Fellaini, Van Wolfswinkel & more – Goal's worst Premier League Team of the Season

Three Manchester United players are named in our side, while the three strikers selected have scored just four goals in a combined total of 76 Premier League appearances

With the 2013-14 Premier League season drawing to a close, the Professional Footballers’ Association will name its Team of the Season along with the individual awards for Player and Young Player of the Year on Sunday.

Ahead of that announcement, Goal has picked its own XI of the worst players to have graced the top flight this year.

Having arrived at Fulham in a €4.7 million deal from Roma last June, big things were expected from Maarten Stekelenburg.

But failing to complete Fulham’s first game of the season was a sign of things to come as the 31-year-old limped out of the club’s victory over Sunderland with a shoulder injury.

Stekelenburg missed a month of action but returned to make a further 21 appearances for the club, during which time 48 goals were conceded. But since the arrival of Felix Magath in February, the Netherlands international has made just three appearances and appears to be frozen out of the picture behind David Stockdale for the club’s final push for survival.

David Moyes has utilised Chris Smalling in both central and wide areas of defence but it’s at right-back where the 24-year-old has severely struggled this season.

Smalling has shown glimpses of promise in a central position but on the right side of defence, his lack of technical quality is exposed and his distribution and composure on the ball is far below the standard Manchester United should be aiming for.

In the nine games Smalling has started as a right-back this season, he’s averaged a pass completion rate of just 73.45 per cent.

Nathan Baker forms one half of our centre-back partnership following a series of unconvincing performances for Aston Villa this term. The 22-year-old performed well in Villa’s 1-0 win over Chelsea in March but consistency has been the key issue throughout the campaign. Baker’s distribution from the back has also been poor with just 68% of his passes finding their target.

The second half of our centre-back partnership includes Fernando Amorebieta. The 29-year-old arrived on a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao last summer but has struggled to find consistency at Craven Cottage in his debut campaign.

Amorebieta has made 21 Premier League appearances this season and has featured in several heavy Fulham defeats including the 6-0 loss away to Hull City and the 4-1 hammering at home to fellow strugglers Sunderland.

Liverpool have enjoyed a stellar campaign but the club have been dependent on the emergence of Jon Flanagan at left-back following Jose Enrique’s season-ending knee injury. Aly Cissokho was brought in last summer on a loan deal from Valencia as cover for the Spaniard but his performances have failed to live up to expectations.

Cissokho has made 18 appearances in all competitions this season but has featured in just one match in the past two months, which suggests Brendan Rodgers is unlikely to make his deal permanent. In contrast to Liverpool’s free-flowing style, Cissokho has looked uncomfortable on the ball, while 21-year-old Flanagan offers considerably more going forward.

Just over a year ago, Mohamed Diame’s commanding performances had attracted interest from both Arsenal and Tottenham, with both sides considering a move for the midfielder in the January transfer window.

But judging by his displays this season, the two north London rivals made a wise decision to look elsewhere as Diame has been one of the many West Ham passengers in an uninspiring campaign at Upton Park.

Diame’s performances have not strayed too far from a description which could apply broadly to West Ham’s attack. He’s lacked purpose, incisiveness and has drifted through far too many games without making a significant contribution.

Mark Noble continues to be the screen in front of the back four, while Kevin Nolan is the player primarily tasked with linking up with Andy Carroll, or a striker fit enough to play. Diame has been an ineffective hybrid of the two, and has even been tried, to little avail, on the left wing.

Following West Ham’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal in April, Sam Allardyce was asked about Diame’s potential move to a top-six club. “Well, he’ll have to perform better won’t he?” was his response.

The arrival of Marouane Fellaini from Everton for €30 million on deadline day last September had the hallmarks of a panic buy. Not only due to the late timing and the fact United could have signed the Belgian for €5m cheaper had they acted quicker, but also because he didn’t appear to be the solution to the club’s midfield problems.

So far, Fellaini has done little to convince otherwise as the 26-year-old has been unable to get to grips with any role given to him by the now departed David Moyes. In more defensive position alongside Michael Carrick, Fellaini hasn’t shown that he possesses the mental sharpness required to utilise possession under pressure, while being given an advanced role that mimics his time at Everton can’t be afforded as Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata are already vying for the spot behind the striker.

Fellaini has yet to score a Premier League goal for United this season, or register an assist, and has created just three chances in 15 appearances.

