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Song nails Hammers to overcome woodwork failures

Arsenal 1 West Ham 0

Song 88

Arsenal were forced to dig deep, but their perseverance ensured West Ham remain rooted to the foot of the Premier League table after an Alex Song header two minutes from time condemned them to defeat, despite the best efforts of both Robert Green and the goal-frame to deny the home side.

Having made nine changes for the Carling Cup victory at Newcastle in midweek, Arsène Wenger reverted to a more customary line-up, with Laurent Koscielny the only change to the team that won 3-0 at Manchester City last Sunday.

After an opening 20 minutes lacking in clear-cut chances, Green made his first meaningful save of the afternoon, and arguably his best, at the end of an incisive move by the home side. A deft pass by Song sent Bacary Sagna clear, and the full back immediately squared the ball for Cesc Fàbregas as he arrived in the area. The captain’s first-time effort from 12 yards out was struck well, but Green flung himself across his goal to pluck the ball out of the air. Before half-time, Green would intervene decisively again, first denying Song’s low shot, then tipping a header by Sébastien Squillaci over the bar.

West Ham themselves had played with a degree of ambition, with Scott Parker and Mark Noble putting themselves about effectively in midfield, although the former was lucky to escape a booking after several robust challenges. Denilson, playing his third game in seven days, was on the end of a number of sturdy tackles and struggled at times, particularly with his passing. Nonetheless Lukasz Fabiański had little to do in the first period other than to watchfully hold on to a well-struck Noble effort which flew straight at him.

With Arsenal occasionally sloppy and too often lacking the killer final ball, it had been a much more even first half than many at the Emirates had been expecting.

The woodwork denied Nasri what would have been his eighth goal of the season (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

After half-time, however, the visitors gradually retreated deeper into their own half as Arsenal began to turn up the pressure. Samir Nasri hit the bar with a rasping free kick from fully 35 yards. Theo Walcott came on for Denilson midway through the half, and his pace immediately troubled West Ham’s tiring back line. Within five minutes of his arrival, the England winger beat Green with an angled shot, but the ball rebounded off the inside of the far post and straight back into the keeper’s grateful arms.

Arsenal continued to surge forward with increasing urgency. Andrey Arshavin, after another lacklustre performance, gave way to Nicklas Bendtner. Inside the final ten minutes, several other chances went begging as Green stood firm and it started to look like the Hammers, despite the flurry of shots raining down on their goal, might just hold on against the odds for a battling draw.

Song has scored in each of his last three games (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

With only a couple of minutes remaining, though, the breakthrough finally arrived. Arsenal worked the ball patiently across the face of the West Ham box. Song switched the point of attack with a sumptuous cross-field ball to Gaël Clichy. The left back cut inside and delivered a delightful right-footed cross into the six-yard box – a real collector’s island from a player whose crossing so often disappoints. Bendtner just failed to connect with an outstretched leg but Song, arriving behind him, diverted the ball past Green with a full-length diving header. It was the Cameroon international’s third goal in as many games, and Clichy’s first assist at the Emirates in nearly three years – his previous one also being against West Ham in early 2008.

West Ham threw caution to the wind in what little time remained, but the home side’s defence stood firm. Looking at the game as a whole, West Ham can have little to complain about the fact of their defeat, but the manner and timing with which it came will have disappointed them although, with Wolves’ surprising win over Manchester City, a draw would have still left them bottom.

After the game, Wenger admitted his concern as the clock ticked down, but praised his side’s patience:

We needed to be patient, intelligent and not make a mistake at the back against a West Ham team who had a strong spirit and were well-organised. We showed patience because in the first half it was difficult to get into the flow of our passing so we had to wait until they got a bit fatigued. West Ham kept going and we did as well. We kept the structure of our game right, we didn’t do anything stupid, we kept trying to be intelligent and that in the end got us the goal with two minutes to go.

He also praised his goalscorer, who has shown greater all-round aspects to his game this season, joking that his increasing presence in the opposition penalty area was getting to be a bit much even for his attacking philosophy:

He is [adding a new dimension to his game] because when you sum up his game today he had three good chances: the goal he scored, the one on his right boot and the header in the first half that touched the bar. He has got the taste to go forward, even if I think a little too much sometimes for a holding midfielder! But that is part of our game as well.

