Premier League Team of the Week VIII feat. Arsenal and Everton Stars
On yet another enthralling weekend of Premier League action, we were blessed with goals galore, increasingly intriguing story lines, and fast-paced action. After a truly awful start to their title defence, Chelsea had sparked the beginnings of a revival in the past few weeks but to follow up a Champions League defeat at the hands of F.C. Porto, Ronald Koeman’s Southampton put them to the sword on Saturday evening. The fortress that had previously existed at Stamford Bridge was breached once more this campaign and Mourinho’s men were overcome by a travelling Saints’ side who showed far too much desire and quality for the players in blue. It could well be considered that Chelsea’s chances of retaining their Premier League crown are already gone this season, but should results and performances continue in the manner of the 3-1 home loss to Southampton, they have to start to consider the possibility of not even qualifying for the Champions League. How much longer can Mourinho’s miserable start to the 2015/16 campaign continue before Roman Abramovic has to seriously consider a change of management?
Games between Arsenal and Manchester United used to be billed as Premier League title deciders and while this cannot be claimed these days, it was certainly a match of equal drama and tremendous skill. Arsenal blitzed The Red Devils in the first half, racing to a 3-0 score-line and in the process created history. It became the first time ever in the Premier League that a Manchester side has been three goals down in twenty minutes. Arsenal fans will remember that first half display for many years to come as they put Louis Van Gaal’s troops to the sword, with Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil rightly rated as outstanding.
The Merseyside Derby kicked off the action on Sunday and; as has been the case in six of their last seven meetings in the Premier League, the match ended in a draw. Two defensive lapses resulted in both goals and after a fairly frantic first half with chances coming at regular intervals, the second half descended into a typical derby day affair and in the end, a draw would once again be seen as a fair result. In the hours that followed however, it was revealed that the outcome had not been enough to save Brendan Rodgers’ job, as he was sacked with immediate effect. The international break now provides the time for FSG to finalise a deal for the Northern Irishman’s successor, with potential candidates such as Klopp and Ancelotti having been rumoured for several weeks.
For an individual, the performance of the weekend undoubtedly has to go to Sergio Aguero who was the architect behind a Manchester City victory yet again. Pellegrini’s side returned to winning ways with a rapid-fire five goal burst from the striker, after City had lost their previous two Premier League meetings and had fallen behind to a Mitrovic header against Newcastle United. To eventually pick up a 6-1 win has sent a message to the rest of the top flight that Manchester City are back in business and that future slip-ups will be few and far between.
With so many choices presenting themselves, which eleven players will make it into my Premier League Team of the Week? As ever, please leave your comments and suggestions in the comments section or on twitter @TBRFootball .
Heurelho Gomes: A figure of mirth for many whilst he was plying his trade at White Hart Lane, Heurelho Gomes has managed to drop the tag of a goalkeeper prone to mistakes over the past couple of seasons. Even during his time at Spurs, he was something of an expert at saving penalties and that prowess came to the surface once more as he stopped a Bournemouth effort from 12 yards out. This comes in stark contrast to Boruc’s calamitous moment that allowed Ighalo to stroke the ball into an unguarded net, showing the extreme importance that a reliable ‘keeper possesses.
Aside from this moment of high drama, the veteran Brazilian also made a couple of vital saves that rescued a point for The Hornets. Perhaps even more impressive than his intervention at the spot-kick was his acrobatic save to prevent Cook’s incredible overhead kick from outside the area finding the corner of the net, in what would have certainly been a contender for goal of the season. Goalkeepers who earn points for their side on regular occasions are an invaluable asset and for Watford to survive the threat of relegation, you would imagine that Gomes has an important part to play.
