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Premier League half-term reports: Arsenal, Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley and Cardiff

With just over half the Premier League season completed, BTSport.com takes stock of how each of the 20 teams has fared to date and their hopes and aspirations for the remainder of the campaign. Here is the first instalment of this four-part series.

Premier League half-term report

As the second half of the Premier League season begins in earnest, BTSport.com provides its half-term report on Arsenal, Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley and Cardiff.

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Arsenal 

League position: 5th

Record: P21 W12 D5 L4 F46 A31 Pts 41

Top scorer: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (14)

Most assists: Aaron Ramsey (6)

Star man: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

While his overall build-up play for Arsenal can be called into question, Aubameyang’s goal record since arriving at the Emirates is indisputable.

The club-record signing is the joint-top scorer in the Premier League after 21 matches and his goals have got Arsenal out of jail repeatedly when they haven’t been at their best this season. A brace in the north London derby win over Tottenham has further endeared him to Gunners fans.

Arsenal have been crying out for a 25-30-goal-a-season striker since Robin van Persie’s departure. In Aubameyang they’ve finally found one.

Unsung hero: Alex Iwobi

This might have been Rob Holding had the centre-back not gone down with a season-ending injury at Old Trafford. A nod also to Lucas Torreira, whose impact in central midfield has been huge since arriving in the summer.

But Iwobi’s steep improvement this season has been key for a side that lacks willing and effective dribblers.

With Mesut Ozil not in boss Unai Emery’s good books, Iwobi represents the antithesis of the German – a hard-working, physical attacking midfielder suited to the coach’s system.

Season to date rating: 6/10

The jury is still out on Emery’s Arsenal. The Spaniard took over this summer with the club still in the midst of an Arsene Wenger hangover and began with two defeats against 'Big Six' rivals.

It then began to click, with Arsenal reeling off a 22-match unbeaten run in all competitions. The Gunners were solid defensively, with Granit Xhaka much improved and Torreira offering protection to the backline, while Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were providing the firepower.

Emery’s willingness to experiment tactically when things weren’t going Arsenal’s way was another refreshing change and a thumping 4-2 win in the north London derby had the Emirates reaching decibel levels rarely heard before.

However, last month's 5-1 defeat at Anfield felt like a regression to the dark days of last season and reminded fans of Arsenal’s place in the Premier League hierarchy. Disrupted by a series of injuries, Emery’s defence has fallen apart in recent weeks and top-four qualification looks to be slipping away.

January transfer window wish list: Defensive reinforcements.

Holding was probably Arsenal’s best centre-back before an anterior cruciate ligament injury ended his season prematurely, while more minor injuries to his fellow defenders have destabilised the backline further.

But established defenders capable of making a difference immediately are in short, or very expensive, supply in January and the Gunners top brass may opt to keep their powder dry until the summer.

Elsewhere an attacking midfielder or a winger would be a welcome addition to a side lacking in creativity without Ozil in the team. Barcelona’s Denis Suarez has emerged as an option.

Aaron Ramsey’s departure is inevitable – whether in January or July – but to avoid giftwrapping him for a Premier League rival would represent damage limitation.

A good second half of the season would be: Qualification for the Champions League - whether through placing in the top four or by winning the Europa League.

Back-to-back Premier League fixtures away at Tottenham and at home to Manchester United in March could go a long way to determining where the Gunners finish this campaign.

Not a huge amount was expected of Emery given the malaise the club was in when he took over but fans will be hoping to see a team with a clearer identity as he continues to impart his philosophy on the squad.

Arsenal must also find a solution to the Ozil problem. The club’s best-paid and probably most talented player can’t get a game under Emery – who has repeatedly admitted leaving the German out for “tactical reasons”.

The club are hamstrung by his huge wage packet and must decide whether to offload him or find a way of integrating him into the team.

Bournemouth 

League position: 12th

Record: P21 W8 D3 L10 F31 A40 Pts 27

Top scorer: Callum Wilson (10)

Most assists: Ryan Fraser (9)

Star man: Ryan Fraser 

The smallest player in the Premier League has developed into one of the most dangerous wingers in the division and with nine assists so far he is joint-top with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard in the charts.

