The week in numbers: w/e 28/8/11

1England‘s Test world ranking after the 4-0 series whitewash of India. They were ranked just fifth in the world 12 months ago.

Bresnan - a talisman?

10 – England have now won all 10 Test matches in which Tim Bresnan has played. In those 10 matches he has taken 41 wickets and averaged 45 with the bat.

4 – For the first time in its 66-race history, cycling’s Vuelta a España had four different wearers of the race leader’s red jersey in its first four stages.

4 – Number of Premier League teams who were knocked out of the Carling Cup by lower league opposition: Sunderland, Norwich, QPR and Swansea.

8England have all eight of their Champions League and Europa League teams still in their respective competitions. They are the only country to still have all their entrants intact.

0 – By contrast, for the first time since European club competitions began in 1955, there will be no teams from Scotland left on September 1.

14Arsenal‘s 2-1 win at Udinese (3-1 on aggregate) marked their 14th successive qualification for the main Champions League tournament. Only Manchester United (16) and Real Madrid (15) have longer active streaks.

10Arsenal‘s victory meant they have won all 10 of their matches in Champions League qualifiers – five home wins, five away wins.

Chanderpaul outscored the entire Yorkshire team

193 – Runs scored by Warwickshire’s Shivnarine Chanderpaul in their innings and 58 run victory over Yorkshire at Headingley. The hosts could manage only 127 as an entire team in their second innings.

4 – The England football team’s latest FIFA ranking, up two places from sixth. They are now ranked higher than Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Portugal. (No, I don’t understand it either.)

12 Sebastian Vettel‘s ninth pole position of 2011 at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps means that Red Bull have now claimed the front spot on the grid at all 12 races this season.

92Vettel won the race – his seventh win in 12 grands prix in 2011 – to extend his championship lead to 92 points. There are a maximum of 175 still available in the remaining seven races.

6Kenyan athletes finished 1-2-3 in the only two finals on day one of the IAAF Athletics World Championships in Daegu to sweep the medals in the women’s marathon and 10,000 metres.

21 – After world record holder Usain Bolt was disqualified for a false start in the men’s 100 metres final, Yohan Blake became the youngest ever men’s world 100m champion at 21. However, his time of 9.92s had been bettered 15 times in previous World Championship finals.

8 – A Rachel Yankey double for Arsenal Ladies set up a 3-1 win at Liverpool to clinch the inaugural Women’s Super League. It is their eighth league title in a row, their 13th overall since 1993, and completed their eighth league and FA Cup double.

The Premier league in numbers

49 – There was a total of 49 shots in Manchester United‘s 3-0 over Tottenham on Monday night. The last game to see more efforts on goal was United vs Sunderland in April 2006, which had 50.

Di Santo scored as many goals against QPR as he had in his first 57 league games

2 – Goals scored by Franco Di Santo in Wigan’s 2-0 win over QPR. He had scored two goals in his previous 57 Premier League matches.

3Blackburn missed two penalties in their 1-0 home defeat by Everton, their third defeat in a row this season. The last time they their opening three top-flight games was in the 1947/48 season – also including defeats to Wolves and Everton – at the end of which they were relegated.

10 – Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Bolton was their tenth consecutive top-flight win against these opponents, equalling the club record (also ten in a row versus Derby, 1977-97).

62 Chelsea‘s 3-1 win over Norwich was their 62nd league consecutive game undefeated against a promoted side.

101Juan Mata‘s debut goal for Chelsea came in the 101st minute of the match.

Džeko bagged four goals at White Hart Lane

4Edin Džeko became the first player to score four times in a Premier League game this season in Manchester City’s 5-1 win at Tottenham. He had scored just three times in his previous 17 league appearances for the club.

10 – West Bromwich Albion‘s 1-0 defeat meant they have failed to beat Stoke in their last ten meetings.

115Arsenal‘s 8-2 defeat by Manchester United marked only the second time they had conceded eight times in a league game. The previous occasion came in 1896, 115 years ago, an 8-0 defeat against Loughborough in the old second division.

3Carl Jenkinson‘s red card meant Arsenal became the first Premier League side to have players sent off in each of their first three games. (Gervinho was dismissed at Newcastle, with Emmanuel Frimpong seeing red against Liverpool. Alex Song also received a retrospective ban after the Newcastle game.)

3 – Only three Premier League teams are undefeated in both the first three games of both this and last season. Manchester United and Chelsea are two – Wolves are the other after their 0-0 draw at Aston Villa.

(Some statistics courtesy of Opta Sports, The Times, StatManJon and Infostrada.)

