Brexit alert. I know, I know, us fans do like to keep our politics and our sport separate but the recent events surrounding the triggering of Article 50 are hard to ignore. Many experts are predicting that changing laws on free movement could greatly affect the English game and the transfer market. Moves for hidden gems such as N’Golo Kante and Dmitri Payet could well fall foul or red-tape in the future, as such it seems like a good time to reflect on the best EU player currently at each Premier League club.
Arsenal- Laurent Koscielny
The French ace took a while to settle in following his move from Lorient in 2010 but has now developed into one of the best centre-halves in the Premier League. He is the linchpin of Arsenal’s defence and is the closest thing to a leader Wenger’s side can call upon. He brings a reassuring presence to the Arsenal backline and incredibly, Arsenal beat Bayern Munich 2-1 while Koscielny was on the field but following his early departures in both legs of the Champions League tie, the aggregate score was 9-0. His performances have also seen him nail down a regular starting spot for the French national team.
Bournemouth- Harry Arter
Arter joined the Cherries from Woking in 2010 while they were in League One and has been a key part in their fairy-tale rise to the Premier League, racking up over 200 appearances for the club. His dominating midfield performances earned him recognition from Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill in 2015. His rise is all the more impressive when you consider the tragic off-field circumstances he has had to deal with. Now, with the birth of his daughter February, things might finally be looking up again for both Arter and Bournemouth.
Burnley- Robbie Brady
Burnley’s squad has a strong core of Englishman but that has been reinforced by £13m January signing Robbie Brady. The Irishman impressed at Euro 2016 and there was always the feeling he was destined to make a return to the Premier League after Norwich’s relegation last season. Burnley gave him that chance and in the process nearly doubled their transfer record. He immediately endeared himself to his new fans with a stunning free-kick against Chelsea in February to earn the Clarets a 1-1 draw against the runaway leaders. He is highly versatile, possessing the ability to play anywhere on the left-hand side and is a real asset for Burnley.
Chelsea- N’Golo Kante
One of the most incredible stories of the past two seasons has been the rise of N’golo Kante. Plucked from obscurity from France by Leicester’s top scout Steve Walsh, Kante quickly won over manager Ranieri and was just as important to Leicester’s improbable title win as Riyad Mahrez and Jaime Vardy and his form has transferred over to his new club. His ability to read the game and win the ball is unrivalled in the Premier League and maybe even in world football. In a little under two years, he has gone from an unknown midfielder to one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. He appears to have the magic touch and has slotted in effortlessly to a very strong French national squad. A testament to his quality is the fact he has beaten out competition from the likes of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Pedro to make this list.
Crystal Palace- Mamadou Sakho
It’s been a dire season for the eagles. It’s been one long struggle for the South Londoner’s which culminated in the sacking of Alan Pardew in December. Even though Sam Allardyce has come in, he could not work his magic straight away and the club are still in relegation trouble. The main problem has been the defence with 46 goals conceded in the clubs first 25 games. However, since the arrival of Sakho, Palace have kept three consecutive clean sheets in four games on their way to four consecutive wins, including a victory away at champions-elect, Chelsea. The Liverpool outcast has transformed the sides leaky defence and has won fans over with his brilliant aerial and tackling ability and already there is demand that the club look to sort out a permanent transfer come the summer.
Everton- Romelu Lukaku
Undoubtedly, Everton’s star man is Belgian frontman Romelu Lukaku. The club’s whole style of play is set up to feed the forward and he has been in top form this season. So far, he is the leading scorer in the Premier League with 21 goals and recently, he overtook Duncan Ferguson’s 60 goal mark to become Everton’s leading scorer in Premier League history. He has over 40% of Everton’s league goals and right now it seems hard to imagine Everton without him. He looks destined to move to a Champions League club in the summer so Everton will have to be working flat out to replace his goals.
