This Premier League season has been one full of surprises.
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10. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Although he had a successful spell on loan at Bolton Wanderers last season, few expected Wilshere to have established himself in the Arsenal first team to quite such a degree this season. It is especially refreshing to see a young Englishman playing an intelligent passing game more associated with the continental style, although of course he has a lot of development to come.
21 appearances for Arsenal, predominantly from the start, and a first appearance for his country have seen the young Englishman’s career progress faster than expected. He has scored two goals this season – one in the Premier League, one in the UEFA Champions League – and seems to be improving with every performance.
9. Matt Jarvis (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Matt Jarvis has been the bright spark of a disappointing season for Wolverhampton Wanderers. He has scored two goals this season, and created countless chances for his team-mates, which has resulted in four assists. In fairness though, Wolves have often failed to be rewarded with the points their performances deserved, and if they took more of their chances they could be clear of the relegation zone.
Jarvis has even been touted for an England call up, which is staggering given the poor form of his club, and with little competition on the England left, perhaps he might receive it sooner rather than later.
8. Johan Elmander (Bolton Wanderers)
Last season, even Johan Elmander’s mother would probably have called him useless. In the current campaign there have been no such allegations. The Sweden international forward has already scored as many goals as in his previous two seasons combined – and with some style too.
His goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers was a quite remarkable brand of close control and skill, and he has played a huge part in Bolton’s growing reputation as an attractive footballing side.
7. Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa)
Marc Albrighton was given his first start in the Premier League by interim Aston Villa manager Kevin McDonald following Martin O’Neill’s shock resignation just days before the start of the season. McDonald knew Villa’s reserves well, and had faith in the likes of Albrighton, Ciaran Clark, Barry Bannan and Nathan Delfouneso to give them regular first team action – which has continued under Gerard Houllier.
Albrighton’s pace, trickery and crossing has frustrated defenders up and down the land, and perhaps equally importantly his relentless running has ensured his right back is rarely unguarded. This could be what sets him aside from the likes of Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott as rivals for England’s right flank spot, and four Premier League assists are a higher return than either of those two players so far.
6. Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
Last season, the name Gareth Bale was scarcely known outside of UK shores. This season it appears that the whole of Europe knows who he is.
The young Welsh winger became one of a select few to have scored a hat-trick in the San Siro when Tottenham Hotspur came from 4-0 down to Inter Milan to lose 4-3. Had Internazionale won their final group game against Werder Bremen, Bale’s goals would have been vital in securing Spurs top spot in Group A on goal difference.
He caused similar havoc against the European champions at White Hart Lane, creating both Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko’s goals with gut-busting runs down the left and turning the (former) ‘world’s best right back’ Maicon inside out.
He has kept up his form domestically too, and though the argument that he is in the same elite category as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is mischievous hyperbole, he is up there with the best left sided players in the Premier League.
5. David Vaughan (Blackpool)
Although Charlie Adam has won the majority of the acclaim for his ability to dictate play from the middle of the park, his club colleague David Vaughan has been quietly going about his business alongside him to wonderful effect. Adam has won plaudits as the creative influence of the side – and that is not being disputed here – but Vaughan deserves praise for his role in the Tangerines’ success this season too.
Adam or his attacking midfield colleague Elliot Grandin wouldn’t have been able to provide four assists each if it weren’t for Vaughan doing the groundwork behind them. He is a key reason why Blackpool are third in the Premier League away table, with opposition players unable to rely on their usual time on the ball at home.
4. Leighton Baines (Everton)
Leighton Baines has had a quite remarkable season, even if his team are not performing quite as well as people hoped. His impeccable form largely stems from his astonishing ability to find Tim Cahill’s head. In fact, 11 of Cahill’s last 19 goals have been assisted by Baines – whose six Premier League assists so far are easily the best of any defender – and the fifth highest of any player overall.
With Steven Pienaar frequently cutting inside for Everton, Baines often has to man the whole left flank – and has done an excellent job. If Everton’s strikers had been less wayward with their shooting this season, they would not be in such a lowly position.
3. Andy Carroll (Newcastle United)
Newcastle striker Andy Carroll is having a wonderful season, and looks every inch the heir to Alan Shearer’s no. 9 shirt at St. James’ Park. The big striker is the second highest goalscorer in the Premier League with 10 goals, but also has the joint fifth most assists in the division – alongside Baines on six.
This wonderful return makes him arguably the most effective player in the Premier League, and he fully deserved his first England cap against France, where he was widely regarded as a rare positive.
Fans will hope he has put his off-field troubles behind him, for judged solely on what he does on the pitch, Carroll has been quite magnificent.
2. Chris Brunt (West Bromwich Albion)
There are two players in the Barclays Premier League with ten assists. One is from one of the top four clubs – as would be expected. Nani of Manchester United has provided the last pass for ten goals this season, as has Chris Brunt of West Brom.
All three promoted teams this season have performed rather well this season, and none of Blackpool, Newcastle or the Baggies have done so by defending for their lives. Each has stuck with their attacking virtues that won them promotion, and it has provided rewards. Brunt’s creativity from midfield has been a boon for West Brom – and they look set to cast aside their yo-yo reputation by staying in the Premier League comfortably.
1. Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers)
Stuart Holden is the epitome of what Bolton Wanderers represent this season under Owen Coyle. Hard working, cultured, and effective. Though Johan Elmander has understandably won plenty of plaudits for finishing chances, it is down to the likes of the American midfielder Holden to create them.
It is amazing to think that Holden was signed on a free in January, and he would be worth considerably more now.
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