And when asked about his team’s chances of breaking their five-year trophy drought, he remained cautiously optimistic but stressed the need for consistency:

I believe we have a good chance, yes, but we want to show consistency first. We go step by step. I believe we still need to step up a gear to completely achieve that. But on the other hand you feel as well that there is more to come out from this team because we had a good potential on the bench today and we still have some players to come back. So if we can keep a good injury record then we have a chance. It’s too early in the season [to be sure] but I have belief. We have to show we can handle every single game with the different aspects that the Premier League has. You saw today that we played against the bottom team in the Premier League and it was a real battle. We have to show we can compete like that in every game.

In the meantime, Wenger’s side is developing a winning habit. They have now won five games in a row in the space of two weeks, scoring 15 goals while rarely hitting top gear, and today represented their third consecutive clean sheet. Song’s late winner was also the tenth time in 15 games in all competitions that Arsenal have scored in the last ten minutes. On a couple of occasions this season the team has underperformed, but it is difficult to argue against the character of a side with the tenacity and self-belief to score late goals with such regularity. There are many tougher challenges to come, but it certainly bodes well.

Arsenal now travel to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday knowing that a win will all but mathematically confirm them as winners of Group H with two games to spare.

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NFL at Wembley: San Francisco 49ers vs Denver Broncos preview

The NFL returns to the UK this Sunday for the fourth year in succession, as the San Francisco 49ers take on the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium in a rematch of Super Bowl XXIV, a memorable but one-sided game in which the 49ers demolished the Broncos, 55-10.

The match brings together two of the league’s most successful franchises, both of whom have fallen on hard times in recent years and enter this weekend with a combined record of 3-11. Nonetheless, it promises to be a closely-fought encounter, with both teams desperate to get their seasons back on track.

Let’s take a look at both teams, and the key players to watch out for on Sunday.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are one of only three teams to have won five Super Bowls, and can boast a storied history which includes Pro Football Hall of Famers such as quarterbacks Joe Montana, Steve Young and Y A Tittle, wide receiver Jerry Rice, cornerback/safety Ronnie Lott and defensive end Fred Dean.

All that seems a long time ago, however. The last of those five Super Bowl victories came 16 years ago, and the 49ers have failed to register a winning record in each of the past seven seasons. Last year’s 8-8 represented their best finish since 2002.

The ‘home’ team on Sunday, San Francisco bring a dismal 1-6 record into this game, having opened with five straight losses – their worst start to a season in over 30 years. Last weekend they succumbed to the previously winless Carolina Panthers, leaving them bottom of the NFC West. Worst of all, the 49ers have developed a habit of contriving to lose close games, with four of their six defeats being by three points or fewer.

The 49ers’ offense limps into Wembley, with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye sacked last month and now missing injured starting quarterback Alex Smith. Third-string quarterback Troy Smith (no relation), released pre-season by the Baltimore Ravens, will line up under center on Sunday, having started just two games and attempted 89 passes in three years in Baltimore.

Frank Gore (#21) will spearhead the 49ers' offense (image courtesy of 49ers.com)

As a result, we can expect the offense – ranked a lowly 21st in yardage and 31st (out of 32 teams) in scoring – to focus even more than usual on the broad shoulders of Frank Gore. The sixth-year running back leads the team with 573 yards (seventh in the NFL) and has carried the ball on 135 of the 49ers’ 158 running plays so far this season. He is also the leading receiver, with 37 catches.

The 49ers have struggled with run blocking all season, as they bed in a young offensive line featuring rookie first-round draft picks Anthony Davis (right tackle) and Mike Iupati (left guard). Overall, they rank a poor 27th in rushing, averaging just 92.3 yards per game. However, there have been definite signs of improvement recently, as Gore has rushed for 251 yards over the past two weeks, compared with an average of 64.4 per game in the first five.

Defensive captain, linebacker Patrick Willis (#52) (image courtesy of 49ers.com)

To protect the inexperienced Smith, and against a Broncos defence which is weak on the ground and gave up 328 rushing yards to the Oakland Raiders last week, Gore’s number will be called frequently on Sunday. When the quarterback does drop back to pass, however, he will look for Gore coming out of the backfield, Michael Crabtree (28 catches) out wide and tight end Vernon Davis (32) over the middle. Davis leads the team with four receiving touchdowns – look for him to test the Broncos by running deep between the gaps in their zone coverages – while Crabtree is arguably the team’s best ‘hands’ receiver since the departure of the record-breaking Rice.