Fraser complements Bournemouth’s free-flowing style perfectly and his ability to dribble past defenders and set up team-mates has swung games in the Cherries’ favour.

Now he just needs to learn to do it against the top dogs, with none of his five goals or nine assists this season coming against the Big Six.

Unsung hero: David Brooks

Bournemouth look to have signed a real gem in the form of 21-year-old winger David Brooks, who has shined whether playing just behind the striker or as a traditional winger in a four-man midfield.

The Wales international is a brilliant technician with the ball at his feet and the latest in a long line of attacking players developing in leaps and bounds under Eddie Howe. A brace in the 2-0 win over Brighton has been the highlight of his breakthrough campaign.

Interestingly, despite his slight build, Brooks isn’t afraid of getting stuck in either with the sixth-best tackle success rate in the league so far.

Season to date rating: 7/10

In early December, when a win over Huddersfield lifted Howe’s side up to the lofty heights of sixth, above big-spending Manchester United, this rating might have been 9/10.

Bournemouth had enjoyed a sensational start to the season and had become one of the most dangerous teams in the league - with a 4-0 win at Watford and a 3-0 victory at Fulham testament to their attacking prowess.

However consecutive 5-0 and 4-1 defeats have since brought the Cherries firmly back down to earth and while they remain lovely to watch going forward, their defence implodes far too often for them to seriously challenge for European qualification.

But despite his problems in organising Bournemouth’s defence, Howe deserves huge credit.

The long-serving coach is brave enough to allow players to express themselves when others in the division seek to survive through attrition and they are on course for their best league finish ever.

January transfer window wish list: Hold on to Callum Wilson. 

Bournemouth’s top scorer has caught the eye of Chelsea, who are desperate for a new striker to improve upon the misfiring Alvaro Morata and blunt instrument Olivier Giroud.

Bounemouth fans will be hoping that the unproven Dominic Solanke, signed for £19 million from Liverpool this window, is not a replacement for Wilson. Solanke was capped by England last season but has just one Premier League goal to his name.

The signing of Nathaniel Clyne on loan has added experience to Bournemouth’s back line – while simultaneously riling up Cardiff manager Neil Warnock.

A good second half of the season would be: Finishing eighth (or above), thereby securing the club’s highest ever position in a league season.

Bourmemouth are on course to secure a fifth consecutive season in the top flight for 2019/20 and establishing the Cherries as Premier League regulars would be a huge achievement for Howe.

Still, fans may feel aggrieved there is no FA Cup run to look forward to. Despite Bournemouth seemingly being unthreatened by the relegation zone, Howe again made wholesale changes as his side were dumped out in the third round by Brighton. 

Brighton

Record: P21 W7 D5 L9 F24 A29 Pts 26

Top scorer: Glenn Murray (8)

Most assists: Solly March (5)

Star man: Glenn Murray

After Brighton twice splashed out on strikers in two windows – with Jurgen Locadia arriving in January and Florin Andone signing in July – Murray might have feared for his place in Brighton’s starting XI.

Instead the 35-year-old brushed off the competition and started the season on fire with four in his first five games - including a goal in the 3-2 win over Manchester United and a brace in the 2-2 draw with Fulham – to earn talk of a belated England call-up.

The goals have since dried up for Murray but with eight of Brighton’s meagre total of 24 this season, he remains a crucial figure for the Seagulls.

Unsung hero: Shane Duffy

Fellow centre-back Lewis Dunk or goalkeeper Mat Ryan are worthy candidates for this one but Shane Duffy just edges it with his outstanding displays at the heart of Brighton’s defence.

Duffy has made 133 clearances this season and is crucial to a back line that has conceded fewer goals than all but one of the bottom-half sides. He’s also scored three times – in crucial matches against Huddersfield, West Ham and Southampton.

The Irishman’s sending off against rivals Crystal Palace, in a match Brighton still won 3-1 at the Amex, is the only blot on his copybook.

