It’s almost Christmas which means guess what…more English Premier League (EPL) football than at any time of the season. A good or bad December can have massive implications on your season with so many points up for grabs. Last weekend we saw Arsenal pick up a much needed win, Norwich continuing their phenomenal unbeaten run, Aston Villa shocking Liverpool at Anfield and straightforward wins for both Manchester clubs. So join me as I look at last weekends tops and flops of the EPL.
Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
While both players have visibly tired in recent weeks, they both produced the goods on Tuesday morning as Arsenal got over their Capitol Cup nightmare at League Two Bradford, with a resounding 5-2 success at Reading. Cazorla will get most of the plaudits will a well taken hat-trick in which he displayed a real appetite to get into the area, he also got an assist and created six chances (he now averages 2.8 chances created per EPL game, the second most in the EPL). However Podolski’s performance, in which he scored and created two of Cazorla’s goals, may well have been more satisfying for Gunners fans. Lately the German international has looked lethargic and disinterested, but here he looked like the player that Arsenal fans expected him to be as he was sharp throughout, tormenting young defender Shaun Cummings. If Arsenal are to rescue what has been a largely disappointing season thus far, then they will need more performances like this from key players such as Podolski and Cazorla.
David Silva, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
The attacking quartet of Silva, Toure, Nasri and Aguero were at their devastating best in the first half against Newcastle, with beautiful interplay between all four of them. Each player moved around freely in the attacking third, making it almost impossible for Newcastle’s harried backline to track, or indeed stop them. Seven clear chances were created by the four of them in the first half alone, and over 90 minutes the always threatening David Silva made eight chances for his teammates, while the powerful Yaya Toure demonstrated the more cultured side of his game as he expertly threaded the ball in behind the Magpies defence time and again. A much needed win, and performance for City, who reminded us all that despite being six points behind leaders Manchester United, there is still a lot of football to be played.
Wes Hoolahan & Anthony Pilkington (Norwich City)
Both not only scored, but also assisted one another as Norwich defeated Wigan 2-1 to make it 10 EPL games unbeaten. Both players epitomise the work rate that Chris Hughton has instilled in his Norwich team who are now on their longest top flight unbeaten run in 25 years. On Saturday they worked hard off the ball, ran into the channels and were at the centre of all of their teams attacking play. Amazingly Hoolahan has now scored in each of the last three EPL against Wigan, with three of his four all-time EPL strikes coming against the Latics.
A brilliant win at Anfield for Paul Lambert’s young Lions, and they certainly are young, Villa’s starting line-up had an average age of 23 years and 308 days, their youngest ever in EPL history. It was the first time they had scored more than once away from home in an EPL game in 17 attempts, but truth be told it could have been so different if not for some desperate defending and typical Liverpool wastefulness early on. Actually it looked as if Alex McLeish had returned to manage the Villains as the team set-up in a 5-4-1 formation and looked incapable of stringing two passes together in the opening 20 minutes. But after Christian Benteke put them in the lead against the run of play, Villa never looked back as they counter-attacked effectively with the trio of Benteke, Andreas Weimann and Brett Holman working tirelessly. As well as scoring two, Benteke’s beautiful back-heel also released Weimann for a splendid second goal, meaning that the Belgian has now scored or assisted eight of Villa's 15 EPL goals this season. Special mention should also go to young centre-backs Ciaran Clark, Chris Herd and Nathan Baker who between them registered seven interceptions, seven blocks and 18 clearances. Villa still only sit three points clear of the drop zone, so there is still much work to be done, but Lambert’s Lions look to be maturing quickly.
Adel Taarabt (Queen’s Park Rangers)
If QPR are to stay up then much will depend on the enigmatic Moroccan. Against Fulham, Taarabt was fantastic in his more preferred central role behind the striker, completing five successful dribbles, and time and time again beating players such as Brede Hangeland, Chris Baird and Steve Sidwell with his trickery. His second goal in which he nut-megged Hangeland before dribbling forward and coolly slotting home with the outside of his boot was certainly a fine individual effort. If the often inconsistent Taarabt can play like this each week then Rangers may not be doomed after all.