Defense has been San Francisco’s strong suit in recent years, with an aggressive unit moulded in the image of head coach Mike Singletary, one of the finest middle linebackers in NFL history. The leaders of the defense are inside linebacker Patrick Willis and cornerback Nate Clements. Willis is a rangy and versatile player who leads the team with 58 tackles and is capable of making big plays all over the field. The hard-hitting Clements has two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Another rookie, second-round selection Taylor Mays, will start at strong safety.

Players to watch: Frank Gore (running back), Vernon Davis (tight end), Michael Crabtree (wide receiver), Patrick Willis (linebacker).

Denver Broncos

The team for which Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway played the whole of his 16-year career, the Broncos have appeared in six Super Bowls, winning the Vince Lombardi trophy twice, in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. The latter was the last game of Elway’s career.

However, the club has enjoyed limited success since, winning just one post-season game since that Super Bowl XXXIII triumph and missing out on the playoffs in each of the last four years. During that time, they have become a benchmark for mediocrity, with a record of 32-32.

The Broncos come to London with a 2-5 record, bottom of the AFC West and two games behind division leaders Kansas City. They will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak which includes a 59-14 demolition at the hands of the Raiders last weekend. Three of their five defeats have been by 14 points or more.

Denver quarterback Kyle Orton (#8) (image courtesy of denverbroncos.com)

In contrast to the 49ers, the Broncos’ key strength on offense is their passing game led by former Chicago Bears‘ quarterback Kyle Orton, which is ranked third in the league in passing (290.1 yards per game). Orton has 11 touchdowns and just four interceptions for the year. He trails only San Diego‘s Philip Rivers and IndianapolisPeyton Manning in terms of passing yards per game, and ranks eighth in passer rating.

When Orton drops back to pass, he will look primarily for the wide receiver trio of Jabar Gaffney (41 receptions), Brandon Lloyd (35) and Eddie Royal (34), with Lloyd his preferred option when looking long. The Broncos’ offensive scheme does not heavily involve either the tight ends or the running backs with Demaryius Thomas (15) and Correll Buckhalter (12) the leading pass-catchers at those positions.

Linebacker D J Williams (#55) (image courtesy of denverbroncos.com)

By comparison, Denver’s running game is anaemic, ranking 32nd and last in the NFL, averaging just 68.4 yards per game. Feature back Knowshon Moreno has just 212 yards and two touchdowns to date, at a feeble 3.3 yards per carry. No Bronco has recorded a run longer than 17 yards all season. Consequently, expect the Broncos to attack the 49ers’ defense almost exclusively through the air.

Denver’s 25th-ranked defense will be headed up by inside linebacker D J Williams, who leads the team in both tackles (63) and sacks (3.5). Combined, the team has just five interceptions, shared among five different players.

They are likely to struggle against San Francisco’s run-based offense, ranking a lowly 30th against the rush and a respectable 10th in pass defense. Overall, they are 30th in points conceded, giving up 28.4 per game – a figure exacerbated by the 59 Oakland scored last week.

Players to watch: Kyle Orton (quarterback), Brandon Lloyd (wide receiver), D J Williams (linebacker).

Predictions for Sunday

I expect Sunday’s game to be a close but nervy affair, especially at first as these two struggling teams try to build confidence and momentum. San Francisco have ‘home’ advantage and can expect the support of the majority of the Wembley crowd. They also have the benefit of having been in the UK all week to acclimatise, whereas Denver are only flying in today (Friday). However, the loss of Alex Smith is a big blow which will significantly restrict their offensive potential, and the 49ers will probably try to control the ball with Gore on the ground – where the Broncos are weakest – rather than put too much on the shoulders of the inexperienced Troy Smith.

Denver will test the San Francisco secondary early, hoping to build a lead and force the 49ers into abandoning the run, and look to apply plenty of pressure on Smith with blitzes and multiple coverage schemes.

Who will win? My head says Denver hold all the aces, but my heart says San Francisco will come out on top if they can establish their ground game and rely on Willis and Clements to force some turnovers. A weather forecast which predicts light rain all weekend may also help neuter the Broncos’ potent pass offense. 49ers to win a low-scoring encounter, 20-17.