Tom Cleverley takes the final place in our three-man midfield for his ineffective displays at Manchester United this season. The 24-year-old has featured 21 times in the Premier League this term and while he’s a tidy passer of the ball, there’s been little proof that he can make a telling contribution either defensively or in attack.

The petition, which received over 19,000 signatures, asking for Cleverley to be ‘banned’ from making England’s World Cup squad this summer is harsh, given that there is still room for improvement, but the midfielder has so far failed to replicate the drive and spark he displayed during his season-long loan spell at Wigan Athletic three years ago.

Several strikers were in contention for a place in this section and the likes of Roberto Soldado, Modibo Maiga, Andreas Cornelius and Danny Graham are fortunate absentees.

However, the three players who have been selected have endured miserable seasons and have managed to score just four goals in a combined total of 76 Premier League appearances.

Norwich City didn’t even wait until the end of last season before completing a deal for Ricky van Wolfswinkel for a club-record £8.5m fee from Sporting and the Dutchman arrived at Carrow Road with the expectation of helping the club push on towards a comfortable, mid-table finish.

As it stands, the 25-year-old has failed to find the net since the opening day of the season, possessing a shot conversion rate of just 5.26%, while Norwich, who sacked Chris Hughton earlier this month, are on a run of four straight defeats and are serious contenders for relegation.

Spearheading our attack is Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore. The 24-year-old arrived during Paolo Di Canio’s reign and while he may have outlasted the Italian’s stay at the club, he’s not fared much better.

The USA international has found the net on only one occasion in the Premier League, possessing a shot conversion rate of 5.88%, while his pass accuracy of 67.2% sums up the quality of his hold-up play.

Our final place in attack is given to Papiss Cisse. After arriving from Freiburg in January 2012, the Senegal international made a blistering start to his Newcastle United career by finding the net 13 times in 14 Premier League appearances.

Last season’s eight-goal haul in the Premier League was a poor follow up but the 28-year-old has scored just twice in the league this term and has a worse shot conversion rate than both Van Wolfswinkel and Altidore at 4.88%.

Arsenal contact Van Gaal due to Wenger uncertainty

The Gunners regard the Netherlands coach as one of several short-term contingency plans in the event that their manager decides to call time on his 18-year reign next month

By Wayne Veysey | UK Correspondent

Arsenal have made contact with Louis van Gaal amid ongoing uncertainty over the future of Arsene Wenger.

The Gunners remain confident that Wenger will sign a two-year contract extension agreed last October but know he will quit as manager if the team fail to meet his targets over the next month.

As revealed, the Frenchman has told friends he is considering bringing an end to his 18-year Gunners reign if they do not win the FA Cup and finish in the top four of the Premier League.

One of several “short-term” contingency plans being explored by Arsenal is luring Van Gaal to north London when his contract with Holland expires after the World Cup.

Van Gaal has already held talks with a delegation from Manchester United and has had three meetings with Tottenham but it is understood that the Dutchman has rejected the opportunity to replace Tim Sherwood at Spurs at the end of the season.

Van Gaal is now keeping his options open as he awaits developments at both United and Arsenal.

Intriguingly, three of his former backroom staff, all Dutchmen, have recently taken on jobs at the Arsenal academy following a restructuring of the club’s youth set-up.

Andries Jonker, who will replace the retiring Liam Brady as academy director in the summer, worked alongside Van Gaal at Bayern Munich and Barcelona as well as at the Dutch FA.

Jan van Loon, who will manage the Under-16s, and Frans de Kat, who will coach the Under-18, both worked with Van Gaal at the Dutch FA. The Dutch trio will all start on July 1.

Despite considering Van Gaal, losing Wenger would be a huge blow to Arsenal chiefs, who have continued to give the Frenchman their unwavering support.

The results of the last four matches of the season, which culminate in the FA Cup final against Hull City on May 17, are now set to determine whether Wenger formally commits to a deal that would extend his reign to a remarkable 20 years.

There are not expected to be wholesale changes to the backroom team should Wenger make the shock decision to call time on his Arsenal tenure.

Long-standing ally Boro Primorac, fitness coach Tony Colbert and goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton would be likely to follow Wenger out of the exit door but assistant manager Steve Bould, first-team coach Neil Banfield and the rest of the senior medical and technical staff would be expected to stay on.

All of the senior staff have agreed deals that mirror Wenger’s and run until 2016, while more junior members of Wenger’s backroom team are on 12-month rolling contracts. It is understood the agreements are all in place and are waiting on Wenger to be formalsly rubberstamped.