Héctor Bellerin: At his adventurous best in Arsenal’s first half destruction of Manchester United, Héctor Bellerin had a real impact on the game from a marauding right-back role. He put both opposition full-backs to shame and in particular, showed Ashley Young to be hopelessly out of position on frequent occasions as Arsenal were rampant. The space that Bellerin continually found in advanced areas on the right flank gave Arsenal’s creative players options to choose from and we saw this in sharp focus as Wenger’s men grabbed their first goal of three on the day. His desire and pace to charge forward beyond Ashley Young dragged Manchester United’s other defenders out of position. Although his attempted cross was cut out, Smalling and Blind never fully recovered and ended up conceding to a piece of magic from Alexis. Memphis was almost completely absent as an attacking threat for Van Gaal’s side too, and it is a credit to Bellerin that the Dutch manager felt it prudent to withdraw his fellow countryman at half-time.
His display was not only about his searing speed and attacking prowess however. It was inevitable that Manchester United would come back into the game at some point and when they did, Bellerin produced some smart play to get his side out of danger. Wenger’s footballing philosophy and intent to play beautiful football has clearly had an impact on the young Spaniard as he was frequently not content to simply thump an aimless long ball up the field, a tactic which would have played into the hands of Manchester United. Arsenal required defensive solidity once they were three goals to the good and had desires only to secure the result. Bellerin demonstrated that he is far more than just a youthful attacking full-back, as he played a large role in Arsenal’s more rigid structure, safe in their own half of the field.
Micah Richards: It has been a pleasing sight for football fans in general; and particularly those supporting England, to see Micah Richards take to Premier League football so well on his return to these shores. Mame Biram Diouf has shown up many more experienced defenders than Richards this season but on the whole, Aston Villa’s captain marshalled him fairly well. He is a vocal presence at the heart of the defence and Tim Sherwood clearly values his influence on the rest of his players. Stoke City could well have gone on to grab more than the one goal they did achieve on the day were it not for Richards’ endeavour and determination. With five clearances and three blocked shots to his name, he was intent on not letting The Potters’ attackers past him.
Furthermore, we were able to observe the kind of ambitious attacking play which made his name in the blue shirt of Manchester City. Charging past players as he continued on a winding path up the field, he exhibited the sort of commitment to the cause which earned him the armband at both Villa Park and The Etihad. It is arguable that on one of these forward forays, he could have won a penalty and indeed may have bagged a goal himself, as a powerful header went agonisingly past the post.
Phil Jagielka: As the one remaining member of Everton’s recognised first-choice back four, Phil Jagielka would always have to stand up and be counted for The Toffees were to achieve a positive result against Liverpool. The veteran England International did just that and was on hand to make several vital interceptions deep in his own penalty area, putting his body on the line to block attempted passes and shots. Without John Stones alongside him once more; a man who himself has a calming influence and whose athleticism helps avert dangerous situations, Jagielka stepped up to the plate.
With nine successful clearances made in total, his heightened sense of responsibility seemed to have a beneficial effect. Perhaps the most notable intervention that Jagielka made came in the first half as Liverpool were enjoying a period of superiority. Daniel Sturridge was in the process of releasing the trigger on a surely goal-bound effort that would have put the now manager-less outfit side in front when Jagielka came from nowhere to lunge in and deflect the effort behind. The mileage on the clock keeps marching on at a relentless pace but at this current moment, it only seems to be improving Phil Jagielka.
Brendan Galloway: With Luke Shaw’s horrendous injury in the Champions League a few weeks ago, the opportunity may well present itself to up-and-coming English left-backs who currently find themselves on the fringes of national recognition. Brendan Galloway has been the direct beneficiary of another player being side-lined for a significant period of time – this time Leighton Baines – and over the last few weeks, has proceeded to make the vacant left-back berth at Everton his own.
Whilst he has certainly impressed in the games up to this point, it was his first experience of a Merseyside derby and the cauldron of such an occasion did little to make him quake in his boots. Seemingly embracing the emotion of the day, he was far from the potential defensive weak-link that some proposed and in fact, was the dominant force on that side of the field. He stood up manfully to Nathaniel Clyne’s attacking intent and well renowned pace, in addition to keeping the former Southampton man occupied going back towards his own goal. Liverpool’s fluid formation occasionally left him without a specific man to mark whilst also leaving him outnumbered at some times. Not letting this deter him, he put in six successful tackles and made sensible defensive decisions that were worthy of one far beyond his years. Should displays like this one at the highest level continue, he must surely come into Roy Hodgson’s thinking.