Sky Sports are running a game preview at various times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Live coverage of the match is on Sky Sports 2/Sky Sports 2 HD from 16:30 on Sunday afternoon. Highlights will appear on BBC1 on Sunday at 23:35, and on Monday on Sky Sports 3 at 12:00 and Sky Sports 2 at 22:00.

Clinical Arsenal bring Newcastle’s Carling Cup run to a Krul end

Newcastle 0 Arsenal 4

Krul (og) 45, Walcott 53, 88, Bendtner 83

Set on their way by a bizarre own goal from Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul, Arsenal progressed to the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup for the eighth year in a row, keeping alive their hopes of winning the one domestic trophy which still eludes Arsène Wenger.

Both clubs made nine changes from last weekend’s Premier League line-ups, with only Denilson and Johan Djourou retained from Arsenal’s win over Manchester City. Nonetheless, as at Tottenham in the previous round, it was a strong side that Arsène Wenger sent out, giving the lie to those critics who question the depth of his squad. It was certainly an eleven packed with more experience than we have become accustomed to seeing in this competition, emphasising its increased importance in his plans this season.

20-year old Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny made his senior Arsenal debut, with Tomáš Rosický captaining the side, as the visitors lined up as follows:

Szczęsny

Eboué – Koscielny – Djourou – Gibbs

Denilson – Eastmond – Rosický

Walcott – Bendtner – Vela

Arsenal flew out of the blocks straight from the kickoff. In the first minute alone, Krul had to save smartly from both Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner, with the latter seeing two further close-range efforts blocked. For ten minutes, Newcastle were left chasing shadows as the Londoners dominated play with their quick passing and movement.

Wojciech Szczęsny kept a clean sheet on his full Arsenal debut (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

However, the hosts gradually worked their way into the game. First Nile Ranger missed a golden chance after evading Szczęsny, who had initially hesitated before charging out of his area, only for Laurent Koscielny to get in a crucial block. Seconds later, the Polish keeper redeemed himself, tipping Alan Smith‘s fierce effort from 25 yards onto the bar.

The ever unlucky Kieran Gibbs, just back from injury, limped off after 19 minutes, to be replaced by Bacary Sagna, as the game drifted into a period of stalemate following the frenetic start.

Towards the end of the half, however, came a flurry of Arsenal chances. Emmanuel Eboué, having switched to the left following the substitution, danced past Ryan Taylor but shot wide from a narrow angle when teammates were better placed. A shot from Bendtner from the edge of the box was too close to Krul. A decent shout for handball in the box against James Perch went unheeded by referee Andre Marriner. And then, in the second of two minutes of stoppage time, a Theo Walcott corner was headed back into the area by Rosický and nodded goalwards by Bendtner. In the ensuing goalline scramble, Taylor headed his attempted clearance onto the back of Krul’s head, and the ball rolled almost apologetically into the unguarded goal, providing a gift-wrapped pun on a plate for the morning newspaper headlines.

Walcott now has six goals in six appearances this season (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Newcastle started the second half with renewed purpose, with Perch heading over from a corner. However, within eight minutes they found their deficit doubled in controversial fashion. Djourou headed a ball over the top which Bendtner, in an offside position, left for Walcott. However, as the England forward raced on and coolly lifted the ball over the advancing Krul, his strike partner slyly obstructed Mike Williamson as he attempted to chase back. It was a needless move by Bendtner which could easily have seen the goal disallowed.

Chris Hughton immediately sent on Andy Carroll and Jonás Gutiérrez in place of Peter Lovernkrands and Wayne Routledge, but with the comfort of a two-goal cushion Arsenal began to exert a stranglehold on the game, keeping Newcastle at arm’s length without undue difficulty.

With the job nearly complete Vela, who had been largely invisible all night, was replaced by Cesc Fàbregas. Sagna, after a loose piece of control, was booked for a foul on Gutiérrez. Newcastle’s best effort was a toe-poke from close range by Taylor which Szczęsny bravely pounced on.

