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TBR’s 2014-15 Premier League Team of the Season

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With the PFA Player of the Year nominees announced and the finishing line of the 2014-15 Premier League in sight, it seems like a good time to put my neck on the block and concoct a team of the season. I’ve gone with a 3-4-3 formation, partly due to a prevalence of wonderful attacking players and the lack of truly outstanding defenders.

Goalkeeper: David de Gea

A nice, straightforward choice to begin with. The Spaniard was dismissed as too lightweight and flimsy in his debut season at Old Trafford three years ago but he has grown immeasurably into the role since then. Man United’s defence hasn’t been the sturdiest this term, albeit a defence that has been changed very frequently due to a spate of injuries, and de Gea has donned the Superman cape on many occasions. In fact, there was a case to be made for him being the world’s most in-form goalkeeper in 2014-15 and it’s very hard to imagine Louis van Gaal’s team sitting in the top three were it not for the heroics of the 24-year-old in goal.

Defence: Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Laurent Koscielny

No real surprise to see two Chelsea players making the cut for the back line. Ivanovic is not only a strong, versatile presence for Jose Mourinho’s champions-elect; he also has a startlingly good scoring ratio for a man in his position. Nor is he merely a headed goals specialist; he has finished to the net adeptly with his feet and is possibly more composed on the ball than any defender in the league.

His team-mate Terry has again been the epitome of leadership at the heart of Chelsea’s defence. In an era where top-class centre-backs are in frighteningly short supply, the veteran is an excellent blueprint for all practicers of the position, young and old, to follow. While he may not be universally popular, even his more ardent detractors would be hard pressed to pick holes in his defensive duties.

Arsenal and good defending have not been synonymous in the last few years, but at last they have a man at the back who offers security and peace of mind in an area where they have so often struggled. In his fifth season in north London, Koscielny has brought some much-needed consistency and confidence to the Gunners’ rearguard and his part in the team’s spring revival cannot be understated.

Midfield: Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic, Philippe Coutinho, Alexis Sanchez

Anchoring the midfield is Matic, whose physicality in the engine room has been every bit as important to Chelsea as the goals of Diego Costa. Since rejoining the Blues, the Serbian has hardly set a foot wrong and his influence on the side has evolved massively.

While Matic does the dirty work, team-mate Hazard is the box of tricks who has simply been sensational this season. We all knew the Belgian had something about him when he came to the Premier League three years ago and he can now rightfully be considered among the world’s finest. Extremely skilful and with a very satisfactory goal tally, he is my Player of the Year for 2014/15.

Brendan Rodgers’ transfer record at Liverpool leaves a lot to be desired but he got it absolutely right when luring Coutinho to Anfield in 2013. The Brazilian isn’t always at the forefront of things, but he has been his club’s best player in a hugely disappointing season for the Reds and the goals he produced against Southampton and Man City a few weeks ago were just sublime. Never mind Raheem Sterling; this boy is the one Liverpool ought to treasure over any other.

The Merseysiders’ fortunes would surely have been better if they had managed to win the race to sign Sanchez last summer, but instead the Chilean maestro went to Arsenal and needed no time to bed into life in north London. A lethal finisher and an outstanding footballer, he is perhaps the chief reason for what looks set to be the Gunners’ best league finish since 2005.

Attack: Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Harry Kane

For a player who has missed a sizeable amount of the season through injury, Aguero’s goal tally has been excellent and it highlights just how central he is to the Manchester City cause. No other player at the club even comes close to the finishing prowess that the Argentine has to offer and, had he been fully fit throughout the season, the champions would almost certainly have been at least battling to the finish for a second consecutive title.

Costa arrived at Chelsea on the back of a disappointing showing for Spain at the World Cup, but he wasn’t long dispelling the memories of that tough time in Brazil once he pitched his tent in west London. Right from the word go, he was banging them in and, combined with his spiky nature, he is a nightmare of an opponent for other teams. The Blues sorely missed a regular goalscorer last season; they have more than remedied the problem since then.

When Mauricio Pochettino took the Tottenham job last year, he was most likely counting on strikers Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor to come good. Although both of those have been anonymous this season, goalscoring hasn’t been a problem for Spurs, mainly thanks to the wonderful form of Kane, a sure-fire contender for the best English performer in the Premier League in 2014-15. If he can build on this debut season and not get overwhelmed by the hysteria surrounding him, he will go on to be a top-class striker for years.


TBR Team of the Year - Football tactics and formations


 

Nearly men

In his first season as a Chelsea regular, Thibaut Courtois has been a commanding, error-free number one, picking up where he left off from his superb form with Atletico Madrid last year. An honourable mention, too, for Simon Mignolet, whose Liverpool career looked ominous in December but since a brief spell on the bench he has consistently worked wonders for the Reds.

As the team with the fewest goals conceded in the league, I really should at least give a hat tip to some Southampton defenders. Nathaniel Clyne has been magnificent at right-back, with Jose Fonte thriving at the heart of the Saints’ defence. Hector Bellerin has shown plenty of promise for Arsenal, while Cesar Azpilicueta can also look back on his year with satisfaction.