Season to date rating: 6/10

It’s been another steady if unspectacular second season in the top flight for the Seagulls as they continue to adjust admirably to life in the Premier League.

Chris Hughton has made the Amex a tough place to visit for opposing teams and Brighton boast a better record at home than any team outside the top six – a remarkable statistic that is testament to the ex-Newcastle coach’s impact on the south coast.

Highlights so far include that landmark 3-2 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United back in August and holding Arsenal to 1-1 draw on Boxing Day.

Outside of those results, Brighton have mostly taken care of business against their fellow bottom-half teams.

January transfer window wishlist: Keeping Pascal Gross.

“At this moment I don’t see us doing much business, if anything at all,” Hughton said earlier this month. “We are fortunate that players we brought in during other windows who haven’t played as much are starting to now.”

So getting the best out of recent signings – such as out-of-form forward Locadia and injured winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh - looks to be the priority for Hughton rather than splashing out on more arrivals this window. Any interest in key midfielder Pascal Gross must also be rebuffed.

A good second half of the season would be: Mid-table finish.

Another finish in mid-table mediocrity might not sound too glamorous but with only the 16th-highest wage bill in the Premier League it would represent another impressive campaign for Brighton.

They don’t look in any serious danger of going down at the moment, with ten points between themselves and the relegation zone.

That’s an achievement in itself and makes it all the more puzzling that a section of Brighton fans were booing during the 1-1 home draw against Leicester back in November.

Burnley

Record: P21 W5 D3 L13 F21 A42 Pts 18

Top scorer: Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood (both 4)

Most assists: Johan Gudmundsson and Ashley Westwood (both 4)

Star man: Johann Gudmundsson

It’s slim pickings during a down season for Sean Dyche’s men but Gudmundsson’s consistency on the right side of Burnley’s midfield has been a massive part of what little success they have managed.

While many of his team-mates have taken a step backwards, the Iceland international has scored twice and laid on four assists for his team-mates so far this season.

Gudmundsson’s tireless running up and down the flanks, delivering teasing crosses for Burnley’s front men, makes him a star pupil in Dyche’s school of hard knocks.

Unsung hero: Ashley Westwood

Again a tough one, but the unheralded Westwood has contributed more than his fellow central midfielders Jack Cork and Jeff Hendrick with four assists to match Gudmundsson’s total.

Two of those assists have come in Burnley’s last two matches – victories over Huddersfield and West Ham that have lifted the Clarets out of the drop zone. The tidy midfielder has been one of Dyche’s more reliable lieutenants.

Youngster Dwight McNeil also deserves an honourable mention for making an impression in his four Premier League appearances this campaign.

Season to date rating: 3/10

Like with Newcastle in 2012/13 and Southampton in 2017/18, Burnley have struggled to combine a Europa League campaign with their Premier League commitments and find themselves deep in a relegation battle.

Three European qualifying rounds (the first of which began in July), six matches and trips to Aberdeen, Istanbul and Athens contributed to Burnley beginning the season with one draw and three defeats in the Premier League. Dyche will thank his lucky stars a paper-thin squad never made the group stages.

That malaise has continued long into the season and the solidity that formed the bedrock of Burnley’s success in 2017/18 has all but gone this campaign.

Dyche’s men have succumbed to 5-1, 4-0 and 5-0 hammerings already and only Fulham possess a worst defensive record in the division than Burnley’s 42 goals conceded.

Thankfully the Clarets have managed to string together some results of late, winning back-to-back matches for the first time this season in their last two league outings. Those points could prove crucial come May.

January transfer window wishlist: A winger.

Burnley are on the lookout for a new wide man this January with Aaron Lennon set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a serious knee injury suffered last month.

But as ever, funds are tight at Turf Moor and Dyche has dampened expectations that his side are about to splash out on a marquee signing in the coming weeks.

“The rules don’t change at Burnley,” the Burnley boss said. “It is not like we are just going to magic up £50 million and sign who we want so they have got to be available.”

A good half of the second season would be: Avoiding relegation.