Bendtner scored for the second game in a row (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Then, as the game threatened to peter out in the final ten minutes, Arsenal applied the coup de grâce not once but twice. First Bendtner picked up the ball on the edge of the box, cut inside Williamson and fired an unstoppable shot across Krul into the top corner – a finish reminiscent of the goal he scored against Blackburn last season. Then Walcott, set free by Koscielny’s defence-splitting ball, applied the icing to the cake with a calm one-on-one finish.

Without ever quite hitting full stride, this was a solid performance by Arsenal to ease their way into the next round. Walcott and Bendtner both looked sharp; Vela did not. Craig Eastmond did reasonably well, but still looks to be that vital couple of percent short of becoming a regular first team member and will have benefitted from the experience. And, notwithstanding his one moment’s hesitation, Szczęsny underlined his potential with some fine saves. The only real downside was the injury to Gibbs, with Wenger uncertain as to his status in the immediate aftermath of the match:

We don’t know – we have to wait until tomorrow morning to assess it much better. We do not know now if it is a knock of if it is a twist. If it is only a knock it is only a matter of days but if it is a knee ligament then that looks to be a bit longer. But we don’t know yet.

He pronounced himself pleased with his team’s performance, although he acknowledged the importance of the lucky opening goal:

The first goal was certainly the turning point in the game because we had a lot of domination but didn’t take our chances early on in the game. Then Newcastle defended with numbers behind the ball and it became difficult to score. We were lucky with the first goal just before half-time – that was certainly a blow for Newcastle. It put us in a position where we could break much more because Newcastle had to come out and that’s basically what happened in the second half.

And he was also full of praise for Walcott as he continues to work his way back from injury:

He was very sharp at the start of the season but then he got injured with England against Switzerland and it was his first game back today. You see that he has improved his composure in front of goal, he has tremendous pace and his first touch is much better. The timing of his runs have always been good but his first touch when running at full pace is better. That makes a big difference.

Theo Walcott is 21-years-old. That’s the age when other players start to play. He is a very young boy and he is a very intelligent player and that’s why I believe he will continue to develop. He has tremendous pace and power and in front of goal he is very good. The timing of his runs are good and for a striker that is the most important thing.

The draw for the quarter-finals take place this Saturday, with Manchester United and Aston Villa the only other survivors among the major clubs. It is too early to look so far forward, but Wenger will know more than anyone that two more wins will see his side at Wembley with the opportunity to secure a first trophy in nearly six years.

It is back to the Premier League on Saturday, as Arsenal host bottom-of-the-table West Ham. A repeat of last season’s 2-0 home win would be more than welcome as the Gunners look to build on the momentum of last weekend’s big win against City.

Fantasy football round 10: Defenders’ goals are vanity, clean sheets are sanity


Over the past two weeks, we have had a look at how to determine the best forwards and midfielders for your fantasy football squad. Today it’s time to turn our attentions to the defence.

When looking for defenders, it is always worth bearing in mind the main sources of fantasy points beyond the usual ones gained for appearances:

  • Goals: worth a whopping six points apiece for defenders.
  • Assists: worth three points each, the same as for other positions.
  • Clean sheets: an extra four points if a defender plays for at least 60 minutes and does not concede a goal while they are on the pitch.
  • Bonus points: between one and three points, if nominated as one of the best players in a match.

When selecting players for your back five, it is certainly worth considering those who are more likely to chip in with additional goals and assists, but that should only be a secondary concern. The most important factor when selecting a defender is whether their team keeps a high proportion of clean sheets.

The maths that supports this assumption is both simple and compelling. Of all the defenders eligible for this year’s game, no one scored more than Arsenal‘s Thomas Vermaelen‘s seven goals and one assist, worth 45 points. But Manchester United racked up 19 clean sheets over the course of the season, equating to an impressive 76 points – the equivalent of nearly 13 goals. In virtually every case, a defender’s clean sheet points will massively outweigh their goals/assists points, unless they are, say, their team’s regular penalty taker and part of a defence which haemorrhages goals (as Burnley‘s Graham Alexander was last year – seven goals, but only three clean sheets).

Clean sheets are also more important than goals conceded. Why? Again, simple mathematics. If a defender is part of a team which concedes one goal every game, they will concede 38 goals per season and earn no clean sheet points. But if a team concedes two goals in half their games and keeps a clean sheet in the other 19 – still conceding 38 goals over a full season – an ever-present defender would net an additional 57 points (76 for the clean sheets, and minus 19 for conceding two goals in each of 19 games).