In terms of defensive-minded midfield protectors, Morgan Schneiderlin has again been on song for Southampton, who will do very well to hold on to him for another season. He has been linked with a switch to Arsenal, for whom Francis Coquelin has suddenly become an instrumental figure. At the outset of the campaign, not too many would have expected the young Frenchman to become so indispensable to the Gunners’ cause.

Further up the midfield area, David Silva and Christian Eriksen have been rare chinks of shining light in gloomy seasons for their respective clubs. Juan Mata hasn’t had the most straightforward of times at Man Utd, but when given a chance he has almost always been effective, as Liverpool will certainly testify. Cesc Fabregas‘ form has tailed in recent weeks, although he had been flying earlier in the campaign, while the vast 2015 improvement of Crystal Palace is in no small thanks to the all-action displays of Yannick Bolasie.

In attack, Olivier Giroud has developed into a hugely reliably goal-grabber for Arsenal, while even if QPR and Burnley don’t manage to beat the drop, they still have every chance of doing so because of the potency of Charlie Austin and Danny Ings. After both players performed so impressively in the Championship last season, they have taken to the demands of the top flight like ducks to water.

27-year-old Liverpool supporter from Ireland with a keen interest in Irish, English and European football. Been writing about football in either a personal or professional capacity since I was 12.

Arsenal

Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Emirates

Rob Meech

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Arsenal
Photo: Reuters

A barnstorming first-half performance against Crystal Palace saw Arsenal record their first victory of 2018. Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette all scored in the opening 22 minutes to stun Crystal Palace. Arsenal could not add to their tally as the visitors stemmed the bleeding and replied with a late consolation through Luka Milivojevic.

This was a much-needed victory for Arsenal, whose ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League have taken a blow in recent weeks. Palace meanwhile, have been in impressive form since Roy Hodgson took charge, but this defeat has checked their progress. Here are three talking points from the Emirates…

Mesut Ozil steps up in Alexis Sanchez’s absence

With Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United rumoured to be nearing completion, this was a chance for Arsenal supporters to see how the team might shape up without him. Sanchez was excluded from the side that lost to Bournemouth last weekend, but his absence was hardly felt here.

That might have had something to do with the return of Mesut Ozil from injury. The Germany international was influential throughout, particularly in partnership with the rejuvenated Jack Wilshere. Ozil is sometimes accused of drifting in and out of games against top-quality opposition, but when he is given licence to express himself without defensive responsibility, there are few better players to watch in the Premier League.

Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, Ozil showed Gunners fans that there can be life after Sanchez. It should not be forgotten that Ozil is another Arsenal player in the final six months of his contract. Tying him down to a new deal must be a priority for the club.

A reality check for lacklustre Palace

After losing their first seven Premier League matches – without scoring a goal in the process – relegation seemed nailed on for Palace. The appointment of Hodgson was largely derided, but the former England boss has had a remarkable impact in a relatively short space of time at Selhurst Park.

Survival is by no means guaranteed, but such has been their upturn in form that it is hard to imagine the Eagles being sucked back into trouble. It says a lot about their progress that many thought an upset might have been on the cards. Palace, however, were left shell-shocked after Arsenal’s four-goal burst.

When the Gunners click, they can be irresistible. Palace fans need not be too alarmed, even if their defending was lax. In fact, they should be heartened that their players did not capitulate in the second period, with the game effectively over. Although Milivojevic’s goal was too, little too late, it was just reward for a much-improved second-half performance.

Lacazette issues a timely reminder 

With a 3-0 advantage after just 13 minutes, Arsenal were in cruise control. But it was Lacazette’s goal, rounding off a superb team move to make it 4-0, that would have provided the biggest cheer. After hitting the ground running following his big-money transfer from Lyon last summer, the 26-year-old had endured a goal drought that stretched all the way back to December 2.

With questions being asked about his form, amid speculation that Arsenal are set to launch a raid for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a timely reminder that Lacazette has plenty to offer. His overall record of nine Premier League goals from 24 appearances is more than respectable for a newcomer to the English game.

Lacazette will hope that his goal against Palace can be the catalyst for another scoring run. Without Sanchez, the burden rests more heavily on the France international and if a move for Aubameyang does not materialise, he will have a big part to play in Arsenal’s push for the top four.

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Why Everton are the perfect club for Theo Walcott to rebuild his career

Rob Meech

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Theo Walcott

It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is only 28 years old. He burst on to the scene aged 16 for Southampton in League One and was snapped up by Arsenal shortly afterwards. His inexplicable selection for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, without playing in a single Premier League game, transformed him into an overnight star.

Big things have been expected of Walcott ever since. It’s fair to say that, despite winning 47 caps for England and making 397 appearances for Arsenal, he has failed to live up to the hype. Now, after 12 years, Walcott is bidding farewell to the Emirates and hoping to revive his flagging career under Sam Allardyce at Everton, whom he has joined for £20 million after agreeing terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Speculation that Walcott’s days at Arsenal were numbered had persisted for several years, but his desire to prove himself at the club kept him in north London even when admirers came calling. His 21 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign suggested he had cracked it, but that proved to be a false dawn.