Francis Coquelin: While Arsenal’s free-flowing attacking drew the most praise from fans and pundits alike, a great deal of Coquelin’s destructive work went unnoticed but was just as important as ever in allowing the more flamboyant Cazorla and Özil to make hay in possession of the ball. The Frenchman is athletic, gets about the pitch and harries opponents such that they have little to no time to contemplate their options. Coquelin was as combative as ever against Manchester United and Bastian Schweinsteiger suffered more than most. The Bayern Munich legend was frequently caught ahead of the ball as a result of Coquelin earning possession back for his side and the German’s absence in the heart of midfield took its toll on United’s ambitions.
The former Charlton Athletic loanee had a vital part to play in Arsenal’s opening goal but it went largely unnoticed. Coquelin shown great determination to collect the rebound from a half-clearance and deliver the ball to a team-mate whilst being in close proximity to United defenders. Had he not completed this job, the chance would almost certainly have evaporated and who knows whether Arsenal would have gone on to do as well as they did. In the second half when Van Gaal’s side forced the issue and were often in the ascendancy, Coquelin’s role became even more crucial as Arsenal’s winning position was placed under a concerted threat for the first time.
Santi Cazorla: While the whole contingent of Arsenal’s players deserve praise for their outstanding display against Manchester United, the conductor behind all of the positive play was the diminutive Santi Cazorla. He ran the game, pulling the strings with consummate ease. Arsenal’s number 19 seemed to have vast amounts of time and space on the ball and while some of this is down to the ineptitude of Manchester United’s midfield, his intelligent movement left them with a very difficult task to contain him.
The Spaniard did what he wanted to on the ball and was able to find precise passes to team-mates when it appeared that nothing was available. Cazorla has racked up the most completed passes in this season’s Premier League thus far and enjoyed a fluid rotation of the ball with the rest of The Gunners’ midfield. Not only was he superb at gliding in between hapless United markers, he was solid in defence too. Alongside Coquelin, he snapped away at potential threats and tracked back when needed; particularly in the second half, and produced the complete midfield display.
Wilfried Zaha: With the England manager watching on at Selhurst Park, there were a few eligible English internationals wishing to impress Roy Hodgson and nobody did this to a greater extent than Wilfried Zaha. Although more than capable of playing right across the front line, the pacey winger stuck to his work on the right flank. From the opening moments of the game, he seemed intent on taking on Chris Brunt at every opportunity. Darting inside and out, Zaha simply could not be tamed and the rest of the Crystal Palace side recognised this, feeding him whenever possible. This tactic certainly paid dividends as the game wore on with majority of The Eagles’ clear-cut openings coming from their right hand side.
West Bromwich Albion did their best to plug the flow of chances coming from the feet of Zaha but to no avail. Sticking two and even three men on him at every available occasion, the former Manchester United winger still found a way to escape their attentions more often than not. Until he was brought off to receive the crowd’s adulation, Zaha made ten successful take-ons, created three chances and had four fouls committed on him. Quite simply, he could not be handled by Tony Pulis’ side. Winning a penalty for The Eagles for the second consecutive game is yet more evidence of his quick-witted attacking play, and epitomised the tortuous game which Chris Brunt had while facing him. Whilst his final ball and decision making can still be called into question, there is no doubt that the sparkling wing-play will have caught the eye of Roy Hodgson and so do not be surprised if Zaha finds his way into the upcoming England squad.
Alexis Sanchez: After an emphatic return to goal-scoring form against Leicester City last weekend, Alexis Sanchez picked up where he left off in Arsenal’s clash with Manchester United. The Gunners made a scintillating start, carving up The Red Devils’ back-line almost at will and Sanchez was there to ensure that these chances would not continually go begging. The accusation of failing to put their opponents away when in a dominant position is frequently levelled at Arsenal but via a delightful flick with his trailing leg, Alexis put his side 1-0 up after only five minutes. His second capped off the day’s scoring and like his first, was a finish of supreme quality. The Chilean received the ball in space in the inside left channel, committed defenders before stepping inside, jinking past a couple before thumping the ball into the top corner past De Gea; the Spaniard little more than a spectator.
