Premier League 2023-24 review: signings of the season

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Adam Wharton;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Adam Wharton</a> has stepped up impressively at <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Crystal Palace;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Crystal Palace</a> since his move from Blackburn.</span><span>Photograph: Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images</span>

Declan Rice, Arsenal

The easiest way to explain Rice’s contribution to Arsenal is that he has somehow made £105m look cheap. The 25-year-old – who has missed just one game this season in all competitions – has transformed the Gunners’ midfield and his defensive nous, tenacity and tactical intelligence has provided freedom and room for others – particularly Martin Ødegaard – to shine. Only Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard have more assists in the league for Arsenal this season – and part of the reason Arsenal have been so effective from set pieces is because of the quality of Rice’s delivery. He is a complete and elite box-to-box midfielder and a natural leader.

Ross Barkley, Luton

“Ain’t nobody, like Ross Barkley, makes me happy, makes me feel this way”. Luton fans might have the chant of the season – to the tune of Chaka Khan’s funky classic – for one of its standout players. Kenilworth Road looked like just the latest pit-stop in Barkley’s sad decline, which had been steady since swapping the blue of Everton for Chelsea in 2018. But in a new deeper position and wearing the No 6 shirt, the 30-year-old has been a revelation. Luton managed to secure his signature on a free transfer, surely making him the bargain of the season. It helps that Barkley is at a club and under a manager where his talents are unique and revered. The bad news for the relegated Hatters is that they will surely face a fight to keep him this summer.

Adam Wharton, Crystal Palace

Life at Palace could hardly have got off to a worse start for the boy from Blackburn. Two days after signing for an initial £18m, Wharton was brought on after 28 minutes with Palace 1-0 down away at rivals Brighton. Six minutes later Palace had conceded twice more, with Wharton guilty of losing possession for Brighton’s third. The Eagles lost 4-1 on that day in early February, but since then, the languid midfielder has started every match, and has been key to Palace becoming one of the most exciting teams in the league under Oliver Glasner. Such is the quality of Wharton’s passing, movement and positioning, Gareth Southgate is reportedly considering him for the Euros and Bayern Munich have recently been linked with a £60m move, which would represent a threefold return for Palace in under four months. “He has stepped up so quick,” said Glasner before Palace’s 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United. “His decision-making, his pre-orientation, his solutions with one or two touches are amazing.”

Micky van de Ven, Tottenham

There are a few impressive left-sided centre-backs that could have made this list – Manchester City’s Josko Gvardiol, Nottingham Forest’s Jeison Murillo, Aston Villa’s Pau Torres – but Van de Ven is perhaps the most exciting new central defender in the league since Rúben Dias’ arrival in 2020. Voted Tottenham’s player of the season by supporters this month despite missing three months through injury, Van de Ven already looks the finished product at the age of 23. The son of an undercover detective, the Dutch defender is hardly inconspicuous: standing 6’ 4” tall, he is wonderfully aggressive on the ball and has an eye for goal too. Against Brentford in January, the £34.5m signing clocked the highest-ever speed by a Premier League player since records began in 2020 – 23.22mph.

Kai Havertz, Arsenal

It feels like it was an eternity ago that Havertz swapped blue for red, signing for Arsenal from Chelsea last June for £65m. Initially deployed as a meandering No 8 by Mikel Arteta (and even as a left-back for Germany in November), Havertz only scored once (a penalty) for his new club in his first 19 games and was widely doubted. But since becoming a false nine, the 24-year-old has been absolutely indispensable to the Gunners with his goals, link-up play, aerial threat and unselfish work rate – no Premier League striker has covered more ground per 90 minutes than Havertz. Without him, Arsenal would surely not have challenged for the title. The scary thing is that while Havertz is already an elite Champions League-winning forward with a wealth of experience, it still feel like there is still room for improvement. Waka waka.

Cole Palmer, Chelsea

Last summer, Palmer was linked with a loan move to Burnley. This summer, the Chelsea playmaker is off to the Euros with England as one of the most in-form players across Europe. Palmer, who turned 22 on 6 May, is only the third player in history with more than 30 goal involvements in a Premier League season while 21 years old or younger – after Robbie Fowler and Chris Sutton. From his relaxed style to his ‘Cold’ Palmer celebrations, the Wythenshawe-born youngster oozes confidence and class, with some of his performances bordering on a joke, particularly his four-goal haul against Everton. When Palmer was too ill to face Arsenal last month, Mauricio Pochettino said it was “a good challenge for the teammates” to replace him. “This is Chelsea Football Club, not Cole Palmer Football Club”, claimed the Blues manager. The result – 5-0 to the Gunners – suggests otherwise.