Team of the Week
Last weekend's heavy snowfall saw Team of the Week meet the same fate as most of the Premier League's matches, but there is no such abandonment this time around with a fuller Boxing Day fixture list providing plenty of contenders for selection in ESPNsoccernet's cream of the crop.
Tottenham's battling 2-1 victory over Aston Villa may prove to be a crucial one come the end of the season and Spurs certainly owe their goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes a debt of gratitude after he produced a string of early stops to deny the hosts. He may have almost conceded a penalty, but the Brazilian made memorable stops from Gabi Agbonlahor and Marc Albrighton in the first-half, before tipping away a stinging Nathan Delfouneso effort in the second period.
Criticised in the past for being inconsistent, Bolton defender Zat Knight has been anything but this season, and against West Brom he was at his imperious best in the air, using every inch of his huge 6 ' 6" frame to combat the threat of Baggies striker Peter Odemwingie. His formidable centre-back partnership with Gary Cahill has been the bedrock of Bolton's surprise success in the current campaign.
Stoke's 2-0 victory over Blackburn was the Potters' third clean sheet in their past six games, marking a welcome improvement for a side who managed just one in their opening 12 matches. That single success also came against Rovers and Stoke defender Robert Huth had Mame Biram Diouf in his pocket once again at Ewood Park. Huth was a commanding presence at the back and also popped up with the game's opening goal.
Didier Drogba's record against Arsenal must have made pretty scary reading for the Gunners' defenders ahead of their clash with Chelsea, but the Ivorian's tally of 13 in 13 games was not taken up to 14 in 14, mainly thanks to a brave defensive display from Laurent Koscielny. The French centre-half led Arsenal's back-line with aplomb, consistently beating Drogba to headers and thwarting Chelsea's long-ball game in the first half as well as making several important interceptions as Arsene Wenger's side triumphed 3-1.
At the other end of the pitch, Theo Walcott was Arsenal's most dangerous attacking weapon. His electric pace and fearless running with the ball made him a constant menace and he exposed Chelsea's defence to devastating effect - sprinting through the middle before unselfishly teeing up Cesc Fabregas for the Gunners' second goal, before grabbing the third himself - producing a fine finish after a similarly rapid burst.
It looks like Wigan may have a tough time convincing Manchester United to allow on-loan midfielder Tom Cleverley to extend his stay at the DW Stadium after the 21-year-old produced another assured performance in the Latics' 2-1 win at Wolves. Cleverley has been a revelation for Roberto Martinez's side this season and he again proved his side's chief creative outlet as Wigan battled to victory in the Molineux six-pointer, dictating play and netting the all-important second goal with a composed finish.
Rafael van der Vaart's double of beautifully placed left-foot finishes at Villa Park were responsible for his seventh and eighth league goals of the season - four of which have now come against Aston Villa - and the Dutchman's all-action contribution dispelled the accusations of laziness levelled at him by his critics. He showed his versatility when called into action as an auxiliary lone frontman following Jermain Defoe's dismissal, but it his knack of netting vital goals that has boosted Spurs and without them, Harry Redknapp's charges would be ten points worse off.
Manchester United maintained their lead at the top of the Premier League thanks to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Sunderland, in a game that saw one of the most one-sided first halves of the season. The Wearsiders were subjected to an incessant red tidal wave, led ably by United midfielder Anderson, whose energetic box-to-box display sees him narrowly edge out team-mate Ryan Giggs for a Team of the Week midfield berth. The Brazilian's electric bursts of pace and incisive passing made him a constant menace, with his audacious assist for United's second - he looked one way and passed the other - capping an impressive day.
United's two goals were scored by Dimitar Berbatov, who has continued to be United's chief goal-getter this season while Wayne Rooney attempts to rediscover his scoring touch. Berbatov's first was an expert header from his strike-partner's fifth-minute cross, while his second was slightly fortunate to take a deflection past Craig Gordon. The languid Bulgarian should perhaps have scored more and was unlucky to see a first-half effort cannon off the woodwork, while Gordon later saved a spectacular bicycle kick.
Keeping the pressure on United were Manchester City, with talismanic captain Carlos Tevez again the inspiration as they recorded an excellent 3-1 win at Newcastle. A typically industrious display from Tevez saw him chase down a poor clearance from Tim Krul after two minutes to put the opening goal on a plate for Gareth Barry, before the Argentina striker added two himself. The first was an excellent finish from James Milner's cross, while the second was a crucial deflected strike, which put the game beyond doubt just as Newcastle appeared to be mounting a comeback.
Incredibly, a West Ham player who isn't Scott Parker produced a noteworthy performance this weekend, as misfiring striker Carlton Cole did his best to shed that very tag with a match-winning brace against Fulham. His first goal showed a predatory instinct that has been lacking all too often this season, as he pounced on a mistake from Dickson Etuhu to bring the Hammers level. Cole was assisted by a Cottagers' player once again for his second goal, but his clinical left-foot finish was worthy of high praise, not least because it secured Cole his first ever Premier League brace.
Calling young striker Freddie Sears back from his loan spell at Scunthorpe and throwing him straight back into the side probably can't be described as the tactical masterstroke that inspired West Ham's victory at Craven Cottage, but it certainly injected some life into the side and for that Avram Grant must take some credit. The Hammers boss has had the proverbial axe hovering ominously above his head for some time, but he has continued to conduct himself admirably and is rewarded for a rare sojourn away from the bottom of the Premier League table with the title of Manager of the Week. An honourable mention must of course go to Arsene Wenger - whose decision to make five changes from the Arsenal side that lost to Manchester United proved genius as the Gunners overcame Chelsea.