This is the second half of a two part series where we identify the top player on each English Premier League team. Big thanks to my friend Jack Venezia for helping me out with this one.
Alexis Sanchez, Forward
The Gunners return to Champions League football once again following a third place finish just a season ago. Arsenal scored the third most goals in the Premier League as well. The man at the core of the Arsenal attack remains Alexis Sanchez. Last year, the Chilean international played in 34 of the teams 38 games, scoring 16 goals and setting up 8 more. In short, Sanchez was involved in roughly a third of Arsenal’s goals over the course of the EPL season. There are plenty of talented midfielders on Arsene Wenger’s squad but none of them hold the same importance of Sanchez.
Matt Ritchie, Wide Midfielder
For anyone who follows Bournemouth, Matt Ritchie is a household name. The wide midfielder has been on a bit of a tear in the last year or so. He engineered one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory, propelling the Cherries to their first ever appearance in the Premier League. Ritchie led the Championship last season with 17 assists and scored his fair share as well with 15 goals of his own. On top of all of that, he got his first start with the Scottish international team and in just fourth match, notched the game winner in a friendly versus Qatar. To compete in England’s top league, scoring is a must. Ritchie is the key is Bournemouth hopes to avoid relegation this season.
Yohan Cabaye, Attacking Midfielder
In just their second season, Crystal Palace climbed all the way to the top half of the table, finishing 10th. They have quietly assembled a good group of talent. Frazier Campell, Joe Ledley, Jordan Mutch, Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Zaha and now Connor Wickham make up a good core for Alan Pardew to work with this season. However, the man who will absolutely be running the show is midfielder Yohan Cabaye. He is coming off a very quiet year with Paris Saint-Germain but he flourished under Pardew at Newcastle and he is bound to do it again. He will be the man Crystal Palace look to on set pieces and a vital veteran presence on a largely young team.
Yohan Benalouane, Center Back
Defense wins championships and Leicester needs to discover some in the worst way. This team finished 14th last year and that was mostly due to the fact that they allowed the fourth most goals. The man to the rescue is newly signed Yohan Benalouane, who arrives from Serie A side Atalanta as the answer to Leicester’s prayers. He joins having appeared in 27 league games for the Italian side last season. If Leicester have serious hopes of extending their stay in the Premier League, they will need Benalouane to be lights out on defense, even with rising star Kasper Schmeichel between the posts.
Joe Hart, Goalkeeper
Not many teams can call its keeper the best player on the field. Manchester City can and that’s saying something when you consider the talent City has spread all over. However, Hart is the difference maker for this English giant. Hart sat out of 7 games last season, replaced by Wilfredo Caballero. City kept a clean sheet once in those games and allowed 12 goals. Not exactly great output. Hart on the other hand, allowed fewer than a goal per game in his 36 Premier League starts. He also had the most wins of any Premier League keeper and the most clean sheets with 14. Hart anchors this team. Take him away and City would be average at best.
Chancel Mbemba, Center Back
Newcastle spent a good deal of last year searching for an answer up top. The formation was ever-changing, as were the strikers. Alexsander Mitrovic should finally provide some stability their long term but offense wasn’t even the Magpies biggest concern. Newcastle allowed 63 goals, second only to bottom of the league QPR. Tim Krul was faced with shot after shot and the defense in front of him looked as shaky as ever. Enter Chancel Mbemba from Anderlecht. Mbemba made 63 appearances for the Belgian side and still is only 20-years old. There are still several holes to fill but Mbemba will fill the most important one so far.
Jay Rodriguez, Forward
This was a tough selection between Jay Rodriguez and Fraser Forster. I ended up siding with Rodriguez in the end because he could really be the one that instigates Southampton jumping into the top five this season. In the 2013-14 season, Rodriguez scored 15 goals for the Saints. He missed the whole 2014-15 campaign due to a knee injury but if he is healthy, he could be the difference. Southampton finished seventh last season, with a goal difference of +21. That ranked fifth best in the league. If Rodriguez can slot home a few more goals for this defensively talented team, don’t be surprised to see Southampton challenging the best teams in England.
Steven Fletcher, Forward
Last season featured a relegation scare for Sunderland. This season might end in relegation if the Black Cats don’t discover some offense. Sunderland finished tied for the second-fewest goals scored last season. No one on the team scored more than five goals and one of those five-goal scorers, Connor Wickham, is now headed to Crystal Palace. It should come as no surprise then that the most important player for Sunderland is a striker. Steven Fletcher was the other five goal scorer for this squad and he will need to step it up a bit this season in order for Sunderland to stay afloat. If he fails to make a larger impact, Sunderland will be relegated.
Jan Vertonghen, Center Back
On the last day of the season, Tottenham moved up two spots to finish fifth overall, clinching a spot in the Europa League group stage. Looking back at the season though, it is pretty surprising that Tottenham finished as high as it did. They allowed the fifth most goals last season, tied with Burnley and Sunderland. Not all the blame can fall on Hugo Lloris either as he faced the fifth most shots in the league. That means it falls on Jan Vertonghen to get this defensive group in order. He started more games than any other defender a season ago and if Tottenham has any hopes of repeating as Europa League qualifiers, Vertonghen will need to play a huge roll in that.
West Bromwich Albion
Rickie Lambert, Forward
West Brom finished a respectable 13th in the league last season, including wins over Tottenham, Southampton, Swansea, Manchester United and Chelsea. They also made a run to the FA Cup Semifinal. That is not a bad season. If West Brom want to improve though, they will need to score more goals this season. Saido Berahino put away 14 chances for this squad last season but they will need another goal scorer. That’s why management brought in Richie Lambert from Liverpool. He already scored two goals in his unofficial debut in a friendly against Bristol Rovers. If Lambert can become the number two scorer on this team (which shouldn’t be hard as Ideye Brown had that role despite only scoring four times last season) West Brom should be able to push into the top half of the table.
To see part one of this series, click here.