- Team of the Weekend
Lukaku and Naismith put Arsenal to the sword
After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC brings you its Team of the Weekend. Our panel of experts carefully selects 11 star performers, along with a manager. Do you agree or disagree?
You can have your say on those picked or overlooked in the comments section at the foot of the article or on Twitter using the hashtag #TOTW. Plus, tune in to Monday's "ESPN FC" (5:30 pm ET, ESPN2) for further reaction.
Goalkeeper: It hasn't taken long for discord to permeate our Team of the Weekend with no fewer than three candidates to take the No.1 jersey - Tim Howard, Ben Foster and Anders Lindegaard - all in the mix. Our hat trick of shot-stoppers all kept clean sheets to bolster their claims but given that Newcastle and Arsenal represented powder puff opposition, Foster - put forward by Paul Mariner - is our man. He made two crucial saves, from Johan Elmander and Robert Snodgrass, as West Brom locked down only their second win under Pepe Mel and their first clean sheet in the Premier League since New Year's Day.
Centre-back: Despite more outpouring of affection for Seamus Coleman, the panel's choices dictate a back three this weekend, kicked off by Hull's Curtis Davies. Both Gab Marcotti and Paul Mariner have been waxing lyrical about the 29-year-old this season, and he put in another assured shift in the home victory over Swansea. Marcotti called it a "commanding performance" and notes how Davies' fine season has gone unnoticed in a lot of quarters, while Mariner says he was "solid as a rock." He goes on to suggest Roy Hodgson should be taking a look, and says Davies has been so well coached by his manager that Steve Bruce's next task may well be trying to fend off potential suitors.
Centre-back: Another English centre-half who has the potential to break onto the international scene is Everton's John Stones. The 19-year-old does have two great teachers around him in Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka - for whom he is deputising - but keeps putting in shifts that go way beyond his tender age. Steve Nicol thought Stones' was a "mature performance in Everton's biggest game of the season" while Paul Mariner says that aside from one mistake during the match, Stones was assured in the face of huge pressure.
Centre-back: "West Brom are a different team when Jonas Olsson is in there," says Gab Marcotti, and he's not far wrong. The Baggies recorded their first shut-out in more than two months in a humungous win at Carrow Road, largely thanks to a typically combative display from the big Swede. Relishing his battle with fellow countryman, Johan Elmander, Olsson also provided a menace at the other end, and was agonisingly close to finding the net. If he can stay fit then the Baggies will have a far better chance of staying up. As Steve Nicol points out - "their survival is being carried on Olsson's back."
Centre midfield: At the base of our midfield is man who relishes in doing the dirty work - Mile Jedinak. Paul Mariner even thinks the Australian could be in with a shout for Crystal Palace's Player of the Season award if he carries on in this fashion. Always industrious and forever linking play in a calm, unflustered fashion, Jedinak has been a key part of Tony Pulis' reinvention of the Eagles, as Gab Marcotti points out. Mariner notes that he was "everywhere" against Cardiff and Marcotti says he is "instrumental in directing midfield traffic." After Saturday's win, he'll surely have the chance to do it in the Premier League again next season too.
Centre midfield: Given ours is a five-man midfield, there is scope to indulge a few more of our panel's choices, the first being Steven Gerrard, put forward by another Steve who excelled for Liverpool's - Nicol. In fact, perhaps we should have asked Tina Turner to pen this week's TOTW given Nicol's description of the Reds' captain: "Simply the best." Quite apart from his two penalties, Gerrard was the orchestrator of the vast majority of Liverpool's forward jabs - his pass for Luis Suarez that led to the opening goal a thing of particular beauty. He's got the scent of the title in his nostrils, and he's hurtling headlong towards it.
Left midfield: Jason Puncheon is a man back in form. After a lull of late, he bounced back to full tilt in Palace's emphatic victory in south Wales - one that surely condemned Cardiff to an instant return to the Championship. He is a unanimous choice from the panel after two goals, one of them an absolute classic. Puncheon is another example of a player reborn under Pulis says Gab Marcotti, and Paul Mariner called him the match-winner for his endeavours. Rounding off a treble of nominations, Steve Nicol hailed Puncheon's glorious second as a goal of the month contender.
Attacking midfield: This was surely Juan Mata's finest performance to date in the red of Manchester United. The Spaniard made tearing a woeful Newcastle outfit apart look like child's play, as he drifted into space, linked play effortlessly and grabbed a double to boot. Gab Marcotti wonders if this was a performance to convince David Moyes he should play in a central role more often. Steve Nicol agrees that Mata was at the top of his game, his free-kick and expert finish for the second underlining he was far too clever for Newcastle.
Right midfield: "If Mohamed Salah keeps this up, Mourinho may want to dispense with the centre forward altogether," says Gab Marcotti. He's right to trumpet a fine performance from the Egyptian, who gave notice that his Premier League "settling in" period might be quicker than most, such was the ease with which he gave Stoke a torrid time. His goal was just reward for a stand-out display, Paul Mariner delivering his verdict thus: "Learning the Mourinho way every week, Salah's pace was a constant threat, he showed a good work rate and scored as well."
Striker: There are two striking berths up for grabs and both of them are going to Evertonians. Steve Nicol's choice of Steven Naismith continued the fine form he showed at Fulham last weekend as Arsenal were brushed aside like relegation fodder. Naismith said in a weekend interview with The Guardian that he's learnt more in a year of working with Roberto Martinez than in any other season of his career, and it is starting to show. The Spaniard has a "totally different way of playing football" Naismith says, but the Scot sticks to old fashioned principles of graft and class to make his mark, which he did with a silky, goalscoring display against Arsenal.
Striker: Naismith is all about touch and grace but Everton's bullying of Arsene Wenger's men owed much to the physical threat posed by Romelu Lukaku. Relishing his battle with Arsenal's creaky defence, Lukaku provided the first for Naismith after his initial shot had been saved by Wojciech Szczesny and then registered a superb second to kill off the Gunners as he danced into the area and caught the goalkeeper off guard with a snapshot into the far corner. Paul Mariner thought Lukaku represented a potent combination of mobility and goal threat - pretty much the opposite of what Olivier Giroud offered.
Manager: Steve Nicol throws Brendan Rodgers' name into the hat for our gaffer of the week but our other two pundits are steadfast in their resolution that Roberto Martinez deserves the gong. Everton's manager has taken them to another level since assuming the mantle from David Moyes, and they are now well placed to crack the top four in his first season at the helm. Both Gab Marcotti and Paul Mariner thought their 3-0 win demonstrated how Martinez's philosophy is starting to crystallise, and that his tactics proved he had outwitted Mr Wenger. Gab even goes one step further, pointing out that many more victories like this and the real question to emerge will be, how long can Everton keep hold of him?