There will be no ‘Week in numbers’ next week as I am on holiday. Normal service will be resumed the week after.


Vuelta a España: Rodríguez soars then stumbles in the mountains

A pair of tough climbing finishes – the first a short punchy ascent, the second a long hard slog to the summit of a first category mountain – were supposed to resolve the picture at the top of the general classification of the Vuelta a España. Instead, they have only served to muddy the waters, with Sunday’s finish on top of Sierra de Béjar leaving exactly one minute separating 13th place from new leader Bauke Mollema, and with the title credentials of Joaquim Rodríguez hanging on the outcome of Monday’s individual time trial around Salamanca.

Stage 8: Talavera de la Reina to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 177.3km

Rodríguez moved to the top of the standings with a dominant win in San Lorenzo

Rodríguez had put himself firmly in the box seat with a coruscating attack on the final 2.4km climb of stage eight in San Lorenzo, which featured 200 metres of vertical gain and ramps of 27% and 28% in the final kilometre. The Spanish Katusha climber – the overwhelming favourite for the stage – jumped off the wheel of Lampre’s Michele Scarponi on one of the steepest sections with around 500 metres to go and pulled out a nine-second advantage by the finish.

Scarponi finished second with Mollema and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), with the rest of the general classification contenders scattered further down the hill. Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali was 32 seconds back (52, after taking time bonuses into account). Sylvain Chavanel conceded the red jersey to Rodríguez after finishing 63 seconds down. Sky’s Bradley Wiggins was in a group of 11 GC men including Juan José Cobo (Geox), Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack) and Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) 20 seconds behind the winner, whose advantage at the head of the overall standings over teammate Daniel Moreno stood at 32 seconds.

Stage 8 result:

1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 4:49:01

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +0:09

3. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) same time

4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) s/t

5. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:12

Stage 9: Villacastín to Sierra de Bejar La Covatilla, 183km

However, if the San Lorenzo climb was tailored perfectly to Rodríguez’s punchy characteristics, today’s finish on Sierra de Béjar – 18.2km with several sections over 10% in its second half – was certainly better suited to those capable of sustaining their power for the best part of 30 minutes. A four-man break had initially pulled out a huge advantage with two survivors – Omega Pharma’s Sebastian Lang and Vacansoleil’s Pim Ligthart – starting the final climb with an advantage of around 3½ minutes.

Mollema moved into the overall lead by just one second

Having caught Lang with less than 7km to go, there then followed one of the most exciting passage of racing seen in any of this year’s Grand Tours. A sequence of attacks by GC contenders shredded the peloton and left Rodríguez blowing hard towards the back of the group. In quick succession, Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis), Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step), Nibali and finally Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) put in big efforts off the front which upped the overall pace and sapped the legs of the less powerful riders.

Martin’s attack, which came with just over 5km to go, initially looked like being decisive. But having dropped his cousin Nicolas Roche (AG2R), Nibali eventually dragged the other leaders back up to him. By now Rodríguez was clearly at his limit, and when Sky’s Chris Froome hit the front to keep the tempo high for his team leader Bradley Wiggins it proved to be too much for the red jersey, who fell away just inside 3km and started to drop back rapidly. With opportunity knocking, Wiggins took over the pace-setting at the front, riding several tough climbers – including Nibali – off his wheel with an impressive sustained burst he has rarely if ever displayed in the high mountains. Only in the final stretch, as Martin launched a sprint in a bid for victory and the 20 bonus seconds that only Mollema could follow, did Wiggins tail off. For Martin, it was his first Grand Tour stage win.

However, the British champion’s effort had achieved its objective, with a pained Rodríguez crossing the line 50 seconds after Martin and conceding the overall lead to Mollema by a single second. The 24-year old Dutchman is good value for the red jersey, having been the most consistent performer in the race so far in a season in which he caught the eye when placing fifth at the Tour de Suisse in June, a year after placing 12th at the Giro d’Italia.

Nibali is a further eight seconds back, with Wiggins still outside the top ten in 13th, but now only 60 seconds behind the red jersey.

Dan Martin savours victory at the end of a punishing climb on Sierra de Béjar (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Individual time trial will shake up the order

With the top of the general classification compressed again, tomorrow’s 47km individual time trial takes on additional importance. Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin will be expected to dominate, although after nine punishing days of intense heat and tough climbs we may see some surprising results.

We will certainly see Rodríguez struggle – he lost six minutes in last year’s time trial over a similar distance, and will probably consider himself happy if he can limit his losses to three tomorrow. Similarly, Scarponi (18th at 1:54 behind) and Van Den Broeck (5th, 0:27) are also likely to struggle and concede large chunks of time which will knock them down the order.