This is clearly illustrated by the case of Wigan Athletic. Through nine games this season, only two teams (Blackpool and West Ham) had conceded more than the 16 leaked by the Latics. And yet only four teams can boast a defender with more fantasy points than Wigan’s Antolin Alcaraz. This is because Wigan, despite conceding ten goals in their first two games, have kept three clean sheets since – only three teams have blanked more of their opponents. And it is no coincidence that the team with the lowest-scoring starting defenders is Wolves, who have conceded one goal fewer than Wigan, but who are also the only team yet to register a clean sheet.

Don’t get me wrong, in general goals conceded is not a bad proxy for determining high-scoring fantasy defenders, but the number of clean sheets a team keeps is a far better measure. (The Statistics page of the main Premier League website allows you to check this at a glance – simply change the filter above the league table to ‘clean sheets’.)

To demonstrate the correlation between clean sheets and points, the table below ranks teams in order of the number of clean sheets they have kept in the first nine rounds of the season, and indicates the number of points accumulated by their highest scoring defender.

Analysis © Tim Liew, from Fantasy Premier League data. Any errors are my own

As the table shows, there is quite a clear distinction between teams who have kept 3-4 clean sheets – whose top-scoring defenders have between 25 and 44 points – and those who have kept 0-2, where the top-scoring range is just 16-27. And indeed Chelsea, who have kept three clean sheets more than any other team, are so far out in front in this respect that they possess three of the top five defenders overall (Ashley Cole, John Terry, Alex).

Like I said, clean sheets are by far the most important factor in determining a high-scoring defender.

Of course, that’s not to say you should completely discount attacking contributions. If you look at the four teams who have kept three clean sheets, there is a reason why Everton and Birmingham’s top-scoring defenders have markedly more points than Aston Villa‘s – Leighton Baines has one goal and two assists, and Liam Ridgewell has two goals. Defenders who contribute with assists and goals from set plays can certainly boost your points total significantly, but this is often already factored into a player’s transfer value, so the extra cost may not automatically justify the additional scoring potential.

Having said that, there are definitely some bargains to be had because there is not always a clear correlation between score and transfer value. Defenders from recently promoted or lower-ranked teams can offer tremendous value for money, as the table below, which splits out defenders with 25 points or more by their transfer value, demonstrates.

Analysis © Tim Liew, from Fantasy Premier League data. Any errors are my own

Ahmed Elmohamady of Sunderland – who have four clean sheets and have conceded just seven goals, trailing only Chelsea in both categories – is the obvious stand-out bargain. He is the third highest-scoring defender in the game at a current cost of just £5.0m, and yet has been selected by less than 17% of fantasy managers.

The table also shows that, in general, you do not have to pay top dollar for solid defenders. At the risk of making a sweeping generalisation, apart from a handful of obvious exceptions like Ashley Cole, defenders from the ‘big’ clubs are generally overpriced, and there is some great value for money to be had if you are willing to restrict your spending on defenders.

One last point. As I have noted previously, the top fantasy teams tend to play three at the back, so there is no reason to have more than three – or maybe even fewer – costly defenders. In fact, as this final table of the top players by position shows, a good defender is likely to be outscored by a good midfielder or attacker, which you may want to consider when deciding where to invest and where to save money.

Analysis © Tim Liew, from Fantasy Premier League data. Any errors are my own

Hopefully the above analysis has provided you with some food for thought. Next week we’ll finish off this short series on team selection with a look at your last line of defence: the goalkeeper. See you then!

Previous posts in the Fantasy Football series:

Ten tips to boost your score

Don’t panic!

Improving your squad

The importance of formations

A question of rotation

Following and bucking trends

The top 20 forwards

In-form midfielders

The week in numbers: w/e 24/10/10

3Beth Tweddle won her third gold medal at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Rotterdam, triumphing in the uneven bars. She is the only British gymnast ever to claim gold at the Worlds.

LaShawn Merritt - 21-month ban (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

21 – Length of ban (in months) given to LaShawn Merritt, the world and Olympic 400 metres champion, after three positive tests for testosterone prohormones. Merritt co-operated with the US Anti-Doping Agency, who subsequently shortened his suspension by three months. Conveniently, Merritt will now be eligible to compete in the 2012 Olympics.

