Not read the winners yet? What have you been doing? Oh, working…
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Barely a Premier League player anymore, far less one deserving a weekly wage over £100,000 or a place in England’s squad. Walcott himself isn’t fully to blame for this horrible slump, but he really isn’t helping himself either. In an Arsenal team packed with young players, Arsene Wenger needed the senior professionals to step up against Nottingham Forest. Too often these days, Walcott is seen shying away from his responsibilities.
This is undoubtedly a question of confidence. Walcott has been downtrodden by his lack of Premier League action and his relegation from starter in a top-four team to a bit-part player for the club in sixth. His performances have always been confidence-driven. Yet that only begs the question as to why he has stayed at Arsenal for so long, when it has been apparent for such a long time that his status at the club is on the wane.
Now, finally, we may have seen the final straw. If Walcott can eke out a move to Everton or Southampton, Arsenal’s longest-serving player can succeed again outside of this suffocating fog. If breaking back into the England squad is unlikely, at least Walcott deserves to enjoy his football again.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United)
“It was unfair [to take Mkhitaryan off] and I told him that at half-time,” Jose Mourinho said after Manchester United’s win over Derby County. “I didn’t like what I did. He didn’t deserve it, he was playing well, he wasn’t playing bad. He had a couple of missed passes but he was playing well and giving a good dynamic to the team.”
Is this the first recorded case of Mourinho apologising for something that wasn’t his fault? The last time Mkhitaryan played 90 minutes of a United match was September 12. The last time he did so in the Premier League was May 2017. Since that September date, he has been substituted in ten matches and been on the bench six times. It’s not me, it’s you.
Mourinho’s point was that his half-time change on Friday was to change the shape of his forward line, putting Marcus Rashford back on the left and bringing Romelu Lukaku on centrally. But it’s hardly promising that you sit somewhere in the farmyard between sacrificial lamb and scapegoat.
Wayne Rooney (Everton)
The goals scored by Rooney this season – particularly in a team that lacks a central striker – have painted a layer of gloss on his performances in an Everton shirt. It will be interesting if the arrival of Cenk Tosun will prompt Rooney’s place to be called into question as the reliance on his goals diminishes.
Against Liverpool on Friday, we saw the worst of Rooney. His reputation for passion and fight is unquestioned, but there is a line. The challenge that got him booked after five minutes could easily have been a red card, and then came the customary misplaced passes and complaints to the referee.
Being substituted after 52 minutes of your first game after a new striker has signed is bad. Watching on as a rival for your No. 10 position scores on a free-flowing counter attack is worse. Rooney took plenty of backward steps.
Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea)
There were two trains of thought regarding Chelsea’s strikers at the weekend. The first was to play Alvaro Morata after his Arsenal nightmare and hope that he played his way into form. The second, and far more likely with an EFL Cup semi-final coming up, was to play Michy Batshuayi and hope that the Belgian would put pressure on Morata with a strong performance.
Ah well, never mind. If it is becoming increasingly difficult to rely on Morata’s finishing – other than with his head – Batshuayi is hardly the ideal back-up striker in this form. The only goals he has since October came against MK Dons in the Checkatrade Trophy.
This could well be the last start of Batshuayi’s Chelsea career, and it would be a fitting end. You’d rather play Eden Hazard as a false nine than watch the Belgian fail to hold up the ball and spurn the half-chances that he is afforded. Against Norwich, he posed no threat at all, an anti-striker. A loan deal would suit all parties, even if Chelsea don’t bring in a replacement.
Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham)
You did have to enjoy David Moyes’ fury at West Ham’s lack of energy and fight against Shrewsbury in the FA Cup on Sunday. It came four days after Moyes told reporters that he would not try and win the competition if he thought it could affect West Ham’s league form, then going on to detail why getting into round four would affect the league form. It’s quite some motivational speaking.
Moyes was still right to feel let down by the team he did pick, with Kouyate the guiltiest party. Once a consistent central midfielder and superb during his first two seasons at the club, Kouyate’s form has been declining for a fair while. His self-destruction is a talking point amongst supporters.
This was a new low. A 50% passing accuracy is one thing, but a 50% passing accuracy against a League One team, most of which involve you panicking and hitting the ball long, is another entirely.