Premier League 2021-22 fans’ verdicts, part one: Arsenal to Leicester

·14 min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Arsenal

It’s hard to criticise Arteta given he’s overseen some of the best football since Wengerball peaked – and we’d have bitten your hand off for fifth place when we were rock bottom in September. But there’s a bitter taste about how we’re now on the edge of throwing away the Champions League spot that looked like being gifted to us by rivals’ inconsistency. Will Mikel be left kicking himself for failing to bring in a couple more bodies to bolster our squad and offset his merciless January clearout? 7/10

Stars/flops Saka, Ramsdale, Tierney, Martinelli, Smith Rowe and Tomiyasu have all sparkled at times, while hopefully White and Gabriel will continue to grow into their roles as our two centre-back pillars. But Lokonga and Tavares have so far looked out of their depth and, with the obscene sums needed to replace Aubameyang’s goals, I continue to resent the £72m squandered on Pépé.

Biggest surprise Auba’s ignominious exit. Another twist few saw coming was Ramsdale making such a big impact, leaving Leno in the shadows.

Best/worst away fans Leeds fans showed relentless staunch support in the face of defeat. Worst: Spurs.

Moment that made me smile Apart from the euphoric triumph at Stamford Bridge, it was the debut of The Angel, our new anthem – pretty emotional as it blasted out of the PA the other week. Here’s hoping for a victorious singalong today.

• Bernard Azulay goonersdiary.co.uk @GoonerN5

Aston Villa

It’s been disjointed with Covid and the usual Sky nonsense – and generally pretty flat anyway. We haven’t seen a sustained uplift in performance since Gerrard joined, but it’s hard to be too critical given these aren’t his players. It just feels like we can’t have much more than guarded optimism about the future. It’s a massive close season for the club and Gerrard, with a lot of upgrades required. 6/10

Stars/flops Matt Cash’s consistency while playing with the choke out every week has been fabulous, while “one of our own” Jacob Ramsey has had a brilliant breakthrough year. Coutinho is box office but only fleetingly effective, and it’s lucky Watkins has finished the season well because I’m afraid Ings’ best days are behind him. Other big names have also been inconsistent.

Biggest surprise The clinical treatment of Dean Smith was unedifying. Of course we can all understand the business/footballing rationale but losing both our Villa-supporting talismans in quick succession took a bit of the love out of club I think. It was nice to see him get such a great reception when he came back.

Best/worst away fans West Ham were best, on the crest of a wave and loving it. Worst? Liverpool, silent until they took the lead (since 1965).

Moment that made me smile Seeing my recently departed dad’s photo on the big screen in the club’s excellent “Holte Enders in the Sky” montage.

• Jonathan Pritchard

Brentford

A season of three distinct thirds. The first was just a party. Wins against Arsenal, West Ham and Wolves. A thrilling 3-3 draw with Liverpool. Even the loss to Chelsea was a nailbiter. That was followed by a gruelling five months when we were unable to put a first team out due to injuries, including our talismanic keeper David Raya and centre-back Kristoffer Ayer. Then, the final three months, with returning players joined by the icing on the cake – Christian Eriksen. He took us to another level. Through it all Thomas Frank has been a star, besting Tuchel and Conte tactically. He’s very much looking forward to this game against Leeds, I’m reliably informed. 9/10

Stars/flops Christian Nørgaard has been incredible: one of those under-the-radar players who rarely puts a foot wrong. Top of the stats in pretty much everything. Less positively, Álvaro Fernández had a torrid time when replacing the injured David Raya. And Frank “The Tank” Onyeka just ran out of steam.

Biggest surprise The resilience. People were telling us how fierce the Premier League was. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been tough, but coming through that sticky mid-season patch while still playing good football was great.

Best/worst away fans It could go either way with Leeds today. Norwich were properly lively, though, while Everton made very little noise.

Moment that made me smile The resurfacing of the video of the Leeds players singing: “Mind the gap Thomas Frank,” the year they won the Championship and we didn’t go up. Today, their fate is in our hands.

• Billy Grant Beesotted podcast and blog; @Beesotted; @BillyTheBee99

Christian Norgaard: under the radar.
Christian Norgaard: under the radar. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Brighton

What a time to be an Albion fan. Beating Arsenal and Spurs away, then smashing Manchester United at home polished off an excellent season. The memory of Cristiano Ronaldo leaning against the post with a look of disbelief after Gross scored our third of four will stay for ever. Losing six on the trot recently was difficult, but we rallied and Graham Potter becomes more lovable every day. His success has seen him linked with many top clubs; fingers crossed he stays. 8/10

Stars/flops Marc Cucurella, owner of the league’s best hair, had an incredible debut season. Yves Bissouma, Robert Sánchez and Leandro Trossard also shone, and Moisés Caicedo is a really exciting prospect. So many of our players have been linked with other clubs – a reflection of our success. No one really flopped but it’s disappointing Neal Maupay still struggles to score.