Wiggins now stands just 1:00 off the race lead

Perhaps the most intriguing men to watch out for will be Geox’s Denis Menchov(21st, 2:18), a two-time Vuelta winner, and Wiggins himself. Both are top-class time trialists who could easily make up two to three minutes on the majority of riders around them, and both have performed strongly on the big climbs to date. Do not be surprised if either or both catapult themselves into the top three tomorrow night, a position both men are certainly capable of defending in the days to come. My money is on Wiggins to post a top-ten time against the clock – normally I would expect top-five, but I expect today’s effort will cost him some time tomorrow – which should be enough to put him into the red jersey heading into the first rest day. How long he will be able to defend it for is another matter, but it would be a significant achievement nonetheless.

After a week’s racing which has frequently seen temperatures topping 40°C, the competition for the red jersey is also hotting up. The next week – culminating in next Sunday’s ascent of the Angliru – should definitely reduce the field of genuine contenders to a mere handful.

Stage 9 result:

1. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 4:52:14

2. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) same time

3. Juan José Cobo (Geox-TMC) +0:03

4. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +0:04

5. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:07

General classification:

1. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) 37:11:17

2.  Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +0:01

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:09

4. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) +0:18

5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:27

6. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:35

7. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:37

8. Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step) +0:42

9. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) +0:42

10. Juan José Cobo (Geox-TMC) +0:46

Points classification:

1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 74 pts

2. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) 62

3.  Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 50

4. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 48

5. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) 48

Mountains classification:

1. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 25 pts

2, Matteo Montaguti (AG2R La Mondiale) 23

3. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 20

4. Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) 15

5. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) 14

Link: Vuelta a España official website

Vuelta a España posts

Vuelta a España preview

Team time trial winners & losers

Stage 2 recap & analysing the sprints

Chavanel leads as heat picks up in GC competition

Rodríguez floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee

Debut wins for Sagan and Kittel promise open 2012 sprints

Arsenal hit rock bottom in Old Trafford humiliation

Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2

Welbeck 22, Young 28, 90+1, Rooney 41, 64, 82 pen, Nani 67, Park 70; Walcott 45+3, van Persie 74 (van Persie missed pen 27, Jenkinson sent off 77)

Manchester United overwhelmed an injury-ravaged Arsenal side which was let down by its senior players as much as its inexperienced youngsters, inflicting the heaviest defeat of Arsène Wenger‘s tenure on a day when his team lacked nous as much as it did ability.

Arsenal’s debilitating catalogue of injuries and suspensions was worsened by the absence of both Thomas Vermaelen (who had failed to recover from a knock in the mid-week win over Udinese) and Bacary Sagna (illness). With midfield options limited by injuries to Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby and the suspension of Alex Song, Wenger gave a league debut to 20-year old midfielder Francis Coquelin, whose previous first team experience was limited to three appearances in the Carling Cup. One of the least experienced Arsenal XIs for several years lined up as follows:


Jenkinson– Djourou – Koscielny – Traoré

Coquelin – Rosický


Walcott – van Persie – Arshavin

Last season’s matches saw both Arsenal and United win 1-0 at home, with United also winning an FA Cup encounter 2-0 at Old Trafford.

Shades of 2001

Djourou's overall contribution was less than impressive (image courtesy of

The pattern of the game was established early on. Arsenal set up with a high line hoping an energetic pressing game would compensate for their lack of experience, while United moved the ball with pace and purpose. Danny Welbeck had the best early chance, springing Arsenal’s offside trap with ease before dragging a shot wide. It looked to be only a matter of time before United breached the visitors’ makeshift defences.

That Welbeck should provide the opener came as little surprise, but Arsenal did not help themselves with some catastrophic defending from the most experienced member of their back four. Anderson chipped a delicate ball into the box for Welbeck, who appeared well marked by Johan Djourou. The Swiss defender dithered, allowed the ball to bounce, and then was then easily outmuscled by the United striker, who needed to do little more than miss Wojciech Szczęsny with his point-blank header.

Five minutes later Arsenal were given a golden chance to level things up. The visitors’ rare bright moments had largely come courtesy of Theo Walcott‘s pace, and as the winger raced into the penalty area he was bundled over by Jonny Evans. Robin van Persie struck the spot-kick tentatively and David de Gea flung himself low to his right to turn the ball away.

90 seconds later Ashley Young punished the miss, cutting inside from the left before curling a beautiful shot from the edge of the area beyond the reach of Szczęsny into the top corner.

