Premier League Team of the Week
Chris Kirkland has suffered terribly from the 'sicknote' tag over his career but the 27-year-old has been ever-present for Wigan this season, and is a large part of the reason the Latics find themselves in the top half of the table. Hailed by straight-nosed Steve Bruce as the best 'keeper in England, Kirkland has only kept four clean sheets this season but then when Titus Bramble is playing in defence you must expect to be busy. He certainly was against West Brom, producing a string of world class saves to keep the Latics in a game that should have long disappeared by the time they pinched it. A strong contender to grab the England jersey when David James finally gives up the ghost.
Emmerson Boyce didn't have a particularly good game against West Brom, but that doesn't mean he can't nudge his way into our TOTW. I mean, you try forming a coherent partnership with goldfish-brain Titus Bramble at centre half. The truth is, West Brom ran Wigan ragged on Saturday, but Boyce and co clung on by their fingertips to ensure they were still in the game by the time it got to the closing stages, and after 97 goalless games, Boyce broke his duck in style by powering an 87th minute header into the net to win the game.
Sebastien Bassong has had two decent shifts back-to-back for Newcastle now, helping to carve out clean sheets at Chelsea and Middlesbro' while playing at centre back in the absence of Steven Taylor. But let's not get carried away, after all, even Titus Bramble and Jean-Alain Boumsong had a few decent games early in their Toon careers. However, if the young Frenchman (a Dennis Wise purchase no less) carries on like this, Geordie folk hero Taylor may have a job getting back in the side. One to watch.
Brede Hangeland was the focal point of a spirited Fulham side that have now been to Anfield and Villa Park in a week and kept two clean sheets. They may have ridden their luck in stretches of both games but to grind out a clean sheet you need leaders all over pitch, especially at the back, and Hangeland is that man. Bit of a steal at £2.5million don't you think?
Patrice Evra is the best left-back in the Premier League at the moment, no doubt about it. Any full-back who has Cristiano Ronaldo playing in front of him could be forgiven a little weep to themselves, but the Frenchman manages to find the perfect balance between pushing up in attack to support the Portuguese princess and hanging back to cover his tracks. He truly banished the nightmare of his last two visits to the City of Manchester Stadium with an elegant display, full of pacy running, pinpoint passes and crucial interventions.
All Gareth Barry needed to compliment his superb display against Fulham was a goal. Ultimately, Villa's 0-0 home draw with the Cottagers will be viewed as a chance lost and Barry's performance largely forgotten but had he managed to pot one of the headed chances he received then we'd be hailing the complete midfield showing. It just goes to show what Villa would have missed had Barry jumped ship and joined Liverpool over the summer. Doesn't matter, you might say, that's why Villa bought Steve Sidwell. Exactly, case closed.
Fabrice Muamba clearly likes it up north after two stupendous displays against Middlesbro' last week and Sunderland this. It's just a shame for him that Wanderers have already made the trip to Newcastle this season. He produced a marauding display at the Stadium of Plight, breaking up attacks and launching plenty of his own side's breaks. Paul Merson summed it up perfectly after having seen highlights of the former Arsenal man's display at The Riverside last week. "He might not be good enough for Arsenal, but he'd definitely get in Real Madrid's side."
You may not have noticed it but Darren Fletcher has steadily become a key player for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United this season. Dovetailing perfectly with Michael Carrick in the blood-and-thunder midfield battle against their local rivals, Fletcher hardly misplaced a pass all afternoon and did his fair share of disrupting any promising City breaks.
It's hard to like Wayne Rooney the man, but one can't help but admire Wayne Rooney the footballer. At his tempestuous best at Eastlands he displayed a perfect marriage of impudence and irritation. Always involved, executing tricks and flicks with aplomb but also walking a thin line by constantly gobbing off at referee Howard Webb whenever a decision went against his side. Of course, his 100th career, and match-winning, goal helped to fend off the red mist but his versatility was underlined when he dropped back into midfield after Ronaldo's misdemeanour.
Johan Elmander piled the pressure on Roy Keane and his two-tone beard with a brace in the Trotters 4-1 mauling of the Black Cats. Having gone eight games without a goal he now finds himself the proud recipient of three in two, thanks largely to some Morecambe and Wise style defending by Sunderland. Still, however abysmal the opposition, chances have to be put away and put away they were, with a large dollop of style too I might add. At last the Ginger Mourinho's decision to write a rather large cheque to acquire his services has been vindicated.
Robin van Persie might be most hated man in the Arsenal dressing room since Cashley Cole, but his two-goal burst at Stamford Bridge might go some way to healing rifts he has with, oh errr, just about everyone. Patchy at best for an hour, the Dutchman burst into life in the space of three minutes first to rifle a right-footer past Petr Cech, then swivel on a knockdown to fire the Gunners ahead. He even gave William Gallas a hug after the game. You're fooling no-one chaps.
After a torrid few weeks we can look no further than Arsene Wenger to boss this fine collection of men. After sacking his captain, appointing a young one in his place, having been thrashed horribly by Aston Villa and Manchester City, Wenger somehow prises a performance out of his beleaguered Gunners troops that was good enough to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Now that's what you call bounce-back-ability.