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Jul 18, 2013

Promoted prospects, king of assists

If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to ESPN FC's team of football anoraks at askespnfc@hotmail.com and they will try to answer as many as possible.

From my observation, the runners-up and play-off winners of the Championship (or old First Division) tend to fare better than the champions in the Premier League. Am I right? Shuib from Kuala Lumpur asked.

Afraid not. Last season, Cardiff were promoted to the Premier League as Championship champions, Hull as runners-up and Crystal Palace as play-off winners. If your theory is correct, that bodes badly for the Welsh club. However, a study of the clubs promoted to the Premier League for its first 21 seasons (below) shows remarkably similar returns between the sides finishing first and second in the second tier.

The promoted champions have been relegated eight times and their average finish is 14th (14.38, to be precise). Of the 20 teams who went up in second (the second-placed team were not promoted in 1995 as the Premier League was reduced in size from 22 teams to 20), seven went straight back down and the average finish, again, was 14th (14.05 in this case). The clubs that fare the worst, perhaps understandably as they had an inferior season in the second tier and have less time to prepare for the Premier League, are the play-off winners. The majority of them - 12 out of 21 - have been relegated at the first time of asking, the average finishing position is 17th (16.67) and only one of the last 20 - Ipswich Town in 2000-01 - have finished in the top eight.

Where Shuib's impression is correct, however, is in the last two seasons, when the Championship winners - QPR and Reading respectively - have fared worse than the sides who followed them up.

The full table is below, with the following season's eventual position in brackets and 'R' denoting a relegated club. A few other things to note: while, in the Premier League's first nine years, four promoted teams finished in the top five, in the subsequent dozen seasons, the highest finish record by a newcomer was eighth by Reading in 2007. Also, if Hull City want a good omen, the last five sides promoted as the Championship runners-up have stayed up. In comparison, six of the last ten play-off winners have gone straight back down, even if the last two have reached mid-table. And in total, 27 of the 62 teams (44%) promoted to the Premier League have headed back to the Football League 12 months later.

Which player has provided the most assists in the Premier League era and in the English football league since it was established? A Samson from Malaysia asked.

To answer the second question first, sadly we don't know whether, for instance, Kenny Dalglish created more goals than George Best or if Stanley Matthews supplied more than Tom Finney. Assists have only been assessed in the comparatively recent past, which does not include the whole of the Premier League. Indeed, the division's official records only date back to the 2000-01 season.

But over those 13 years, there is a familiar name at the top of the leaderboard. Ryan Giggs holds many a record and, with 109 assists, he is much the most prolific creator in Premier League history (as he has played in every season, his actual tally would be rather higher).

Giggs is the only player with a century of assists to his name. His closest challenger is Frank Lampard, on 92, just ahead of Steven Gerrard (90). The top five is rounded off by Wayne Rooney (86) and Cesc Fabregas (81) with Thierry Henry, Ashley Young, Robin van Persie, Gareth Barry and Didier Drogba also in the top ten.

Have Arsenal won any European trophies in their history? Wasiu Abidemi asked.

They have won two. Their first European trophy came in the Fairs Cup - later renamed the UEFA Cup - in 1969-70 when Arsenal beat Anderlecht 4-3 in the two-legged final, losing 3-1 in Belgium and winning 3-0 at Highbury with goals from Eddie Kelly, Jon Radford and Jon Sammels.

Then in 1993-94, Arsenal won the Cup Winners' Cup, with Alan Smith scoring the only goal in the final against Parma for George Graham's team. Arsenal have also been beaten finalists in all three European competitions: in 2006 in the Champions League, in 1980 and 1995 in the Cup Winners' Cup and in 2000 in the UEFA Cup.

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