Biggest surprise We’ve developed a real steeliness: our refusal to give up earned us at least six draws after we snatched late equalisers – though it was kind of Palace to score an own goal to give us a point at the Amex. And the way Pascal Gross humiliated Fred with three Cruyff turns summed up our confidence.

Best/worst away fans United tick both boxes here – so loud, but they were yelling at their own team …

Moment that made me smile Cucurella being interviewed after winning two awards at the end‑of‑season dinner: “Gaffer, next season put me on the bench, I don’t like speaking English.”

• Steph Fincham

Marc Cucurella: Premier League’s best hair.
Marc Cucurella: Premier League’s best hair. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Burnley

Judgment’s on hold but it’s been rough right from the start, when we gave up the lead to lose at home to Brighton. I always backed Sean Dyche but maybe he was with us just a year too long. He’ll always be viewed with affection by the Burnley fans, though. As it is, we go into the final day with no permanent manager and everything on the line. So, 4/10, but here’s hoping.

Stars/flops I predicted we’d be reliant on Nick Pope and our centre‑backs James Tarkowski and Ben Mee, and so it’s proved – but Nathan Collins, who has deputised in the middle of defence, has been brilliant too. As for the rest, we expected more from Ashley Westwood and Dwight McNeil, who haven’t been at the level of previous seasons, and Chris Wood was disappointing before his move to Newcastle. There’s been no improvement in that position from his replacement Wout Weghorst.

Biggest surprise I wasn’t expecting a push for a Champions League place but neither did I see a struggle like this one coming. It’s been hard to know what to expect at a time of huge change under new ownership.

Best/worst away fans Man United are always very vocal, while Watford turned up in such small numbers it was like the away end was closed.

Moment that made me smile I was so grateful to Sky for screening Blackburn v Fulham in November. Watching our local rivals lose 7-0 at home definitely lifted the mood.

• Tony Scholes UpTheClarets.com, @utcdotcom

Chelsea

Frustrating. It started well, we looked genuine title challengers, but ended up with us hanging on for a top-four place and losing two finals. In the circumstances, Tuchel performed well, especially when he was left to deal with the press over the sanctions. He also had to handle Covid, injuries to Chilwell and James, and Lukaku’s form. But too many draws and poor home form cost us, and he still needs to work on using subs in a way that makes an impact. Having said all that, we are champions of the world, so it could be worse … 7/10

Related: Thomas Tuchel considering signing new forwards for Chelsea this summer

Stars/flops Thiago is incredible at his age, and Rüdiger was also immense. Mount never stops trying and Kovacic is a real fighter. The biggest flop by a mile was Lukaku, followed by Pulisic, who just never got going. Saúl, meanwhile, isn’t fit for this league and Sarr had some nightmare games.

Biggest surprise Abramovich being forced to sell due to a war – I didn’t see that coming. The sanctions have massively impacted fans and the running of the club. But we have new owners coming: another chapter in Chelsea’s mad history beckons.

Best/worst away fans Liverpool are over-hyped and boorish. The best were Chesterfield: it looked like the whole town were out for a party. Wild scenes when they scored.

Moment that made me smile Mason Mount and Jorginho pranking Timo Werner for a fake tyre commercial. Almost felt sorry for him … almost..

• Paul Baker in memory of Trizia Fiorellino

Thiago Silva: incredible at his age.
Thiago Silva: incredible at his age. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Crystal Palace

I remember reading this feature back in August, seeing so many predictions that Palace would finish bottom due to an inexperienced manager and a huge turnover of players. How wrong they were. Vieira has been brilliant in his approach to transforming the side and in building relationships with the squad and fans, while sporting director Dougie Freedman’s player recruitment was masterful. A mid‑table finish feels like only the start of an exciting journey with this talented group. 9/10

Stars/flops Conor Gallagher, Marc Guéhi, Joachim Andersen, Wilfried Zaha, Tyrick Mitchell and Michael Olise have all been fantastic. Our only weak point has been the central striker: Jean-Philippe Mateta has been inconsistent and Odsonne Édouard has found the lone role a challenge.

Biggest surprise Our way of playing from the back. To transform totally the style from last season in game one was incredibly brave, and quickly the team became an absolute joy and privilege to watch, with three players capped by England for the first time.

Best/worst away fans It was great to see Hartlepool bring over 7,000 to Selhurst in the FA Cup. But Watford failed to sell out their allocation for a match they had to win. Very poor.