Hull- David Meyler
Hull are another side who are relying very little on help from the EU, Andrea Ranocchia and Kamil Grosicki are the only other first-team options and both are still finding their feet in the league after their January moves. Nonetheless, David Meyler has been a mainstay in the club’s midfield since his move in 2013. He has proven himself in both the Championship and Premier League and has earned 18 caps for the Republic of Ireland caps along the way. He is fast becoming one of the most experienced bodies in the Hull midfield and looks to be forming a good partnership with Tom Huddlestone in the centre of the park for the Tigers.
Leicester- Kasper Schmeichel
The Danish shot-stopper was in fine form last season as he followed in his father’s footsteps to become a Premier League champion and is perhaps the only Leicester player that came out of the first part of the season with any credit. In the big moments this season, Schmeichel has really stepped up, particularly in the Champions League when he made some big saves to ensure that the Foxes didn’t concede a goal in their first four Champions league matches. He then saved a penalty in both legs of the Last-16 tie against Sevilla to ensure Leicester’s dream run continued into the quarter-finals. He also put in a man of the match performance against West Ham in March, producing one of the saves of the season to deny Andy Carroll what looked a certain goal in the second half.
Liverpool- Georginio Wijnaldum
Wijnaldum has been a real hit since his arrival from Newcastle in the summer. Many eyebrows were raised when he made the move to Anfield, particularly since the fee involved was £23m. The main theme from his time at Newcastle was frustration, he showed glimpses of his talent, especially when he scored four against Norwich but he was often accused of not looking interested and lacking the fight for a relegation battle. However, he has completely brought into Jurgen Klopp’s ‘heavy-metal’ football, scoring five and assisting four this season and showing the form we all expected of the Dutch international when he arrived on these shores.
Manchester City- Kevin De Bruyne
A lot of people scoffed at the £55m club record fee that City paid Wolfsburg in the summer of 2015 for a player that had previously sampled English football and failed to hit the heights. However, De Bruyne immediately hit the ground running second time around and looked to justify his price tag. He has become one of the first names on the City team sheet, scoring a fantastic free-kick in the 3-1 win over Barcelona in November. His pace and trickery have proved valuable assets for City and he will be one of the faces the new-look City will be built around after the presumed summer re-build.
Manchester United- David De Gea
Quite simply, one of the best goalkeepers in world football. He is any conversation alongside the likes of Manuel Neuer and Gianluigi Buffon. After his arrival from Atlético Madrid in 2011, his shot-stopping abilities were unquestioned but his ability to command his box and be a presence were in doubt but since then, all areas of his game have grown exponentially. Sir Alex Ferguson used to say that a good goalkeeper would earn you around 10 points a season and particularly in the uncertain times following his departure, De Gea did just that and was at times perhaps all that stood between Manchester United and mid-table obscurity. Real Madrid will inevitably come calling in the summer and Manchester United’s future success could well depend on whether they can keep their man or not.
Middlesbrough- Adama Traore
It’s not been a thrilling season for fans down at the Riverside, they have seen their side score just 20 times in their 28 matches this season. Attacking flair has been at a minimum and it is threatening to cost them their place in the Premier League. The only real source is from former Barcelona and Aston Villa winger Adama Traore. He has pace to burn and can cause opposition real problems just by running at them, on average, he completes around 8.6 dribbles per match at a success rate of 81%. He was even linked with Chelsea in January. He still has a lot to learn though with very few of these dribbles leading to chances created due to his final ball leaving a lot to be desired. This is a major area of improvement in his game but at the age of 21, he has time and Middlesbrough will be hoping it’s at the Riverside that he realises this potential.
Southampton- Virgil van Dijk
It took a while to persuade the Dutchman to join the club from Celtic but since he made the move in 2015, neither the club nor the player have looked back. He’s a natural leader for the Saints and ticks all the boxes with his ability. He is a dominating presence and was a big miss for the Saints in the recent EFL Cup final. After losing Jose Fonte to West Ham, Claude Puel will be even more desperate to keep hold of his star man ahead of next season for a push to get back into Europe but with Manchester City looking to invest in their defence, it could be a long summer for Saints fans.
