The weekend's top performers

Team of the Week

March 25, 2012
By Chris Atkins
(Archive)

Chelsea's game against Tottenham may not have been a classic, but it could have been settled shortly after half-time had it not been for the excellence of Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal. Having performed miracles to deny Rafael Van der Vaart before the break, Cech followed it up after the interval with another top-drawer save from Kyle Walker's effort. There were a couple of uneasy moments for the Czech Republic star, but he was generally tidy about his work and kept a hard-earned clean-sheet.

Gary Caldwell Wigan celeb
EmpicsGary Caldwell hopes for a happy return

Wigan were in desperate need of a win when they took on Liverpool on Saturday and, thanks to Gary Caldwell's dramatic late intervention, Latics fans were not disappointed at Anfield. On the hour mark, the Scottish centre-back turned inside Andy Carroll and lashed the winning goal past Pepe Reina, but it was far from his only contribution to the game. In defence, Caldwell was a giant, making several key interceptions and clearances to deny the persistent Luis Suarez. Even when Liverpool turned to the aerial threat of Carroll late on, Caldwell was more than a match for everything the home side could muster.

Whenever a centre-back gets himself on the score-sheet, as well as fulfilling their defensive duties, he is always a contender for Team of the Week. When, as with David Wheater on Saturday, a centre-back scores twice to guide his side to a 2-1 win over a relegation rival, he becomes an absolute shoo-in. Bolton have had an extremely difficult week following Fabrice Muamba's cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane and there was some doubt as to how they would respond to the adversity. It was a time for leadership and, right from the word go at the Reebok Stadium, Wheater was a tower of strength at the heart of the Bolton defence.

Completing the defence is Everton left-back Leighton Baines, whose all-round display against Swansea will provide much ammunition for those who suggest that he is currently England's best in his position. Dependable as ever in defence, Baines linked up wonderfully with Pienaar down the left flank and capped his performance with a fine goal. Having won himself a free-kick 25 yards out, Baines placed the ball right into the top corner of the Swansea goal, leaving Michael Vorm helpless.

When it comes to central midfield players in action this weekend, Arsenal provided two of the league's outstanding performers. Mikel Arteta delivered a masterful passing display in midfield, but he's just edged out in our selection by midfield partner Alex Song. The Cameroonian is the defensive component of the Arsenal midfield machine, but in recent weeks he has turned provider-in-chief and once more showed his range of passing from the base of midfield with an assist for Arsenal's opening goal. Having gone through a rocky patch in mid-season, Song has come back with a vengeance to shine for Arsenal over recent weeks.

Much derided for the quality of his end-product, Theo Walcott has cut a rejuvenated figure in recent weeks. Admittedly, Aston Villa did not provide much opposition at the Emirates, but Walcott's pace and trickery down the right flank was a constant worry for left-back Stephen Warnock and the England wide-man continued his recent trend of converting opportunities that fell his way. Combining well with Bacary Sagna on the right-flank in both attack and defence, Walcott offered great width to the Gunners, helping Song and Arteta to excel infield.

One of the revelations of the season, Sunderland's James McClean had been a subdued force in recent weeks, but against QPR the 23-year-old Republic of Ireland international was back on top form. A fine goal will grab the headlines, but McClean's most important contribution arguably came earlier on, with the inch-perfect cross that set up Nicklas Bendtner for his opener at a point when the game had been well balanced. The Sunderland wide-man had the run on experienced full-back Luke Young all afternoon, earning his opponent an early yellow card, with his direct style and pace a potent combination.

Hatem Ben Arfa has been something of an erratic talent during his time at Newcastle, but when the Frenchman performs as he did on Sunday afternoon, he borders on the unplayable. A goal and two assists by the stroke of half-time showed the extent of Ben Arfa's first-half brilliance, tearing the West Brom defence to shreds twice on the counter-attack, and he almost grabbed a second goal late on. If the midfielder could guarantee a performance like this every week, there is little doubt he would quickly return to the French national team.

When it comes to attacking midfield talents in the Premier League, there have been few better models for consistency than Everton's Steven Pienaar. Following a spell at Tottenham where appearances were few and far between, the South African has returned to familiar territory at Everton and is making the most of his opportunity. Everton were sublime in the second-period and Pienaar was central to all of their attacking play. Starting on the left, Pienaar balanced traditional wide-play with cutting inside to great effect and gave Swansea a taste of their own medicine with his intricate passing in and around the box. A fine, inventive display from a class act.

As far as Premier League strikers go this weekend, there is only one name writing the headlines - Peter Crouch. The England international striker only had one shot against Manchester City on Saturday evening, but what a stunning shot it was. As the game reached the hour mark, Crouch produced a majestic volley from 30 yards that left Joe Hart helpless to give Stoke real belief that they could defeat the title challengers. Perhaps the leading contender for goal of the season, Crouch's strike was eventually cancelled out by Yaya Toure, but it will not be forgotten for some time.

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/gamecast?id=318229&cc=5739
GettyImagesPapiss Cisse put Newcastle in front with a finish from close range

Papiss Demba Cisse came into English football with a reputation for scoring goals and has not disappointed. A brace in Sunday's demolition of West Brom took the Newcastle marksman to a total of five goals in five games in what appears a lethal link-up with Senegal partner Demba Ba. Cisse showed his striking instincts for the first of his two goals, arriving at the back post to slot home, before a tidy left-footed finish brought a second. A willing runner and an aerial threat, Cisse has quickly found himself very much at home in the North East.

It was a weekend that could have seen Bolton's hopes of staying in the Premier League lying in shreds, but Owen Coyle can be very proud of his side for earning a victory that dramatically opens up the battle to avoid the drop. At the end of a week from which Coyle has emerged with great dignity, the Scot saw his side give the best possible show of support to Fabrice Muamba through a display of unity to win against a relegation rival. Coyle has shown himself to be a great leader this week and was rewarded by his side on the pitch.