14 – Goals scored by Arsenal in their three Champions League group matches to date, the most ever at this stage. They had already beaten Braga 6-0 and Partizan Belgrade 3-1 before defeating Shakhtar Donetsk 5-1 on Tuesday.

6 – Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh became the first player to score in six consecutive Champions League matches (three for Bordeaux, three for Arsenal).

8 – Number of summit finishes (out of 21 stages) the peloton will have to tackle during the 2011 Giro d’Italia, the route for which was revealed on Saturday. Ouch.

Samuel Eto'o - six Champions League goals (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

6Inter Milan‘s Samuel Eto’o has scored with all six shots on target in the Champions League this season.

1,200,000 – In dollars, the size of the fine the Kazakh cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov has avoided after his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was upheld. Vinokourov had signed a contract which stated he would forfeit a year’s salary if caught doping. He was thrown out of the 2007 Tour de France for blood doping and subsequently served a two-year ban.

16 – Goals scored by Real Madrid in their last three league games after their 6-1 win over Racing Santander. Cristiano Ronaldo scored four times in Saturday evening’s rout.

10PSV Eindhoven inflicted a record 10-0 defeat on former European and UEFA Cup winners Feyenoord. Brazilian Jonathan Reis scored a hat-trick.

70 – Former footballer Edison “Edson” Arantes do Nascimento celebrated his 70th birthday on Saturday. We know him better as Pelé.

Fernando Alonso now leads the F1 drivers' championship (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

5Ferrari‘s Fernando Alonso claimed his fifth grand prix win of the season – it was his third in the last four races – at the inaugural event in South Korea yesterday.

25 – With two races remaining of the Formula 1 season, just 25 points separate new championship leader Alonso from fourth-placed Sebastian Vettel. There are 25 points available for a race win.

26 – Age of American male swimmer Fran Crippen, a World Championship bronze medallist, who died on Saturday after losing consciousness in a 10km race held in the United Arab Emirates. The water temperature was officially 30 degrees, although many of the swimmers reported it was hotter. Three other competitors were hospitalised as race organisers did nothing to heed warnings and concerns from several swimmers.

The Premier League week in numbers

1West Ham only managed one shot on target in their 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle, the third time this has happened to them this season.

Johan Elmander - away specialist

5Johan Elmander‘s goal for Bolton in their 1-1 draw at Wigan was his fifth in the league this season. All five have come away from home.

8 – After defeating Wolves 2-0, Chelsea have now kept eight consecutive Premier League clean sheets at home.

12 – For Wolves, it was the 12th straight game in which they have failed to keep a clean sheet. They are the only Premier League team yet to register a clean sheet this season.

51Birmingham‘s 2-0 win over Blackpool snapped a sequence of 51 games in which they had failed to win by more than a single goal.

Richard Dunne - generous

8 – A Richard Dunne own goal was enough to give Sunderland victory over Aston Villa. Dunne has now scored eight own goals in the Premier League, more than any other player.

16 – Arsenal’s 3-0 at Manchester City was their first clean sheet in 16 games (in all competitions) away from the Emirates Stadium.

4 – Arsenal’s league opponents to date have had four players sent off, and conceded four penalties – more than any other team in both categories.

The NFL week in numbers

328 – Rushing yards accumulated by the Oakland Raiders in their 59-14 rout of the Denver Broncos. It was the third-best rushing day in franchise history, and the most since they set their record of 356 rushing yards against Seattle in 1987.

12 – Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has won his last 12 starts at home, and is 16-1 in his career at home as a starter (Atlanta 39 Cincinnati 32).

184Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward had his 184th consecutive game with a reception, passing Art Monk for the fourth-longest streak all-time (Pittsburgh 23 Miami 22).

1 – The Carolina Panthers‘ 23-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers means there is only one winless team remaining in the NFL – the Buffalo Bills, who lost in overtime, 37-34, to the Baltimore Ravens.

2Cleveland Browns linebacker David Bowens returned two interceptions for touchdowns, becoming only the third linebacker since 1950 to achieve this feat (Cleveland 30 New Orleans 17).

68 – Cleveland punter Reggie Hodges’ 68-yard run on a fake punt was the longest run by a punter since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger.

(Some statistics courtesy of Opta Sports, @castrolfootball and NFL.com.)

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