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Arsenal's prolific striker and Manchester City's big-money recruit from Atletico Madrid are among those in the running to win our definitive end-of-season award

By George Ankers

An extraordinary Premier League season is now just 11 fixtures away from its conclusion, with Manchester City on the verge of an historic title triumph unless Manchester United, and for that matter QPR, can pull off a miracle.

The teams battling it out over the course of the season have of course been powered by their players, and in one of the most thrilling campaigns in recent memory four have stood out more than any other as the cream of the crop, the men who have inspired their clubs' most memorable moments.

The football writers have had their say and the fellow players have too, but now it's's turn to profile the outstanding candidates for the honour of being named the 2011-12 Premier League Player of the Season in our end-of-term awards.

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The clear choice from both his fellow professionals and football writers as the Player of the Year, Van Persie has taken his game to a new level in 2011-12, even causing some to go so far as to wonder if he has reached the bracket of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. His purple patch started some time before the start of this season, with the Premier League holding its breath to see if he would be able to break Alan Shearer's record for goals scored in a calendar year - in the end he fell just one short, but his 35 league strikes in 2011 saw him eclipse the club best, set by modern legend Thierry Henry.

Jonathan Birchall, Deputy Editor

Van Persie has stepped up to the challenge of replacing Cesc Fabregas as Arsenal captain in near-superhuman fashion this season. That 37 goals in 47 matches have come from the Dutchman is indicative of his influence, as well as his ruthlessness at the Emirates. Without him, the Gunners simply wouldn't be anywhere close to the Champions League place they are fighting to maintain.
It has been the campaign that Arsenal fans have been waiting for ever since the Dutchman's arrival at the club in 2004 - finally, a whole season without the forward missing a great chunk through injury, and the results were even better than expected.

Frequently seeming to be single-handedly keeping the Gunners afloat as their early-season performances threatened to drown their season entirely, Van Persie has been more than any other striker in the league the man who you expected to score at any time. His efficiency of touch in finding a chance out of nowhere is unparalleled in the Premier League.

The Gunners captain's total necessity to his club's push for what had seemed an unlikely top-four spot is underlined by the statistics of those around him. Van Persie boasts 37 goals across all competitions - his closest rival is Theo Walcott with 11. Marouane Chamakh and Park Chu-Young can claim only one apiece. He has been utterly essential - and while every Arsenal fan will dread a move to a truly elite side before his contract expires in 2013, none would begrudge him for it.

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Perhaps more than any other of their expensive purchases, Sergio Aguero's £38 million recruitment by Manchester City was the proof that the club had really arrived on the world transfer scene. At Atletico Madrid, Aguero was the striker for whom every top side was said to be saving up, and he did not so much deal with the transition from Spanish football to English as ignore it altogether.

Jonathan Birchall, Deputy Editor

The other Argentine striker at the Etihad Stadium may take precedence in the headlines, but it is Sergio Aguero, not Carlos Tevez, who will be remembered as the man whose goals fired Manchester City to their first title in 44 years should they beat QPR on Sunday. While Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko have frustrated and Tevez enraged, the man signed from Atletico Madrid last summer has been a model of consistent, unerring brilliance.
He announced himself in a storming 30-minute cameo on debut against Swansea City, scoring one, setting up another before unleashing an incredible 35-yarder from which he did not look back. At first rotated by Roberto Mancini before being heavily relied upon in the long-term absence of compatriot Carlos Tevez, Aguero has been the unstoppable machine to Van Persie's inspired artist. He is simply built to score goals, with devastating pace and agility, pinpoint finishing, and enough strength to make sure that he can utilise both. The Premier League is his natural home.

Despite fatigue, brought on by over-reliance, affecting him slightly in the spring, the Argentine came back with a bang when it mattered. On April 10, City were eight points behind Manchester United in the title race and demoralised after successive setbacks.

But then Aguero only needed six minutes to surge forward and blast a goal out of nothing, setting himself on the way to a double and City to a cathartic 4-0 hammering of West Brom. At the striker's prompting, Mancini's men were back in gear, with United losing to Wigan, and by April 11 City's incredible title comeback was in motion.

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There could hardly have been a more fitting scorer of the goal that won the recent Manchester derby than Vincent Kompany. The Belgian's towering header was powered with all the solidity and authority with which he has captained City, and his resulting celebration made his devotion to the club plain for all to see.

Jonathan Birchall, Deputy Editor

If Mancini's side do, as expected, secure the Premier League title, it will be somewhat fitting that despite their riches the man lifting it is becoming widely acknowledged as one of the great Premier League bargains. Signed for £6 million with the Abu Dhabi-led revolution still in its infancy, Vincent Kompany has since become central to City's formidable spine, leading by example alongside Joleon Lescott. In the absence of the injured Nemanja Vidic, the Belgian has been the division's best defender by a distance.
More than that, though, Kompany has simply been a quite exceptional centre-back in a Premier League season which has seen defensive standards slip alarmingly. He plays an uncomplicated game, making it his business to win every header, every tackle, every interception. His influence has quietly turned Joleon Lescott from a man on the verge of being an expensive flop to a fine partner in the skipper's own image.

When his name was missing from the Professional Footballers Association's shortlist for Player of the Year, eyebrows in Manchester did cartwheels. Kompany has kept the league's best forwards in check all season - witness his silencing of Van Persie in December, a time at which the Dutchman was making the term "in-form" look like an insult, and his total control of Wayne Rooney both home and away.

The Belgian has been one of the steadiest developers in the Premier League, his transformation into one of the country's absolute best a silent one. Now he looks set to be the latest in a proud history of peerless center-back captains upon whom title-winning sides are built.

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At times it has seemed as though Manchester United's title challenge has been built on sheer force of will in defiance of the ascendancy of great rivals City, and nowadays nobody typifies the battling inevitability of the Red Devils' success more than Rooney.

Jonathan Birchall, Deputy Editor

During a season in which Manchester United's lack of quality has been painfully apparent, Wayne Rooney has performed at a level to somehow keep his side competitive in the Premier League title race. 26 goals in the division has seen him equal his best ever return, while surpassing George Best and Dennis Violett's goalscoring records has offered further proof that the the former Everton man is on his way to becoming an Old Trafford great.
When United need a goal, more often than not it is the England star who somehow finds it, perhaps never more typified than the win over Liverpool in early February. With tensions and tempers volatile and the visitors on top, the forward sucker-punched the Reds for two goals in three minutes with typical iron nerve and his side saw it through.

In contrast to seasons gone by, Rooney has developed a vital habit of scoring even while not playing well, even declaring after a two-goal showing against Aston Villa that he felt he'd done badly.

His partnership with Danny Welbeck, though, has been the most encouraging aspect of the campaign. With the 21-year-old running around and ahead of him, Rooney has just the right amount of license to get involved exactly where he is needed and he pulls it off every time. He has also showed perfect timing in his form even though his side look set to fall short at the last, powering uncompromisingly to 16 goals in his last 16 games across all competitions.

But maybe the most impressive fact of a remarkable season? For a player heavily criticised for his temperament over many years, Sunday's yellow card against Swansea City was Rooney's first in the Premier League all season. The final piece to the puzzle of true greatness - maturity - may well have slotted into place.

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