The Premiership keeps on flying by, but Week 21’s Best XI maintained it’s steady success with another strong showing.
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny made four saves versus Aston Villa, but a 76th minute goal broke his clean sheet bid.
Last week’s defense performed fabulously, as the trio of Everton’s Seamus Coleman, Tottenham’s Vlad Chiriches, and Chelsea’s Ashley Cole each secured clean sheets in 2-0 victories, with Cole also contributing an assist.
Across the midfield, Eden Hazard scored for the third time in four games and also kept a clean sheet, but neither Santi Cazorla nor Clint Dempsey could find the net in their respective matches. Rounding out the group, David Silva earned clean sheet points in Manchester City’s win over Newcastle.
In attack, both Emmanuel Adebayor and last week’s captain, Romelu Lukaku, provided assists, while Luis Suarez scored a brace in Liverpool’s eventful win at Stoke City.
To summarize, Week 21’s squad included an impressive haul of five clean sheets, three goals, and three assists.
Now, looking ahead to Week 22 of Premier League action, every team plays, with just Fulham, Norwich City, and Manchester City coming off mid-week FA Cup ties.
Headlining this weekend’s set of fixtures is Chelsea hosting Manchester United on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Manchester City look to avenge their early season loss to Cardiff City, while Arsenal host Fulham in another uneven pairing.
A more tightly contested match could be Hull City at Norwich City, but also Everton-West Brom, West Ham-Newcastle, and Sunderland-Southampton pit teams moving in opposite directions since playing to draws in gameweek two.
With some of those considerations, here’s this week’s Best XI.
Joe Hart (Manchester City) – Facing a Cardiff City side that has gone scoreless in three of its last four games, Hart’s prospects of a clean sheet are certainly encouraging. That holds true especially at home, where Man City are currently tied for the best defensive record, while Cardiff are presently tied for the worst away offensive record.
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) – Coming off consecutive clean sheets, Zabaleta’s defensive expectations should be in line with Hart’s. Further, four of the Argentine’s five assists have come at the Etihad Stadium this season. So, in a game that City figure to dominate offensively, Zabaleta could pop up with an attacking contribution as well.
Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal) – At the moment, the Gunners are tied for the league-lead in both goals allowed (19) and home goals allowed (six). Additionally, they’ve kept a clean sheet in five of their last six league games at the Emirates Stadium. As such, a visiting Fulham outfit that’s mustered just eight goals through 10 away fixtures should pose minimal threat to their London neighbor.
Leighton Baines (Everton) – As classy as they come, Baines’ return from injury has gone smoothly, seeing the left-back secure one clean sheet and score one goal through three fixtures. With fellow defender Phil Jagielka also back from a period on the sidelines, and possibly Sylvain Distin as well, Everton’s defense is pretty reliable. The Toffees’ play at West Brom, who they held scoreless in the first meeting this season, so Baines will look to make it two-in-two in Monday’s contest.
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) – Named to UEFA’s Team of the Year earlier this week, Ozil makes this week’s Best XI as well (I’m sure he’s honored). Since Ozil’s summer transfer, the German has made himself at home at the Emirates Stadium, where all five of his goals have come, as well as five of his nine assists across all competitions. Fulham’s league-worst defense could be under siege at Arsenal on Saturday, with Ozil the leading the charge.
Adam Lallana (Southampton) – One of the Premiership’s most in-form players, Lallana has recorded two goals and three assists over his last five league games. This weekend, the Englishman goes versus a Sunderland side not known for their defense. In spite of the Black Cats enjoying a three game win streak across all competitions, Southampton is still the better side and Lallana could help them improve their road form.
Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle) – Surprisingly, Newcastle has gone scoreless in its last three matches, so they’ll be eager to break the deadlock at West Ham. Fortunately, the Hammers will be without defender James Tomkins and midfielder Kevin Nolan due to suspensions, while numerous other absentees exist along their banged-up back-line. With this in mind, Cabaye figures to see plenty of the ball, which could kick-start the Magpies going forward.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – The Danish playmaker has seamlessly transitioned into new manager Tim Sherwood’s attacking philosophy, scoring three times in his last five appearances. Also, Spurs hold the league’s second-best road record and have scored more than two goals in their past four ties away from White Hart Lane. That bodes well when considering their opponents this weekend, Swansea City, allow more goals at home than on the road.
Alvaro Negredo (Manchester City) – Another player who excels at his home stomping ground, Negredo has netted 17 goals and provided three assists across all competitions in City home games this season. That total includes two goals in the Citizens’ FA Cup triumph over Blackburn this week, a game in which he was taken off after 72 minutes for strike-partner Sergio Aguero. With the Argentine returning from a calf injury and Cardiff City being this weekend’s visitor, Negredo should see his share of scoring opportunities come Saturday.
Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) – Since Christmas, the Frenchman has slowly returned to form, registering an assist and two goals over his last three showings. Giroud still leads Arsenal with nine goals, and sits third on the team with five assists. He’ll go against a last-ranked Fulham defense that’s conceded at least two goals in five of their last six away league matches this weekend, presenting a favorable chance for Giroud to string together another confidence-building performance.
Luis Suarez (C) (Liverpool) – Although Aston Villa has been comparatively better on the road this season, Suarez and Liverpool have won their past seven matches at Anfield, while scoring at least two goals in each of those victories. Also, Suarez has tallied 15 goals in seven home games this season. Finally, given the chemistry the Uruguayan has shown with teammate Daniel Sturridge, who’s freshly returned from injury, Suarez earns this week’s captain’s badge.
Zabaleta – Gibbs – Baines
Ozil – Lallana – Cabaye – Eriksen
Negredo – Giroud – Suarez (C)