Sagna close to reaching agreement on new Arsenal deal

The Frenchman has held positive fresh talks with the club over a contract extension as confidence grows at Emirates Stadium that he will reject offers from rival clubs

EXCLUSIVE
By Wayne Veysey | UK Correspondent

Bacary Sagna is close to reaching an agreement with Arsenal over a new contract, Goal understands.

Sagna’s representatives have held positive fresh talks with the club and the Gunners hierarchy believe they have made a breakthrough in their attempt to extend the player’s deal beyond this season.

The right-back is believed to be settled with his family in London and is increasingly likely to snub offers from Liverpool, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco and Inter Milan to remain at Arsenal.

Goal reported last month that the Londoners had offered Sagna a two-year, €90,000-a-week contract that includes an option for a third year.

This falls short of Sagna’s €120,000-a-week demands but further inducements have subsequently been offered to keep one of Arsenal’s longest-serving players.

Arsene Wenger has been heavily involved in his fellow Frenchman’s contract talks despite the uncertainty over his own future beyond this season.

Sagna, who turned 31 in February, can leave Emirates Stadium on a free in the summer and is able to sign a pre-contract agreement with a new club.

However, there is growing confidence among the Arsenal hierarchy that 18 months of negotiations will result in a successful outcome for the club.

Wenger has always been keen to hold on to Sagna, who has been a key figure for Arsenal this season and offers experience and versatility that would not be easy to replace.

The Gunners have looked closely at replacement right-backs in the last year, with Frankfurt’s Sebastian Jung currently top of their target list should Sagna decide to leave.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers and City manager Manuel Pellegrini are also admirers of Sagna, who can operate in central defence as well as both full-back positions, and he is highly regarded in his native France.

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Diaby plays first game for over 13 months in Arsenal Under-21 defeat

The France midfielder featured for the first 45 minutes of the defeat to Chelsea Under-21s and could now be in contention to feature for the first-team before the end of the season

Abou Diaby returned to action for the first time in over a year as he featured for 45 minutes in Arsenal Under-21s’ defeat to Chelsea Under-21s.

The 27-year-old’s last appearance prior to Tuesday’s clash in the Under-21 league was against Swansea City back in March 2013, where he suffered knee ligament damage.

Diaby returned on Tuesday night, however, playing the first half of the fixture against Chelsea Under-21s, where goals from Lewis Baker and John Swift claimed a 2-1 win for the Blues.

He was replaced at half-time of the meeting at Emirates Stadium and having seemingly come through 45 minutes of action unscathed, manager Arsene Wenger has suggested he could be close to a first-team return.

When asked if Diaby could still play a part for the Gunners before the end of the season, Wenger told the club’s official website: “Yes of course, it depends how well he comes out of the game [against Chelsea Under-21s].

“He hasn’t played for a year but physically he is ready to play, completely. It is now just decision-making, getting used to challenges again. He needs a game.

“Everybody [counted him out] but he is fit and ready.”

Diaby has made just a handful of appearances for the Gunners over the last couple of years but is targeting a shock late charge for the France squad for the 2014 World Cup.

Top four & FA Cup will be a success for Arsenal – Monreal

Despite leading the Premier League at the beginning of the year, the Gunners are now battling with Everton for Champions League qualification and Hull in the hunt for silverware

Nacho Monreal will consider a top-four finish and winning the FA Cup as a successful season for Arsenal.

An inconsistent second half of the campaign has seen Arsenal slip from top spot in the Premier League on New Year’s Day to battling for a fourth-placed finish with three games to go.

Arsene Wenger’s side, though, have a chance to end their nine-year wait for silverware in the FA Cup final against Hull City next month and Monreal feels a positive end to the season is needed.

“I understand that the fans can be discouraged due to the fact that we had chances to win the title at some point this season,” the defender told the club’s official website.

“But finishing in the top four is a great objective and if we can add up some silverware by winning the FA Cup this season’s outcome will be positive.

“It is true that we had a hard time. We didn’t play well against the best teams and we conceded many goals.

“People shouldn’t forget that a Premier League top-four finish is really complicated since many teams in the league have a great level, [and] clinching a Champions League spot for 17 years in a row is not easy at all.”

Everton are challenging Arsenal for that final Champions League place, with Roberto Martinez’s men only a point behind going into this weekend’s fixtures.