Sanchez was the most potent threat to De Gea’s goal all evening as he passed the ball with purpose, dribbled at pace and directly at his opponents, and produced some fabulous interplay with his team-mates. Matteo Darmian had a horrendous time against him; although admittedly with very little assistance at all, and must have been relieved to have been withdrawn at half-time. As Arsenal continued to pile forward in the first half, Alexis very nearly provided the assist for the fourth goal of the day. Quite fabulously neat build-up play between Arsenal’s attacking players; in which Sanchez was involved twice, left Man United’s defenders mesmerised. It was left to the former Barcelona attacker to unleash a delicious chipped ball over the top and Aaron Ramsey should really have applied the finishing touch.
Manchester United provided a more concerted threat to Cech’s goal in the second half and Sanchez became The Gunners’ primary outlet. His determined dribbling allowed Arsenal to relieve the building pressure and escape their own half, in which they were dropping deeper and deeper as the minutes went on. Making four tackles in a position frequented by a left-back rather than a left-winger demonstrates his exceptional commitment to the cause.
Romelu Lukaku: The big Belgian is in a fantastic vein of form and he was able to continue that in Everton’s game against their local rivals Liverpool. Aside from his goal; a strike which demonstrated a natural finishing ability and terrific awareness, Lukaku gave The Reds’ back three a torrid time. He looked to be in the mood for a physical battle from minute one and this certainly panned out as the game continued.
While he did have a degree of support in forward areas from Naismith and Barkley, Lukaku was a wrecking ball at times, bullying Liverpool’s defenders and not letting them rest for one second. Martin Skrtel was as solid as ever and once again did not shy away from a physical confrontation, but Can and Sakho in particular looked uncomfortable when the former Chelsea man was around. Whether running into the channels, holding off the defender to lay the ball off to a team-mate, or even dropping deeper to add his presence to the midfield, Lukaku was excellent in all aspects. He won five of his aerial duels but this well-known prowess in the air was far from his only impact on proceedings and he is becoming a serious contender for the ‘Golden Boot’ if he continues in this manner.
Sergio Aguero: The Premier League has been the stage for a wide array of spectacular striking displays over the years, but on a par with any that you would care to mention is Sergio Aguero’s astounding effort against Newcastle United. The Argentine rescued his side in midweek in Europe, netting a last-minute penalty to put their European aspirations back on track and went to another level with a staggering five goals in 20 minutes. Taking a leaf out of Robert Lewandowski’s book, Aguero’s brilliance simply had to be seen to be believed. He could have become first man in the Premier League to notch six goals in one game but in a shrewd move by Pellegrini; recognising the integral place Aguero holds in the side, was withdrawn before he had the chance in order to save his fitness and avoid the risk of injury.
In a display which exhibited a masterclass in finishing and all of its nuances, Sergio Aguero showed yet again why many put him in the same category as the current greats of the game. Perhaps the easiest of his five on the day was the first; requiring only simple movement away from his marker and nodding home relatively unchallenged. A neat shimmy on the edge of the penalty area allowed him the room inside to bag a second. He wrong-footed the defenders with the aspiration of stopping him and a left-footed shot took a telling deflection off Gouffran to send the ball beyond Krul. The moment to complete his hat-trick came in the very next minute and was an opportunity that did not pass him by, as he chipped deftly past the onrushing Dutch goalkeeper. His fourth on the day was arguably the most impressive. Aguero held Mbemba up on the edge of the area, shifted the ball inside to give himself some space and wrapped his right foot around it to find the bottom corner of the goal superbly. The icing on the cake for the Argentine’s day came at a time when he appeared to be struggling slightly, the hints of a limp putting fear into City hearts. Even so, he was able to make a burst between defenders, holding off Lascelles to connect with a low De Bruyne cut-back. Seemingly back to his best at the perfect time for The Citizens, they look like a completely different entity when their chief marksman is firing on all cylinders and it is hard to think of a team who can stick with them when this is the case.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by thomas richards
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