Following up their remarkable seventh-placed finish in 2017/18 was always going to be a tough ask with such a threadbare squad but Burnley’s regression has been alarming.

The Clarets must rediscover their defensive resilience and offer more protection to whichever England international goalkeeper they choose to play each week.

Ben Mee and James Tarkowski have made 239 clearances between them already this season and their continued last-gasp interventions may prove the difference between survival and relegation.

And Burnley must pick up more points soon – with games against Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton and Arsenal their final four fixtures of the season, some breathing room could well be required.

Cardiff

Record: P21 W5 D3 L13 F19 A41 Pts 18

Top scorer: Callum Paterson (4)

Most assists: Sean Morrison (3)

Star man: Sol Bamba

“I think Bamba is slightly better than Virgil van Dijk, defensive-wise,” Warnock famously said after Liverpool splashed out £75 million to sign the Dutchman from Southampton in January 2018.

Warnock later said he’d “had a few drinks” when he made that claim but you could argue Bamba’s contributions to Cardiff have been just as important as Van Dijk’s to Liverpool this season.

The burly centre-back has been a titan at the back for Cardiff, making the second-most clearances (138) of any Premier League player after 21 matches played.

Bamba’s last-minute winner against Brighton, scored after his audacious overhead kick caused chaos in the penalty area, was a highlight. Somehow avoiding a booking for removing his shirt in celebration was an added bonus.

Unsung hero: Callum Paterson

Perhaps more out of exasperation over his other striking options than anything else, Warnock chose to deploy right-back Paterson as Cardiff’s lone front man during an October defeat at Tottenham and hasn’t looked back since.

Paterson isn’t exactly prolific but three of his four goals this season have been winners and his ability to battle for long balls forward has offered Cardiff an outlet when their backs are against the wall – which is often.

His transformation has been good news for everyone except maybe Bobby Reid, Kenneth Zohore and the recently departed Gary Madine.

Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge also deserves credit for keeping the Bluebirds in games with some spectacular saves while Bamba’s central defensive partner Sean Morrison has barely put a foot wrong either.

Season to date rating: 7/10

Seven out of 10 may seem high for a side that sit in 17th place after 21 games but given the limited expectations placed on Cardiff at the start of the season, the rating is justified.

Strong favourites for relegation in August and with a squad filled with Championship players, few gave Cardiff a prayer of staying up. Even their own manager. “I wouldn’t bet on us staying up,” Warnock quipped in October.

The Bluebirds boss had stated that keeping them in the division was the hardest challenge of his 38-year managerial career “by a mile”. And he even joked that he wouldn’t mind if Cardiff sacked him because he could “go away with my wife Sharon to Italy or somewhere and have a nice Christmas".

Warnock’s men have approached games very much in their manager’s image and in the only way they know how against more talented and illustrious opponents each week.

Launching long balls into the box and defending in numbers has become their hallmark, while averaging the lowest possession and passing accuracy of any team in the league.

January transfer window wishlist: At least three new additions.

Time for another Warnock soundbite. “It’s a disgrace and a lack of class,” the 70-year-old said after discovering top transfer target Clyne had snubbed Cardiff for Bournemouth.

Warnock has repeatedly stressed the need for Cardiff to recruit in January, saying he’d like to sign “three or four players” to aid their chances of survival.

The Cardiff boss revealed his side are close to agreeing terms for one player, believed to be Nice midfielder Adrien Tameze, but more reinforcements are needed to stave off the threat of relegation. Nantes forward Emiliano Sala is another target.

A good second half of the season would be: Survival.

You guessed it! Avoiding relegation. Cardiff were odds-on to go down before the season and should they stay up it will be remembered as one of the Premier League’s great survival stories.

The Bluebirds are enjoying their best run of the season, with four of their five Premier League victories coming in the past ten matches. The concern is they are still only two points clear of the drop zone.

If they do go down then at least their supporters will have been entertained – see Junior Hoilett’s stunning late winner against Wolves or Victor Camarasa’s equally brilliant goal to beat Leicester at the King Power Stadium. 

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