Walcott scored Arsenal's first league goal of the season (image courtesy of

Arsenal kept trying. De Gea had to be alert to parry first Andrey Arshavin‘s long-range effort and then van Persie’s follow-up. But in truth they posed more of a threat to themselves than United. Arshavin was fortunate not to receive a second booking – or even a straight red – for a studs-up tackle, and then Carl Jenkinson tangled with Welbeck one-on one and might have received more than a yellow card from a less lenient referee.

If Jenkinson was fortunate to escape lightly, Wayne Rooney extracted maximum punishment, lifting the resultant free kick over the wall into the top left-hand corner. Arguably Szczęsny’s footwork might have been better, but that should take nothing away from a fine strike which marked the England striker’s 150th goal for United.

With Arsenal fans fearing a repeat of the 6-1 humiliation meted out at Old Trafford in 2001, Walcott restored a modicum of pride in the third minute of added-on time, taking Tomáš Rosický‘s slide rule pass and firing a first-time shot between De Gea’s legs.

It left Arsenal with a slim but tangible hope. But if anything 3-1 at half-time was extremely generous to the visitors.

From bad to worse

Cheered on vociferously and constantly by their travelling supporters, Arsenal at least came out for the second half with visible purpose. Twice in the first ten minutes they squandered chances to reduce the deficit to a single goal. There was nothing wrong with van Persie’s first-time volley from Rosický’s intelligent chip, which was well saved by De Gea. But Arshavin should have done better after jinking into the box before missing the target from just ten yards.

Van Persie's goal did nothing to stop United's goal barrage (image courtesy of

The threatened comeback was short-lived, however, as United moved up a gear again. Only a combination of Szczęsny’s reflexes and plain good fortune prevented a fourth, but it was merely a case of delaying the inevitable opening of the floodgates. It took United just six minutes to double their goal tally. First Rooney wrong-footed Szczęsny to score his second free kick goal of the day. Arsenal heads immediately dropped, and Nani found himself well onside to chip the Polish keeper as Djourou charged blindly upfield before Park Ji-Sung made it six with a low drive.

Even van Persie’s six-yard volley to make it 6-2 was not enough to stem the flow. Jenkinson was sent off for a second yellow card after preventing substitute Javier Hernández from running clean through. Walcott’s clip on Patrice Evra allowed Rooney to complete his hat-trick from the spot. And then Young applied the coup de grâce with a carbon copy of his first goal in injury time. It was only the second time in Arsenal’s history that they had conceded eight times in a league match – the other occasion was against Loughborough in 1896.

Never has the final whistle come as such a blessed relief, or an international break been so gratefully welcomed. Humilation is the only word to describe this performance, with the 8-2 scoreline in no way flattering United. After the euphoria of Wednesday’s Champions League qualification, this was a stark reminder of the rebuilding job that now faces Arsenal.

Post-match reaction and analysis

Arsène Wenger admitted his pain after the match:

Of course it hurts, it’s humiliating, but you could see that we had not recovered physically in the second half from Wednesday night. We were short in some areas, that is for sure. They have class and they punished us. We tried desperately to get back but we opened ourselves up and were punished.

And he admitted that he was keen to bring in reinforcements before the transfer window closes on Wednesday evening:

I am very open if we can find the right players. We have the money to sign players. If we find players who can strengthen our team then we will do it. But I am not the only one to work on the case, we have 20 people who are working on that.

We are close to signing a striker at the moment but we are still looking for a midfielder and a defender.

It is difficult to know where to start after a performance which fully merited this one-sided result. Arsenal’s defending – from front to back – was naive at best, if not utterly unprofessional. Time and again Young and Nani had space behind the visitors’ midfield to look up and run full-tilt at the overworked and overmatched full back pairing of Jenkinson and Armand Traoré, who received little support as they repeatedly faced one-on-ones and even two-on-ones throughout the game. The central defensive partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Djourou provided little leadership to their youthful colleagues. The latter had an awful game: too tentative and physically weak on Welbeck’s opener, on a different wavelength to his teammates with his belated attempt to play Nani offside for his goal, and then backing too far into his own box and not picking up Park on the sixth goal. For an experienced international defender – he has been capped 27 times by Switzerland, one of Europe’s better defensive nations –  to repeatedly commit so many basic errors is unforgivable, and for all the good performances he has shown in the past, he makes too many physical and mental errors to ever be considered a top defender.