Kenwyne Jones (Stoke City)
Against Everton he scored his first EPL goal in 16 months, equating to 27 appearances. To give you a concept of how long that is, in the same time Robin van Persie has scored 41 EPL goals. Since Saturday Jones has revealed his frustration at his lack of playing time at Stoke under Tony Pulis, having started just 13 league matches in the last two seasons. Perhaps now that Jones has scored, it would be a good time for the Stoke manager to give him a run in the team as history shows that when the big striker scores a goal, another usually follows. Indeed in his career in England Jones has only scored 78 goals over 286 games, working out to a measly 0.27 goals per game. But on 25 different occasions Jones has managed to score in consecutive games, meaning that there is a fine chance that he could add to his seasons tally this weekend.
Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger (Liverpool)
Dreadful defending by both players for Aston Villa’s second and third goals. For the second Agger lazily failed to track Andreas Weimann preferring to point at the Austrian striker in the hope that someone else would do his job, while for the third Skrtel decided to let Christian Benteke bulldoze past him without troubling him with a tackle. They were not helped out by fellow teammates Glen Johnson, Joe Cole and Joe Allen who can also take some blame for the goals conceded, but higher standards are expected of these two players.
John O’Shea (Sunderland)
Nice to give his old manager an early Christmas present with a gift wrapped goal for Robin van Persie, after his clumsy attempt at a clearance, still…life must be tough when your central defensive partner is Titus Bramble!
For an Arsenal team low on confidence, playing Reading was the perfect medicine. The Royals look absolutely doomed already as they sit bottom of the league on nine points having lost their last six games. The root of their struggles has been their defensive record as they have conceded a massive 36 goals already and they have also faced 306 shots at goal so far this season, more than any other side in the top five European leagues. Boss Brian McDermott performed miracles to get the team promoted last season, you have to fear that he soon may not have the opportunity to keep his team in the division if results don’t improve.
Marouane Fellaini (Everton)
The volatile Belgian obviously decided that he fancied a longer break this Christmas, which is one possible explanation for his separate attacks (head-butt and punch) on Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross. Fellaini has rightly been hit with a three match ban, and with the January transfer window approaching, we may well have seen the last of a player who has committed more fouls than any other in the EPL this season. Everton fans may not want to lose him, but perhaps it’s wise to cash in on the want-away Belgian who could have cost his team dearly with such immature behaviour.
Tim Howard (Everton)
In trying to save Kenwyne Jones’s header he looked like a baby deer falling over after standing for the first time, as you can assume – this is not ideal goalkeeping technique!
Davide Santon (Newcastle United)
The French full-back has been one of Newcastle’s few success stories this year as he has made the left-back position his own with some solid defending and stirring runs forward. But Saturday was not his best performance as he was bewildered by the movement of City’s players, and unable to cope with fellow countryman Nasri. Caught the wrong side of Nasri for City’s first goal, he then allowed Javi Garcia’s header to creep past him as he was positioned on the post, an unacceptable mistake at absolutely any level of football.
Have won just 31 EPL away games out of 218 attempts since their promotion in 2001. Don’t expect that figure to rise after a performance in which they made QPR look like Real Madrid, allowing the Hoops to register a massive 15 shots. A 2-1 defeat flattered Fulham who have only one win in nine and look worryingly light in central midfield with Chris Baird and Steve Sidwell both being somewhat limited players to put it kindly.
Emmerson Boyce (Wigan Athletic)
Completely at fault for both of Norwich's goals. For the first he was needlessly dispossessed by Wes Hoolahan after dallying on the ball, and for the second he was turned inside out by Anthony Pilkington who crossed for Hoolahan to head home.