It is time to think about the best of the goals we've seen in the Premier League this season. Rather than producing a list of identi-goals smashed in from 25 yards, I've tried to include all different kinds of brilliance: close-range goals sweetly struck, barnstorming solo efforts and, yes, one or two monsters from distance, too. In any case, here's one writer's opinion on the top goals of the season:
The Newcastle striker -- signed in January for $14.5 million, when there's "no value" to be had, remember -- scored a goal of the month contender in the first half, but his second might just be the most amazing goal most of us have ever witnessed. "An astonishing goal," said Alan Pardew; the Newcastle manager didn't know what to do with himself when this one went in. Picking up a Shola Ameobi chest-down about six yards left and outside of the penalty area, Cisse swipes his laces across the back of the ball to send it rolling off the outside of his foot and arcing improbably over Petr Cech and into the far side of the net. Modern balls move about a lot in the air but when you watch the side-angle replay you can see this was no wobbler, responding only to the fierce swerve put on it by that right boot.
You have to look at the stills showing Van Persie in midair, the ball on its way toward Tim Howard's back post, to realize just how mind-boggling the forward's technique is. There isn't a muscle that is not working to meet Alex Song's delightfully chipped pass and in the same movement send it in off the frame -- and the crowd knew it was in before the goalkeeper or Phil Jagielka had chance to react. The stadium was packed after the unveiling of statues of Thierry Henry, Tony Adams and Herbert Chapman, and Van Persie struck just as the BBC commentator John Motson mused that the special guests "must be wondering where a goal is going to come from." Van Persie and Song virtually scored an almost identical goal against Liverpool later in the season.
There was something intoxicating about Ben Arfa's solo effort, from the neat little touch on the turn that set him off a full 70 yards from goal, to the simplicity of his finish, having invited three Bolton players to take a seat on the floor along the way; there just aren't that many players in England who can do that kind of thing. Especially towards the end of a dreary game. Nobby Solano's comparison to Diego Maradona in 1986 is pushing it (Maradona had more players to beat, and they were a bit better than Bolton), but rightly has increased talk of Ben Arfa being in the frame for a Euro2012 callup for France.
It's possible that this goal doesn't look much on paper: Grant Holt, a few yards out, holds off a defender and pokes the ball in off the far post. Yet it was far more poetic than that. As the Everton defense pondered life's uncertainties, Steve Morison hooked the ball gently across the penalty area toward Holt, being given the Heimlich maneuver by John Heitinga. The forward nudged the ball out of his feet and then teased it back toward him as Tony Hibbert charged in, turning to strike the ball across the goalmouth as if Everton's back line had helped rather than hindered him.
"He does that in training," sniffed the Stoke City manager, Tony Pulis, who likes nothing better than to see his underestimated players come good. Until Cisse's strike against Chelsea, this was arguably the most outrageously good goal of the season -- it didn't touch the ground between leaving the Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic's foot and landing in the Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart's net, drawing comparisons with Glenn Hoddle's stunner against Nottingham Forest in 1978. Crouch headed Begovic's long kick to Jermaine Pennant, who nodded it back toward Crouch. He cushioned the ball up in to the air with the inside of his foot and then rotated his right leg through it without so much as a glance at goal.
The game will be best remembered for Rangers' comeback, reversing a 0-2 deficit in the last 14 minutes, but Coates' finish is probably just as unlikely. As the QPR manager Mark Hughes put it: "That was a once-in-the-lifetime strike from a 6-foot-4 center back." He had only come on thanks to an injury to Martin Kelly, but was in the right place when Bobby Zamora's goal line clearance hung in the air and dropped just inside the edge of the penalty area. Watching it down, Coates set himself, jumped, and stroked the ball over Paddy Kenny's head and in to the top of the net.
There have been a few excellent dinked goals this season -- Van Persie lifted the ball over the Norwich keeper John Ruddy in November, Papiss Cisse's chip against Swansea and Gareth Bale beating Ruddy after having carried the ball from the halfway line as Tottenham Hotspur won 2-0 at Carrow Road a month later -- but none betters Bryan Ruiz's effort for sheer chutzpah. Clint Dempsey, who had given Fulham the lead, weights the ball perfectly through for Ruiz, but doesn't take Marcos Alonso out of the equation. No matter; Ruiz cuts across him, waits to see what Jussi Jaaskelainen does, and when he refuses to commit one way or another, stops in his tracks and scoops the ball over him.
We have a long tradition of celebrating the blend of skill and opportunism that got Suarez his first hat trick in a Liverpool shirt. The forward's finishing has been criticized this season, and not without good cause, but whatever his faults five yards out, he looked peerless from 55. That's not quite at the halfway line, but are you going to quibble about distance? The average miss rate from there must be knocking on for 100 percent. "I was about to give him a bollocking for having a ridiculous shot," Steven Gerrard said, afterwards.
A description of Stephane Sessegnon's delicately shaped goal against Swansea (January) would have sat here, but it's impossible to ignore the claim of Di Santo's wonderfully nonchalant strike against Newcastle last week, which sums up the level of Wigan's play at this end of the season. Approaching half time Roberto Martinez's men were already three goals up and playing Newcastle off the park. Teed up by Shaun Maloney, Di Santo -- playing at walking pace -- set the ball with his left foot and then casually swung his right, lifting off the ground slightly as he coaxed the ball into the top corner. You could forgive the hammy celebration after a goal like that.
A bit of a coin-toss between Craig Gardner and Newcastle's Ryan Taylor, who scored a mirror-image of this goal against Everton in November: both players chest the ball down outside the area and whip it up and down to leave the goalkeeper stranded. Gardner gets it for the immense power he manages to generate with barely any backlist. This wasn't the first time he had shown off how much he could get a ball to move, either -- earlier that month he'd beaten Wigan's Ali Al-Habsi with a superb free kick that swerved yards to the left to avoid the wall before rerouting to sneak inside the post. (An honorable mention goes to his Sunderland teammate Fraizer Campbell, who came back from injury and scored a wonderful dipping volley against Norwich in February.)
It feels all kinds of wrong to include a header from a player who can strike the ball so cleanly, so effortlessly, as Nikica Jelavic, but seriously: how did he get that in? Even once he's beaten Rafael da Silva to Hibbert's cross, to steer the ball back across goal from pretty much the byline, without giving David de Gea a sniff, is rather impressive. So impressive, in fact, that it's difficult to believe he intended to do it (rather than set up Marouane Fellaini, say), but he definitely sneaks a peek at goal beforehand.
The honor almost went to his Spurs teammate Kyle Walker, who has scored two piledrivers this season, against Blackburn and Arsenal. Modric orchestrated a comprehensive win for Tottenham back in September, though, and started the move from which he scored in the seventh minute. When Jose Enrique stopped Jermain Defoe getting hold of Gareth Bale's cross, Modric accelerated toward the loose ball and fired instantly into the top right corner of the net -- deliberately lifting the ball out of Pepe Reina's reach rather than sending it skimming across the turf. (And he found virtually the same spot with a volley against Bolton in midweek.)