to push into the Top 10 next year.
Poor season for the Seagulls.
To be honest, if the three teams below them weren’t so incredibly poor then Brighton would have been relegated this year.
They’ve stayed up by default in many ways. 36 points is a very low tally and they are the first team in a decade to survive with this few points (many teams have gone down with more).
Brighton’s top scorer is a 35-year-old man who can barely run, their second top scorer is Shane Duffy, a centre half.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out where their problems lie, they cannot score goals.
They failed to find the net in an astonishing 15 matches this year. They also went four games straight without a shot on target at the tail end of the season.
It is incredible that they will be playing in the top flight again next year. They owe this in large to their centre back partnership of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk.
These two showed heroic commitment to the cause all season and it has proved enough to get Brighton over the line. I’d be shocked if some of the bigger clubs weren’t sniffing around these two players in the summer as they would strengthen any of the sides in the Top 6.
Much like Bournemouth, Brighton’s recruitment has been abysmal. They spent £62m on six players last summer and none of them have had any impact.
Their club record signing – £17m rated attacker Alireza Jahanbakhsh – hasn’t scored a single goal all season.
But for a good FA Cup run which saw them reach the semi-final I feel Chris Hughton would have been sacked months ago. They need a huge summer of recruitment if they are to avoid the drop next year.
The season started full of promise for Burnley.
Autumn brought their first ever European campaign after their incredible league performance last season.
They lost their qualifier and didn’t even make the group stages which seemed to flatten the players and supporters.
They went on a dreadful run in the league and at Christmas they were in the relegation zone – just two points above lowly Huddersfield.
Sean Dyche said in January that the players got together and decided to go back to basics. They felt they had lost their way and needed to dig in deep to save the whole project collapsing.
From February to May Burnley amassed a huge number of points both at home and on the road. What was most impressive about Burnley was that they came out on top against their nearest rivals which allowed them to escape the danger zone and hit 40 points by April.
Burnley are overachievers with a superb manager. Just to put into context how adrift of their rivals they are financially: Burnley’s highest paid player in history (Jeff Hendrick) earns £35,000 per week.
The club’s entire squad earn less combined in a week than Alexis Sanchez earns at Man United.
The only negative for Burnley is whether or not they can keep hold of their manager. I feel it is only a matter of time before he gets offered a job at a bigger club.
Hard to have anything other than sympathy for Cardiff, whether you like Neil Warnock or not. Their fans and even the novelty of a Welsh team added greatly to the league as a whole.
The tragic situation involving Emiliano Sala was something that few clubs could bounce back from, yet they handled the event, the aftermath and the rest of the season with immense dignity and a resoluteness that I really admired.
I have to admit, I was rooting for them to stay up but it wasn’t to be.
Ultimately they were too much of a soft touch on the road and that was their downfall.
In April when they were in dire need of points they were beaten at Fulham who were already relegated and purely playing for pride. This is inexcusable. When big games were in the melting pot they were ultimately left wanting.
They were only ever one or two players away from being able to stay in the division and you wonder whether the addition of Emiliano Sala might have got them over the line. We will never know.
Either way, I think Cardiff have been a great part of this year’s league and hopefully they can rebuild and bounce back as soon as possible.