Worse than that, though, the back four were left horribly exposed, with the midfield providing a minimal screen. Coquelin, unsurprisingly, looked out of his depth, and neither Rosický nor Aaron Ramsey were able to assert themselves against United’s midfield pairing of Anderson and Tom Cleverley. Arshavin was also particularly guilty of shunning his defensive duties, should count himself lucky not to have been sent off, and displayed horribly indifferent body language throughout the game.

Tactically, Arsenal got it all wrong too. Playing a high line was difficult enough against the cunning of Rooney and the pace of Welbeck, but the lack of consistent pressure from all ten outfield players rendered that strategy suicidal.

The defensive organisation fell apart after the first two goals. Someone – either Djourou or Koscielny – needed to take charge. Neither did. As a result, it’s unfair to blame the youngsters at full back. They were found wanting, but did what they could against two of the finest wide players in the Premier League and were let down badly by their teammates.

It’s also easy to wonder ‘what if?’ about van Persie’s indecisive penalty. Would it have been a different game at 1-1? Of course. Did Arsenal ever look like they possessed the wherewithal to escape with what would have been an extremely good point? Not even close.

No one is under any illusion as to what is required now. Arsenal – through the actions (or lack thereof) of Wenger and the board – have painted themselves into a corner where they face having to pay over the odds for much-needed reinforcements in the 72 hours before the transfer window shuts. As I’ve said before it is not just the starting XI which needs strengthening, but also the second-string squad. That was never more obvious than today. Yes, Arsenal were missing a host of players who would otherwise have started, but United were without several key players, including Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and three-quarters of their back four. And yes, the average age of Arsenal’s starting line-up was a youthful 23 – but so was United’s.

There were many reasons for Arsenal’s abject performance here. But no excuses. Wenger must start repairing the psychological damage to the current squad – although he will lose many of them to international duty for the next 10 days – and the board have to ensure as many gaps as possible are plugged before the transfer window shuts on Wednesday. We will see how successful that patch-up job is when domestic competition resumes in two weeks’ time against Swansea at the Emirates. A failure to seal a first league win of the season there could have catastrophic consequences.

Vuelta a España: Sagan and Kittel debut wins promise end to Cavendish domination

Contrasting maiden Grand Tour stage wins by a pair of Vuelta a España debutants – Peter Sagan and Marcel Kittel – punctuated what should have been a relatively quiet couple of days for the big names, but turned out to be anything but. A late team attack by the Liquigas team of defending champion Vincenzo Nibali on Thursday’s stage was followed by a crash within sight of the finish today to leave many riders cursing a combination of unexpected time losses and crash injuries.

Stage 6: Úbeda to Córdoba, 196.8km

Stage six to Córdoba saw a four-man break reeled in by the peloton with 27km remaining, just before the final second-category climb. Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek) set a fierce pace on the front which soon had several riders hanging on desperately at the back, including the now familiar sight of a struggling Igor Antón. It’s safe to say now that the Euskaltel-Euskadi leader’s general classification hopes have vanished.

Defending King of the Mountains David Moncoutié predictably popped off the front to collect maximum points over the summit and was joined early on the subsequent descent by Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad), David de la Fuente (Geox-TMC) and Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step). However, with just under 10km to go to the finish, Liquigas launched a pre-planned attack, with four men – including 2010 champion Vincenzo Nibali – breaking away from the bunch at speeds touching 90kph and flying past the Moncoutié group. Only stage three winner Pablo Lastras – who had previously won in Córdoba back in 2002 – was able to go with them as the Liquigas attack put clear daylight between themselves and the other GC contenders.

Having executed their plan to perfection, you would imagine that in the final few kilometres there would have been a communication from the Liquigas team car to its four riders saying something along the lines of:

Right, we want Vincenzo to get as many bonus seconds as possible, ideally the 20 seconds for the win. So let’s set him up for the sprint. If he can’t beat Lastras, make sure none of you finish ahead of him so he gets second place and 12 seconds. Okay, everybody got that?

Sagan won a stage on his Grand Tour debut (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

But no. As the lead quintet approached the finish, the four Liquigas riders seemed unclear what to do and as Lastras opened up his sprint Sagan shot forward to cover the move and at least ensure the stage victory stayed within the team. Lastras crossed the line two lengths behind as Nibali, Valerio Agnoli and Eros Capecchi all looked at each other and, having already shot themselves in one foot, promptly put a bullet in the other as Agnoli took the four bonus seconds for third ahead of his team leader. It was, quite simply, a comedy of basic errors at the end of a superbly executed tactical move.

The key GC contenders all finished in one of two groups, either 17 or 23 seconds behind – red jersey Sylvain Chavanel was in the first of these – meaning a Nibali victory would have effectively doubled his gains and earned him enough time to put him into the overall lead.

