Team of the Week
As Manuel Almunia dons a Beefeater outfit, puts the finishing touches to his Morris dance routine and brushes up on the lyrics to Jerusalem, England fans accessible to the idea of a foreign keeper becoming their country's custodian must curse the fact that naturalized Lancastrian Jussi Jaaskelainen is firmly secured as Finland's number one. Three first-half saves denied Hugo Rodallega (twice) and Mido with the Egyptian striker moved to applaud the sight of the big Finn acrobatically denying him a goal bonus.
A trip to Stoke is not for the faint-hearted but James Tomkins' obdurate defending helped check the threat of Potters front men Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie. The Basildon boy is one of a clutch of West Ham youngsters to have come from their academy and his journey through the ranks has culminated in a firm defensive partnership developed with Matthew Upson.
Ulsterman Jonny Evans stepped up to fill the Rio Ferdinand-shaped gap in the United defence and made sure Afonso Alves enjoyed a familiar fallow feeling up front for Middlesbrough. A magnificent last-ditch tackle from Evans in the closing stages spared Alves the shame of embarrassing himself in a one-on-one with Ben Foster in the United goal.
No Phil Jagielka for Everton but Joseph Yobo's presence in the Everton defence helped make sure Roy Keane's threats of legal action are put on ice as the Toffees win snuffed out Sunderland's attacking threat to keep the Back Cats in relegation trouble. Kenwyne Jones was well handled by the big Nigerian who will be hugely important in Everton's FA Cup bid against Chelsea.
Ryan Giggs doubled his Premier League strike tally to a towering two goals as Manchester United took a break from the heat of meaningful Premier League battle with a pleasant stroll down by The Riverside. Giggs' neatly struck goal was a well-timed riposte to critics of his PFA Player of the Year award and 801 games in a Manchester United shirt is a staggering statistic that deserves to be recognised (and to be filed under: Oscars: Scorcese/Connery).
Steven Gerrard's reappearance was welcomed by Newcastle fans with all the warmth that surviving passengers clinging to the side of the Titanic's sinking hulk would have greeted the sight of Godzilla but it was Yossi Benayoun who impressed most down the right as Liverpool tore Newcastle apart like a rag doll. Another goal for the Israeli (albeit the simplest of tap-ins) helped flatten a Newcastle side for whom Alan Shearer's monotone now more closely resembles a life-support machine flatlining than any sort of messianic inspiration.
Arsene Wenger handed Andrei Arshavin the captain's armband at Fratton Park and the Russian led Arsenal's young side to the win that guarantees the Gunners another crack at the Champions League next season. Manchester United will be relieved he isn't around for the current European campaign with the playmaker exceptional once more. He had a hand in all three goals against Portsmouth and earns extra brownie points for his noble gesture towards referee Lee Mason signalling Sean Davis' tackle on him should not have resulted in a penalty (the altruism didn't extend to taking the penalty himself and blazing it wide though – perhaps he assumed letting Nicklas Bendtner take it was the next best thing).
Jermaine Jenas' calmly taken goal ensured Harry Redknapp's hopes of leading Spurs reserve sides once more into the latter stages of the Europa League lingers on. The boys from White Hart Lane eked out another 1-0 win against a West Brom side who are going down quicker than Ricky Hatton after a night on the Guinness. Jenas was coolness personified as he stroked home from the edge of the penalty area to earn the points.
Didier Drogba struck up a fruitful partnership with Nicolas Anelka as Guus Hiddink cunningly resolved the issue of which of his two star strikers to opt for with an unfamiliar 4-4-2 formation against Fulham.
It took less than a minute for Chelsea's front men to slip in to their new shape with Drogba supplying Anelka for his first goal since February. Eight minutes later the Ivorian fed a pass to Florent Malouda for the second. The symbiotic understanding that sparked instantaneously between the two front men was evident once more as Anelka returned the favour in kind to set up Drogba who fired past Mark Schwarzer for Chelsea's third. Will Hiddink play this formation on Wednesday night? And more to the point, will it matter how they line up if Barca take their Bernabeu form to London? A fascinating night awaits.
Arsene Wenger rung the changes for Saturday's trip to Portsmouth and Nicklas Bendtner made the most of the opportunity. A ribbon-wrapped gift from David James and a penalty won't be troubling any "goal of the month" competitions but with Emmanuel Adebayor rested (and seemingly diverted by the image of AC Milan's Beyonce-sized bootie), super Nick's brace gives Arsenal fans optimism that they can source the goals to overturn United's slender lead on Tuesday.
A West Ham side suffering injuries to key players inflicted the first home defeat of the year on Stoke and now have European qualification in their own hands and for that Gianfranco Zola deserves immense credit. An inauspicious start to his managerial career for the Hammers boss has been ironed out and his team appear well motivated for the challenge of the remaining three games.