Team of the Week – Everton stars shine, Manchester United’s unlikely hero and Arsenal’s key men come good
Everton and Arsenal form half of this week’s Team of the Week following impressive performances, and Bournemouth and Stoke players shine despite defeats in a good weekend for defensive players.
Goalkeeper: Jack Butland (Stoke City)
Stoke were completely outplayed in their defeat to Arsenal, and although Butland conceded twice, he was the standout performer at the Emirates Stadium.
Goals from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud secured the three points for the Gunners in a comfortable victory, but if it wasn’t for Butland’s ten saves, Arsene Wenger’s side would have won by a cricket score.
Butland’s finest save came in the third minute, when he somehow got a fingertip to Alexis Sanchez’s goal-bound header to tip it onto the post.
Right-back: Steve Cook (AFC Bournemouth)
It may come as a surprise to see a Bournemouth defender in a Team of the Week when they conceded three goals to a team also tipped to struggle this season in Norwich City, but Steve Cook was one bright spark for the Cherries.
Cook scored Bournemouth’s consolation goal at Carrow Road, and was impressive in defence too, with much of Norwich’s joy coming down Bournemouth’s left side, rather than Cook’s wing.
Centre back: John Stones (Everton)
After John Stones’ protracted transfer saga that had him linked to Chelsea all summer, it was perhaps destined for him to be flawless when Everton met the champions this weekend.
Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and co were all in Stones’ pocket, as the ball-playing centre-half also chipped in with starting attacks at the other end in a wonderful all-round display.
Stones was rock solid throughout, and only an outrageous piledriver from Nemanja Matic prevented him from getting a well-deserved clean sheet.
Centre back: Daley Blind (Manchester United)
The international break was not kind to Blind, with the Netherlands, coached by his dad Danny, looking in deep trouble in their attempts to qualify for Euro 2016. Club matters for the Dutchman, however, are going a lot better.
Blind curled in a sumptuous opener four minutes into the second half to put the Red Devils 1-0 up against old adversaries Liverpool.
His adaptation to centre-back, as opposed to his usual holding role or left-back position, has not been seamless, but he was fantastic this weekend. He cleared one chance off the line before denying Roberto Firmino seconds later, and kept Christian Benteke quiet for most of the game – unstoppable overhead kick aside.
Centre back: Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Stoke on Saturday was as routine as they come, with the Gunners dominating from start to finish, but defender Koscielny still managed to impress.
The Potters were limited to just nine shots on goal compared to Arsenal’s 29, with just four being on target.
Koscielny even almost scored himself with an outrageous uncharacteristic long-range effort that was well saved by Butland, and the Frenchman also had a header from a free-kick expertly denied.
Left-back: Matt Targett (Southampton)
Southampton’s 0-0 draw with West Brom will not live long in the memory; however, Matt Targett could have a long career at the top if he continues in this vein.
He suffered a scare in the first half, potentially conceding a penalty when Callum McManaman went down under Targett’s ‘challenge’, but no contact was made, and even Baggies boss Tony Pulis accused his winger of simulation.
Being a young English left-back who plays for Southampton after coming through their esteemed academy, comparisons to Luke Shaw, who signed for Manchester United last summer for £30 million, are obvious, but do look merited.
Defensive midfielder: Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur)
Eric Dier’s early teachings abroad at Sporting Lisbon have served him well. The versatile player who can play in the centre or on the right of defence is now being moulded into a cultured holding midfielder by Mauricio Pochettino.
Sunderland only managed two shots on target on home turf thanks in part to Dier’s transition to midfield, where he broke up play well.
Dier could have even grabbed his fourth goal in a Spurs shirt, but unfortunately for him, Costel Pantilimon was equal to his second-half header.
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Centre midfielder: Ross Barkley (Everton)
Barkley played a part in all three of Everton’s goals at Saturday lunchtime, providing the assist to two of them.
He was part of the play that led to Naismith’s opener, first passing to the Scotsman, who teed up Brendan Galloway for the cross that Naismith headed in.
A simple pass set up Naismith’s second, a shot from the edge of the box, and an intelligent, defence splitting through ball led to goal number three for the Toffees and the unplayable Naismith.
Centre midfielder: Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)
Norwich’s 3-1 win over fellow newly-promoted side Bournemouth could easily have been labelled the “Wes Hoolahan show”, with the Irishman playing a part in two of the three goals for the home side.
The Canaries are flying in the early days of this campaign, and Hoolahan was on song all game, as he teed up Cameron Jerome for the opening goal with 35 minutes on the clock.
Hoolahan has now assisted four and scored one of Norwich’s seven goals in the league this season; his addition coming in the second half with a cultured finish past Artur Boruc after a driving run.
Centre attacking midfielder: Mesut Özil (Arsenal)
All the focus ahead of Arsenal’s meeting with Stoke City was on Theo Walcott’s attempt to prove himself as a bonafide striker. Özil didn’t quite steal the thunder, but typically did the right things quietly and without fuss.
The German picked out Walcott superbly for his and Arsenal’s first of the match, and created seven more chances in a comfortable Arsenal win – their first at home this season.
Özil has created 76 goal scoring chances in the Premier League in 2015, more than any other player; if Walcott and Giroud could find the net more regularly, he would have a lot more assists to his name.
Striker: Steven Naismith (Everton)
A perfect hat-trick for Steven Naismith in every sense of the word. His header, left foot and then right foot finishes sealed three points for Everton against a continually stuttering champions Chelsea, two days before his 28th birthday.
It might not have happened on another day, with Naismith coming on as a first-half substitute for the injured Mohamed Besic.
Naismith headed in Galloway’s cross on 17 minutes, eight minutes after coming on, and he then struck in a left footed effort from the edge of the box just five minutes later.
He completed the scoring late on with a neat finish past stand-in goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to send Everton up to fifth, while Chelsea slump in 17th.
Read more from Benjamin Wills here.
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