At 21 years 203 days, Sagan claimed his first Grand Tour stage on his debut, making him the youngest winner at one of the three biggest races of the year since Heinrich Haussler at the 2005 Vuelta.

Stage 6 result:

1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 4:38:22

2. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) same time

3. Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

4. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

5. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

Stage 7: Almadén to Talavera de la Reina, 187.6km

Today’s stage had ‘bunch sprint’ written all over it, and first year pro Marcel Kittel delivered not only his own maiden Grand Tour stage victory but a similar first for his Skil-Shimano squad in their sixth year of racing. However, the finish was marred by a massive high-speed crash near the front in the final 100 metres when Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) drifted right as Michał Gołaś (Vacansoleil-DCM) edged to his left beside him. The two touched wheels, immediately went down heavily, and set off a domino effect which sent several other riders tumbling to the ground.

A first Grand Tour win for both Kittel and Skil-Shimano

Earlier, a four-man break had built a lead of nearly nine minutes, but on a flattish day with a predominantly downhill final 40km a mass finish was always going to occur. With the sprinters’ teams all jostling for position, Skil-Shimano moved decisively to the front under the flamme rouge and provided a strong lead-out for Kittel, who held off yesterday’s winner Peter Sagan by a bike length as the carnage unfolded behind him.

Leading contenders Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim RodríguezMichele Scarponi and Jurgen Van den Broeck all came down in the crash – none appeared to suffer anything more than cuts and bruises – but red jersey Sylvain Chavanel was able to pull up in time to avoid being unseated. Farrar did not remount for several minutes and was taken to hospital immediately afterwards with muscular and tissue injuries to his left leg, but reportedly no broken bones. However, it seems likely he will be forced to abandon.

The crash held up more than half the peloton, but because it occurred in the final 3km everyone in the bunch received the same time. Even without the accident, Kittel would have won anyway as he was in pole position already. Chavanel retains his 15-second lead over Daniel Moreno, with both Nibali and Rodríguez in close attendance. That is likely to change after tomorrow’s finish in San Lorenzo, which features ramps of 27% and 28% on a climb which rises 200 metres in the final 2.4km.

An end to Mark Cavendish’s sprint domination?

For the past four years, the combination of the world’s fastest pure sprinter, Mark Cavendish, and cycling’s best lead-out train in HTC-Highroad have dominated the bunch finishes in every major race they have entered. Cavendish alone has won a remarkable 30 individual stages in nine attempts at the three Grand Tours in that period, while André Greipel added six more before leaving for Omega Pharma-Lotto last winter.

Degenkolb's departure from HTC-Highroad will add to the competition next year

However, HTC-Highroad is disbanding at the end of this season, and Cavendish and arguably the finest collection of sprint talent the sport has ever seen are being scattered across the professional peloton. That roster includes Matt Goss (winner of Milan-San Remo), lead-out man extraordinaire Mark Renshaw, and 22-year old John Degenkolb, who won twice at the Dauphiné and will be joining his compatriot Kittel at Skil-Shimano next year.

Cavendish has yet to confirm who he will ride for next year – Sky are assumed to be his most likely destination – but no matter where he goes he is unlikely to have the kind of well-drilled train that the likes of Renshaw, Goss, Tony Martin and Bernhard Eisel guaranteed him. The Manxman will still win races next year – and plenty of them – but the break-up of his team means the stranglehold he has had on flat stages, where his rivals have generally been racing only for second place, will be broken. That can only be a good thing for the sport.

Already this year we have seen Greipel, Farrar and Edvald Boasson Hagen win their first Tour de France stages, and the addition of Sagan and Kittel to the winner’s circle at Grand Tours will ensure a broader spectrum of potential winners at the biggest races next year.

At 23, Kittel is in his first season as a professional, but announced his presence immediately with a victory at January’s Tour de Langkawi. But it was at the Tour of Poland earlier this month where he really sprang to prominence, winning four stages with devastating final bursts. His win today was equally impressive.

The 21-year old Sagan is already in his second year, and emerged as the overall winner at the Tour of Poland after two stage wins and some dogged defensive climbing on the hillier stages. The Slovakian is well suited to finishes requiring power as well as speed, and had already enjoyed a hugely successful 2011 before the Vuelta, winning three stages at the Giro de Sardegna, one at the Tour of California and two at the Tour de Suisse. He is also a two-time stage winner at Paris-Nice.

