Premier League Team of the Weekend, Jan. 17-18
After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC brings you its Team of the Weekend. Our panel of experts carefully select 11 star performers along with a manager.
Do you agree or disagree? You can have your say on those picked or overlooked in the comments section at the foot of the article or on Twitter using the hashtag #TOTW. Plus, tune in to Monday's "ESPN FC" (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) for more reaction.
Goalkeeper: Gab Marcotti is determined that David Ospina gets a chance as our TOTW No. 1, selecting Wojciech Szczesny's replacement last week and this. But while the Colombian was diligent in his duties during Arsenal's stunning victory at the Etihad, he didn't have much shot-stopping to do. Paul Mariner thinks Queens Park Rangers' Rob Green should get the nod for his display against Manchester United, and Steve Nicol has put not one but two keepers forward -- David de Gea and Hugo Lloris. Manchester United's stopper gets the nod by virtue of a clean sheet and a string of fine saves.
Centre back: In front of Ospina, Arsenal's defence had an exemplary afternoon in Manchester. Per Mertesacker was excellent, but it was his central defensive partner who caught the eye of our panel. Laurent Koscielny is getting sharper with each match and was formidable at City, one particularly delicate intervention from a dangerous Jesus Navas cross denying Sergio Aguero a certain goal. Steve Nicol says the Frenchman was "cool and calm," Paul Mariner thinks Arsenal "grow in confidence" when Koscielny plays, and Gab Marcotti believes his partnership with the big German works even better when they defend deeper.
Centre back: Next up in our three-man defence is Branislav Ivanovic. I think it's fair to say Gab Marcotti is a fan, judging by this brief synopsis of the Serbian's afternoon in Wales: "Robocop rules his flank. Again." While it was Chelsea's phalanx of attacking stars who stole the show in a first half bursting with quality and clinical finishing, Ivanovic was his usual, busy self, tearing up and down the wing with relish. Paul Mariner sums his 90 minutes up thusly: "With Chelsea firing on all cylinders up front, he put in his normal brilliant shift as super defender and attacking full-back."
Centre back: There is a toss-up for our final centre half given our new-found penchant for playing three at the back. And while Jose Fonte gets another nomination (from Paul Mariner) and Steve Nicol throws Mamadou Sakho's name into the mix, I'm going for Fonte's partner in defensive crime, Florin Gardos. That Newcastle failed to carve out any real chances of note was largely down to the Romanian, and Gab Marcotti sums his excellent 90 minutes up as follows: "Someone needs to tell him he's a sub. Took to the first XI with authority and showed it again at Newcastle."
Holding midfield: Into the midfield and the barnstorming performance of player who did more to transform his reputation in 90 minutes at the Etihad than he's done in the previous two years -- Francis Coquelin. Given the assurance with which he went about his work, perhaps Arsenal's search for an authoritative holding midfielder might be over. Gab Marcotti pays the 23-year-old the ultimate compliment by saying he carried out his duties "Matic-style." High praise, indeed.
Holding midfield: Alongside Coquelin is a slightly more mature player who could have been operating as his right-hand man had he not jumped the Arsenal ship to join Barcelona. Alex Song is proving to be one of the acquisitions of the summer, and it is no coincidence his return saw West Ham back to winning ways. Steve Nicol says Song has developed "power and precision with his passing," while Paul Mariner says Song "ran the midfield, protected the back four east and west and provided a killer ball for Stewart Downing's goal."
Left midfield: It's good that Gab Marcotti put Santi Cazorla forward for selection, because this TOTW would have been a poorer place without the Spaniard's wizardry. In a disciplined, dogged Arsenal performance, Cazorla was the standout player. He displayed all the silk we've come to expect, one run in particular showcasing his incredible close control, while offering up the type of tenacity we used to associate with David Batty. He scored from the spot, set up Olivier Giroud for the second goal and executed a jig of delight so joyous it became an instant hit on social media. Gab, who says Cazorla "ran riot through City's lines," thinks maybe this was his best performance in an Arsenal shirt, and who are we to disagree?
Right midfield: On the opposite side to Cazorla is a man with no less skill but a slightly different personality. Eljero Elia arrived in the Premier League with the tag of the "Dutch Mario Balotelli," but while the 27-year-old might reveal himself to be a bit eccentric over the coming months, he's made more impact in two matches than Super Mario has mustered in six months. After a low-key start to life at Manchester United last week, he came to life at Newcastle, grabbing two goals and providing a constant threat with his darting runs and immaculate control. "His work rate and threat can't be overstated," according to Gab Marcotti. Paul Mariner labels him "clinical," while Steve Nicol was deeply impressed with his energy. A potential Premier League superstar.
No. 10: Ours is a simple choice for the final midfield slot -- Eden Hazard or Oscar. Both bristled with intent during the demolition of Swansea, as Chelsea raced into a four-goal lead inside 37 minutes. Paul Mariner says Hazard "terrified" Garry Monk's side every time he got the ball, and while he is right, it was the Brazilian who added a finishing touch to his afternoon. He was first to pierce the net, lashing home from 20 yards inside a minute and squandering two other excellent chances before he bagged a second after fine work from Diego Costa. Steve Nicol, ever with his finger on the pulse, thinks Oscar deserves an Academy Award for this showing.
Striker: "Size, quality and a vicious attitude. What more could you want?" I'll give you one guess at whom Gab Marcotti is referring to because it should be easy. After a slight hiatus in his goal-scoring antics, deadly Diego Costa is back in business and busting nets all over the Premier League. Swansea's collective nervous breakdown in the first half may have helped, but he still added to the threat every time he was in possession. Two more fine strikes took him to 17 for the season and had Paul Mariner -- "leading goal scorer, leading man" and Steve Nicol -- "he does it all" -- falling over themselves to slap him on the back.
Striker: Alongside Costa is a man who is beginning to find his feet in the Premier League. Perhaps Alan Pardew's appointment can help bring the best out of Dwight Gayle. He has scored in every game since Pardew arrived, and his two goals -- "superbly taken," according to Steve Nicol, helped the Eagles overcome an early 2-0 deficit at Burnley. As Paul Mariner points out: "Pardew is getting the best out of this young man. He seems to have a new zest for the game." Carry on like this, and Gayle could be a serious asset for Palace.
Manager: Gab Marcotti thinks Ronald Koeman deserves our Manager of the Weekend tag for the second straight week after Southampton's win at Newcastle, but realistically, there is only one choice. Arsene Wenger has taken bucketloads of stick for his stewardship at Arsenal in recent seasons, but the performance offered up by his troops at Manchester City was nothing short of sensational.
Adding an extra element of caution to his midfield nullified City's leading lights, yet his XI retained a hint of danger on the counter. In fact, the only negative question Wenger will have to answer after Arsenal's most complete display against one of the league's big sides is why it has taken him so long to deploy. There's just no pleasing some people, eh?