In truth, Walcott’s decision to sign for Everton was probably a no-brainer. Now in the prime of his career, he simply has to be playing regularly. The reality of how far down the pecking order he had fallen at Arsenal struck this season, when he often failed to make Arsene Wenger’s match-day squad. His last appearance for the Gunners came as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth.

Everton’s interest in Walcott emerged only recently, but he was clearly one of Allardyce’s top targets. One look at the Toffees’ recent form underlines why. After an immediate upturn in fortunes after the former England boss’s appointment, Everton have embarked on a winless streak that stretches back to December 18.

Lack of pace is a pressing concern and this is an attribute that Walcott possesses in abundance. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are intelligent footballers, but not the type that will blitz opposition defenders. Instead, they have relied on chipping balls over the top for the striker to chase. As such, Everton are one-dimensional and easy to play against, with no player capable of launching a counter-attack.

Also highlighting their urgent need for more firepower is the grim statistic that only rock-bottom Swansea have had fewer shots than Everton this season. New big-money signing Cenk Tosun has increased competition in the striking department but may take time to settle, whereas Walcott’s Premier League pedigree means no transitional period will be needed.

The former Southampton man’s versatility makes him an attractive proposition. For Arsenal, he predominantly featured on the right wing – either in a four-man midfield or a three-man attack – but he is equally adept at playing up top on his own, a position where he tried but ultimately failed to establish himself at the Emirates.

Potential is a word that has long been associated with Walcott. It is no longer applicable. At 28, this is possibly his final chance to realise his ambitions, both domestically and internationally. Everton, a sleeping giant, are a perfect fit. Under the auspices of major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, plans are in the pipeline for a brand-spanking new stadium to enable them to compete alongside the Premier League’s elite.

After being a peripheral figure at Arsenal for so long, Walcott has become the forgotten man of English football. For the sake of his career, he simply had to leave north London. By joining Everton, Walcott, who will wear the number 11 shirt, has the security of working under a manager who rates him highly. Now, he has the opportunity to become the player he always promised to be.

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Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth
Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth came from behind to claim a much-needed victory over Arsenal, whose hopes of qualifying for the Champions League have suffered another blow.

After an insipid opening period at the Vitality Stadium, the action sparked into life when Hector Bellerin broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.

But Arsenal’s lead was short-lived, as goals from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe – his first for the club – secured the Cherries’ fourth home win of the season, which lifted them to 13th in the table.

Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped further adrift in the battle to finish in the top four after their third consecutive league game without a win. Here are three talking points…

Alexis Sanchez moves closer to the Emirates exit door

All the pre-match talk centred on a player who wasn’t involved in the contest. Not only was Alexis Sanchez not named in the starting XI, he wasn’t even on the bench having not travelled to the south coast.

Manager Arsene Wenger was ambiguous when pressed on this in the aftermath of the defeat, but the insinuation was clear; the want-away Chilean will not be an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window.

Both Manchester City and Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Sanchez, whose contract at the Emirates expires in the summer. Despite his uncertain future, this match was crying out for his never-say-die attitude.

Arsenal controlled the first half and deserved to be in front when Bellerin fired home. However, the Gunners were unable to add a second and Bournemouth capitalised with two late efforts. Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in four games in 2018 as their troubles mount.

Bournemouth buck the trend against the ‘Big Six’

Before this fixture, Bournemouth had lost all of their matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season, scoring only one goal in seven outings.

While those are not necessarily the games that will define their campaign, it was a worrying statistic that Eddie Howe needed to address. Facing an Arsenal team without Sanchez or Mesut Ozil looked like being the Cherries’ best opportunity to buck that trend, and so it proved.

With only nine points separating all the teams in the bottom half, an unexpected win can do so much to alter the picture. The Cherries didn’t fold after going a goal behind and they merited the three points for an enterprising second-half display.

Having beaten Arsenal for the first time in their history, Bournemouth are now four points clear of the drop-zone. They are by no means safe because of this result, but the psychological impact could be immense.

Jack Wilshere getting back to his best

Returning to the club at which he spent last season on loan, this was not the afternoon Jack Wilshere would have hoped for. Though it didn’t go well from a team perspective, the 26-year-old was close to his best at the Vitality Stadium.

He touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch and also completed more passes. After a frustrating start to the campaign where he struggled for minutes in the Premier League, Wilshere is now establishing himself in the starting XI.

He was Arsenal’s best player against Bournemouth and in a team that lacks leaders, he was one of the few who looked like he wanted the ball. Wilshere ran the show in midfield and was always keen to move forward with purpose.

England manager Gareth Southgate surely can’t ignore Wilshere’s form and, fitness permitting, he must be a shoo-in for the next squad. In a World Cup year, Wilshere is peaking at just the right time.

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