Team of the Week
Spare a thought for Robert Green. He joined Queens Park Rangers in the summer under the impression that he was to be their No. 1 as they attempted to cement themselves as a club in the higher echelons of the Premier League. Next thing he knows, a winner of numerous world titles, including the Champions League, arrives and takes his place. However, Julio Cesar picked up an injury recently and Green has more than risen to the challenge of replacing him. His performance in the 2-2 draw against Wigan was no different as he pulled off a string of vital saves. While he did not have the power to earn his side a much-needed win, he at least won them a point.
With Southampton continuing their recent run of good form, Nathaniel Clyne continues to churn out consistent performances from right back. Against Reading it was no different, with the youngster getting forward and causing havoc down the right flank all game. The Royals had to contend with his crosses throughout and it was his perfect pass that led to Southampton's winner.
Jonas Olsson's stock has risen massively in recent years at West Brom and, after his performance against Arsenal, it will have risen further still. Olivier Giroud has turned into a real handful of a player over the last month or so but Olsson did a fine job on the Frenchman and made him look very average. He also got in his head, provoking an angry reaction at one point that caused a mini melee. If not for two poor decisions that resulted in two penalties and two goals for Arsenal, Olsson would have inspired his side to a point or perhaps more. He let referee Mike Jones know what he thought of his performance at the final whistle with the manliest of handshakes. Not somebody to be messed with.
Aston Villa against Stoke was not one of the most enticing of Premier League games over the weekend, mostly because Stoke did what they do best - defending very well and making it very hard for opponents to find a rhythm. At the heart of this not-so-aesthetically pleasing performance was Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross. Once again he put his body on the line, throwing himself in the way of anything heading in the direction of his goal, including Christian Benteke's thunderous volley. It is this sort of performance that has helped his side to the league's best defensive record this season, conceding just 12 goals and keeping eight clean sheets.
Robert Snodgrass had an outstanding afternoon in the 4-3 win against Swansea. He was everywhere and everything that Norwich did at the Liberty Stadium pretty much went through him. Not only did he set up two of his side's goals and score a wonderful free-kick, but he managed to put the ball in the back of the net just as Swansea were looking like staging a remarkable comeback. He also played the deftest of passes to set up Bradley Johnson and, if that move had ended up with a goal, everybody would be talking about the assist for some time.
Mikel Arteta deserves tremendous credit for converting his two penalties against West Brom. The last time he attempted a spot-kick, against Fulham, he missed, costing Arsenal a much-needed win with the final kick of the game. This time around he was calmness personified, sending both spot kicks down the middle and, instead of costing his side two points, he effectively gained them all three. His all-round performance was first class as well, doing what he does best by keeping Arsenal's possession ticking over throughout the game.
This weekend was full of braces: Mikel Arteta, Fernando Torres, Michu and Wayne Rooney all got on the scoresheet twice. Considering Arteta hit two penalties, perhaps none are too surprising. James McCarthy, however, was probably more surprised than anyone to score twice this weekend, since his last goals were nearly two years ago. That both were also very impressive strikes makes it all the more surprising. The two goals added to a complete display for the Wigan man, who also controlled the middle of the park for his side, breaking up the play and stopping QPR from playing.
"Do not expect too much from Jack Wilshere too soon," Arsene Wenger keeps warning. "Jack Wilshere is still on the road to recovery, getting back to his inspired best," we keep hearing. Well, if he has still got some way to go then he really is going to be something else. The Arsenal star put in his most complete performance yet since his return from injury, driving back and forth from box to box, while displaying his extensive range of passing. Some of his touches were so good that you might mistake him for the Gunners' star Spaniard, rather than either of his midfield partners, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla.
Robin van Persie famously scores when he wants. He also has the ability to change the fate of whichever side he plays for. Playing for Arsenal last season, he singlehandedly guided them to a third-place finish. Not playing for Arsenal this season, his absence has single-handedly put a massive spanner in the works in their attempts to be playing Champions League football next season. Now at Manchester United, he is doing his damned best to win the club their title back, having supplied them with 11 league goals, worth a whopping 16 points. In the Manchester derby he was his usual influential self. His sublime chested pass was the catalyst for the first goal, a superb bit of magic should have led to United's third goal (only for a debatable offside call) and his last-minute free-kick did lead to his side's third goal. Had he signed for City in the summer, it could all have been so different.
Fernando Torres is, it would seem, back to his brilliant best. We have hoped for signs of this in the past whenever he has found the smallest bit of form for Chelsea but this time it could be for real. A brace in midweek was followed by another against Sunderland. And he could have had a hat-trick if not for the crossbar. The 'Rafa' effect appears to be working, and the most telling sign from the Stadium of Light was that he took and converted his first ever penalty in English football: his confidence is back.
Wayne Rooney was at his mesmerising best against City. With the game moving at such a fast pace and becoming more and more stretched as it went on, Rooney was allowed more space around the pitch to drop into and cause the opposition problems. He has been overshadowed by Van Persie for goals this season, but at the Etihad he at his most instinctive. Two very important goals put his side in a great position and also meant he became the highest ever goalscorer in the Manchester derby.
To most Chelsea fans, Rafael Benitez does not deserve to be managing the club, let alone our Team of the Week. But perhaps that tide of opinion amongst the Blues support is starting to change. Two encouraging wins in succession could be followed - in a week's time - by a Club World Cup trophy. Football fans can be a fickle lot and maybe all could soon be forgotten. At the moment, at least, it looks like Rafa might be able to get the best out Torres once again. If he can - and that is still an 'if' of monumental proportions - then who is to say what is the limit for Benitez's Blues?