The elite group of sprinters will soon be saying goodbye to veteran stalwarts such as Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen but now includes newcomers Kittel and Sagan. Add to that the established Greipel and Farrar, powerful classics men such as the Norwegian pairing of Thor Hushovd and Boasson Hagen and a number of others who are not quite in that top bracket but are all potential big race winners on their day – Degenkolb joins the likes of Daniele Bennati and J J Haedo in this category – the sprinters’ field looks deeper and stronger than it has done for several years. Bunch sprints in 2012 should be quite a sight to behold.

Stage 7 result:

1. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 4:47:59

2.  Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) same time

3. Óscar Freire (Rabobank) s/t

4. Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek) s/t

5. Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t

General classification:

1. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 27:29:12

2. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:15

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:16

4. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +0:23

5. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:25

6. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) +0:41

7. Maxime Monfort (Leopard-Trek) +0:44

8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:49

9. Sergio Pardilla (Movistar) +0:49

10. Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) +0:52

Points classification:

1.  Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 50 pts

2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 48

3. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) 48

4. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 41

5. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 41

Mountains classification:

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 20 pts

2. Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) 15

3. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) 13

4. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) 10

5. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 10

Link: Vuelta a España official website

Vuelta a España posts

Vuelta a España preview

Team time trial winners & losers

Stage 2 recap & analysing the sprints

Chavanel leads as heat picks up in GC competition

Rodríguez floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee

How will Arsène Wenger spend his money?

In the wake of Arsenal‘s euphoric 3-1 aggregate victory over Udinese, manager Arsène Wenger now faces the equally testing challenge of signing reinforcements for a squad which has seen more outgoings than incomings this summer. With a transfer fund at his disposal which reports put at anywhere between £65m (mildly pessimistic) and £100m (wildly optimistic), the usually parsimonious Wenger has an unprecedented opportunity to add revamp his side in one fell swoop. But how many players should he buy, and where should he seek to strengthen?

It has been a summer of turmoil at the Emirates like no other in recent history. Arsenal fans are accustomed to off-season transfer sagas revolving around their top players – before Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri there was Juventus’s pursuit of Patrick Vieira, Barcelona’s wooing of Thierry Henry and the malcontent mercenary that is Emmanuel Adebayor. But never have Wenger’s decisions been scrutinised – and criticised – so vociferously, and never before has there been such a revolving door of player movements. Over the course of the summer the squad has been stripped of both quality (Fàbregas, Nasri, Gaël Clichy) and depth (Emmanuel Eboué, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and loanees Denilson, Carlos Vela and Kyle Bartley). And of Wenger’s four signings to date, two – winger Gervinho and right back Carl Jenkinson – have already been blooded, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell sure to see action (at least in the Carling Cup) sooner rather than later.

But with a sackful of money (potential sellers will be rubbing their hands together with glee) and just one week to spend it (ditto), Wenger is unlikely to flood his dressing room with a rush of new names which will take time to integrate and will hinder the progress of up-and-coming youngsters such as Emmanuel Frimpong. So what can we realistically expect from him before the transfer window closes next Wednesday?


Almunia's days at the club appear numbered (image courtesy of

At the end of last season many pundits identified this as a key area of need. Manuel Almunia may well be at the front of the queue for the exit, but with Wojciech Szczęsny growing in stature and exuding confidence and Łukasz Fabiański a capable and experienced backup, Arsenal appear more settled in their last line of defence than at any time since Jens Lehmann’s peak years. Szczęsny will commit errors from time to time – we should not expect perfection from such a young keeper – but has already demonstrated the talent and the mindset necessary to shrug off any setbacks.

It is difficult to see Fabiański settling for warming the bench behind his younger compatriot beyond this season – as an international with 18 caps he will surely need first team football somewhere – but that is a problem for next year, not this one.

Verdict: No activity, other than Almunia returning to Spain.


Cahill has been a long-term target for Arsenal

Injuries and the development of young players mask the fact that the nucleus of a good group already exists. On the flanks, Carl Jenkinson already looks to be a capable deputy for Bacary Sagna, while it is unlikely that Wenger will seek further cover for the injury-prone Kieran Gibbs beyond Armand Traoré.

Any new defensive signing will be a central player of substance, although whether this will be a ready-made partner for Thomas Vermaelen or a capable backup to enhance bench strength – which is currently provided by the brittle and inconsistent Johan Djourou, the seeimgly out-of-favour Sébastien Squillaci and youngster Ignasi Miquel – is less clear. We’ve all heard the links to Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka – my preference would be for the former, who is 25 rather than 29 – but Scott Dann or Christopher Samba are also distinct possibilities who would bring both a physical presence and valuable Premier League experience.