Stoke- Marko Arnautovic
The Austrian hitman has played a big part in securing Stoke three consecutive ninth place finishes. He has been deployed on the wing and in the centre by Mark Hughes and had his most prolific campaign last season when he hit 11 goals in the Premier League. He is a precocious talent and does like to play on the edge, with Jose Mourinho once describing him as a “fantastic person but has the attitude of a child.” However, Mark Hughes knows how to get the best out of him and has had to work hard to persuade him to stay. Recently, record Austrian cap-maker Andreas Herzog suggested Arnautovic should be playing for “an Arsenal or Tottenham” and on his day, it’s hard to argue that he’s not at that level.
Sunderland- Jan Kirchoff
It’s not been a season with fond memories for Sunderland fans, for the first time in several seasons, it looks as if Sunderland’s great escape may not be on this season. The squad is lacking in quality and David Moyes’s men are struggling to keep their heads above water. Perhaps, they would be in less trouble if Kirchoff had stayed fit. He arrived last January and performed impressively in the role of defensive shield in front of the back four. The German international showed all his experience from his time at Bayern Munich and Schalke. He is unlikely to hang around to hang around for Championship football so sadly for Black Cats fans, they could already have seen the last of him in a red and white shirt.
Swansea- Lukasz Fabianski
The Polish shot-stopper came to Swansea when his career was at its lowest ebb. He was an outcast at Arsenal and was derided by fans who had given him the nickname ‘Flappyhandski’ following the many mistakes he had made. On top of this, he had lost his place in the national side. This did not break him though and Swansea became his new dawn. He has been a virtual ever-present since his arrival in Wales and has been instrumental in the club’s stabilising in the Premier League and has been rewarded with the starting spot for his country. He topped the most saves made in the Premier League in 2014/15 (137), followed that up with the second most the following season and this season, sits fourth on the list with 86 saves. Clearly, he has put his early career jitters behind him and has developed into an accomplished Premier League goalkeeper.
Tottenham Hotspur- Hugo Lloris
The France no.1 has had a big impact on the North Londoners since his arrival from Lyon in 2012. He has kept an impressive 54 clean sheets in the Premier League and has been a major factor towards Spurs consistently having one of the best defensive records over the past few seasons. Their goal record has consistently matched Chelsea’s this season and it’s only an inability to turn more draws into wins that accounts towards the chasm Chelsea have been allowed to open up at the top of the league. Lloris has made many spectacular saves and is ably supported by the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Verthongen and Moussa Dembele, all unfortunate not to make this list.
Watford- Etienne Capoue
One that got away from Tottenham was Etienne Capoue. He joined the club from Toulouse in 2013 but only made 12 league appearances in each of his two seasons at White Hart Lane. Watford took a chance on him, paying £6.3m for him in the summer of 2015 and that looks to have been a bargain. His name can be heard on the terraces at any Watford game, another sign of what an important part of the side Capoue has come. He was always known as a tough tackling midfielder but this season appears to have added goals to his game, scoring important ones in the wins over Manchester United and West Ham.
West Brom- Nacer Chadli
Another Tottenham cast-off turned star is Nacer Chadli. West Brom committed a lot to sign the Belgian international, £13m, a club record. The club are currently sitting in 8th, chasing their best ever Premier League finish, a large part down to the creativity of Chadli. He got off to the best possible start at the Hawthorns, scoring twice and assisting twice on his home debut in a 4-2 win over West Ham, the first sign of just what the season had in store for the Baggies. He has gone on to score five and assist five so far this season.
West Ham- Darren Randolph
In the summer of 2015, Randolph made a rather low-key free transfer to West Ham from Birmingham to become the backup goalkeeper. He bided his time but was forced onto the bench by the outstanding form of Adrian. When his form dipped, Slaven Bilic gave Randolph an opportunity and he grasped it with both hands. The Irish keeper has seized the national jersey with the string of eye-catching saves he has made in West Ham’s disappointing campaign and he now looks immovable from that no.1 spot.
Feature image credit: Xavier Häpe