Moment that made me smile Frank Lampard’s bitterness when we smashed Everton 4-0 in the FA Cup, describing our goals as “one from a corner, another average goal, a fluke goal, and another average goal”. And, on a more positive note, the club helping launch the Palace for Life Foundation’s “Made in South London” campaign with a genius video featuring Marc Guehi as a lollipop man.

• Chris Waters @Clapham_Grand

Conor Gallagher: main man in the middle.
Conor Gallagher: main man in the middle. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

Everton

One great night against Palace can’t disguise what has been a disastrous season, with 20 defeats in 37 games. A good start under Benítez gave way to an appalling run; before being fired in mid-January he had won only once since the end of September. Results didn’t improve immediately under Lampard, but wins over Newcastle, United and Chelsea at Goodison and Leicester away led to the incredible scenes last Thursday. So it’s a 2/10 season under Benítez, and 6/10 under Lampard.

Stars/flops Jordan Pickford has confounded critics, Anthony Gordon is maturing and Richarlison has been tireless, scoring vital goals. Also mentions for the reinvigorated Iwobi and for Mykolenko’s sheer courage given his situation at home. As for flops – it’s a long list, but right up there is whoever decided El Ghazi and Dele Alli (despite his cameo against Palace) were good recruitment decisions.

Biggest surprise How long it took the board and Moshiri to realise Benítez was entirely the wrong choice.

Best/worst away fans Worst: the Boreham Wood fans who sang the “sign on/we pay your benefits” song despite the hospitality afforded to them. The best were Norwich, only because, like distant relatives, it’s good to see them every other year.

Moment that made me smile The welcome our fans gave the team for the Chelsea home game – fit for Champions League winners, not relegation favourites. The story of the season is the combined effort of all Blues to get the club over the line. Totally unique in my opinion. Everton’s survival belongs to the fans.

• The Esk TheEsk.org; @TheEsk

Leeds

We might get a last-day miracle, but what we’ve had so far is a disaster. The manager was changed, but to date Jesse Marsch has only shown how hard Marcelo Bielsa must have been working to keep this thing together. Maybe worse than the football, so much of the goodwill from the previous three seasons under Bielsa has drained, needlessly, away. The late goals have been fun, though, so 2/10.

Stars/flops Illan Meslier has let in 21 more goals than any other keeper while making 14 more saves. He’s made mistakes – he’s 22 – but he’s phenomenal. But record signing Rodrigo underwhelmed even when we were good and, while “flop” isn’t fair, injuries meant we hardly saw the key players: Cooper, Phillips and Bamford will hate this season as much as we did. Joe Gelhardt’s supersub impacts have made him every kid’s hero.

Biggest surprise So apparently second-season syndrome is a thing after all! More surprising was that once the syndrome set in, the big friendly chance to cure it in January was ignored. The board might think Jesse Marsch is the post-Bielsa future, but the problem in the present was not having enough fit players.

Best/worst away fans Much of a muchness. You only tell them apart by the shade of pyro when they score. Any away celebrations of Manchester City’s fourth and Chelsea’s third in their 4-0 and 3-0 wins this month were drowned out by Leeds fans singing louder, which says something about Elland Road’s odd fit with the prevailing Premier League culture.

Moment that made me smile Sean Dyche’s post-sacking bank holiday weekender. If only more people could keep the Premier League in that proportion, just shrugging off the drama and going for a pint.

• Daniel Chapman thesquareball.net; @MoscowhiteTSB

Leicester

The overwhelming vibe of this campaign has been flat. We never managed to find our groove this year, despite a few false dawns along the way. For large parts, we’ve lacked the bite shown in previous campaigns and have reverted to being a very frail side, both physically and mentally. If the xG table counted, we’d be going down. 5/10

Related: Premier League 2021-22 fans’ verdicts, part two: Liverpool to Wolves

Stars/flops Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has had a breakthrough season, firmly establishing himself as the side’s engine in midfield. James Maddison was the worthy recipient of the club’s player of the season award – he said he was grateful but he’d “swap this in a heartbeat to be in a final at the end of the month in Europe”. Youri Tielemans has underwhelmed for large parts of the campaign, though, as has the previously reliable Caglar Soyuncu.

Biggest surprise Absolutely nothing surprises us down Filbert Way these days. Though at the minute, I’m most surprised whenever we successfully defend a corner.

Best/worst away fans Everton had a lot of praise from fellow Leicester supporters but I actually missed that game – so I’ll go for Legia Warsaw. Worst were Manchester United, though let’s face it, we didn’t exactly give them much to shout about.

Moment that made me smile Blackpool’s Jake Daniels having the courage to come out as gay. Leave it to a 17-year-old to show everyone else the way.

• Chris Whiting clippings.me/chriswhiting; @ChrisRWhiting

Part two: Liverpool to Wolves

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