Verdict: Expect one arrival, but it may be a squad player rather than a starter.

Central midfield

Yann M'Vila (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

There are two distinct needs here – a holding player and a creative one. In the holding role, Arsenal have been closely linked to Rennes’ 21-year old Yann M’Vila in recent days. Six foot tall and physically imposing, he could provide steel to a midfield which has too often been lightweight in recent years. Rather than being a replacement for Alex Song, I would see him forming half of a midfield anchor pairing with Song (or Emmanuel Frimpong when the Cameroon international is called away to the Africa Cup of Nations), with Jack Wilshere taking the creative role in front of them.

In Wilshere’s absence Aaron Ramsey has appeared ill at ease being used as the creative fulcrum of the side. Tomáš Rosický or Andrey Arshavin could also fill in, although neither is ideal. Some genuine quality here would be most welcome – although it appears that an enquiry to Lille about Eden Hazard has been firmly rebuffed – but my suspicion is that Wenger will hope that Wilshere can stay fit and make do with what he already has when he is not.

Verdict: Wenger will strengthen one or the other, but probably not both. With a better defensive screen vital, I would focus on M’Vila to ensure depth in the critical holding role(s).

Wide midfield/attack

Will Lille be willing to sell Hazard as well as Gervinho? (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

One of the reasons I think Wenger may pass on adding another creative central option is my perception that he is placing a greater emphasis on creating chances from wide positions this season. He already has the fitfully brilliant Theo Walcott and Gervinho has already shown signs of settling in immediately. Rosický and Arshavin can provide plenty of experience off the bench (as can the perenially injured Abou Diaby), while Ryo Miyaichi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are more youthful and pacy alternatives. Gervinho’s former teammate Eden Hazard would be an ideal fit as he can play both centrally and out wide but, having already lost the Ivorian, Lille are understandably reluctant to sell so late in the window.

With early summer target Juan Mata now at Chelsea, I suspect Wenger is happy to stay with the balance of experience and youth he already has – although, like Song, he will lose Gervinho for the duration of the Africa Cup of Nations – with depth not a major issue here.

Verdict: Possible but unlikely, unless a star name becomes available. Well-stocked with both youth and experience.

Centre forward

Zárate has been linked with Arsenal, but would he add much to the squad?

Although new captain Robin van Persie is nothing short of world-class when fit and on form, he has never made more than 28 league appearances in a single season for Arsenal, and has played fewer than half the games in two of the past four years. With Nicklas Bendtner agitating for a move and Marouane Chamakh bereft of goals and confidence, an injury to the skipper could leave Arsenal dangerously short of a central striker who can lead the line effectively. Walcott, for all his pace and goalscoring ability, is not that kind of player, and neither is the on-loan Carlos Vela.

Recent reports have linked Arsenal with a move for 24-year old Lazio and Argentina striker Mauro Zárate, who had an undistinguished load spell at Birmingham three years ago. At just 5-foot-9 and with a record of less than a goal every four games for Lazio, he is not an obvious solution for the problem. One obvious candidate who is, however, will never return to the club he left in acrimonious circumstances two years ago: Emmanuel Adebayor, who is currently surplus to requirements at Manchester City and seems most likely to move to Tottenham if he stays in the Premier League. Wenger may choose to stick with what he has, hoping that either Bendtner stays for another year or Chamakh regains his form, and relying on Walcott, Gervinho or Joel Campbell in the event of injuries.

Verdict: Essential if Bendtner departs, otherwise only a nice-to-have third priority after a defender and a midfielder, with a purchase only taking place if it is for a top-class finisher.

Of course, there is no knowing for sure what the team will look like on September 1st, but here’s my view of the likely starting XI, based on my own assumption that Arsenal will sign Cahill and M’Vila.


Sagna – Cahill – Vermaelen – Gibbs

Song – M’Vila


Gervinho – van Persie – Walcott

With a Carling Cup/second XI of:


Jenkinson – Djourou/Miquel – Koscielny/Squillaci – Traoré

Frimpong/Eastmond – Ramsey


Oxlade-Chamberlain/Campbell – Bendtner/Chamakh – Arshavin/Miyaichi

Of course, I would love it if the club were able to add more than just those two players, but Wenger’s belief in his squad and the limited timescales make a last-minute spree unlikely – although I would not be surprised if he picked up a couple of handy squad players to improve cover in key positions. Anything less than two more signings will be a major disappointment. However, if Arsène wants to break open the piggy bank to throw Eden Hazard and one or two others into the mix as well, I won’t complain.

Hold on to your hats – it’s going to be an interesting week.

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