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Arsenal 3-1 West Ham United: Podolski double puts Gunners back in the win column (video)

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Two goals from Lukas Podolski around Olivier Giroud’s match winner allowed an embattled Arsenal to claim its first league win in 30 days, a 3-1 victory over West Ham that allows the Gunners to temporarily reclaim fourth place in the Premier League. Although Everton can resume that spot tomorrow against Crystal Palace, Arsenal fans will get at least 24 hours to enjoy their team’s place in the top four, with Matt Jarvis’s 40th minute opener going rendered irrelevant as Arsène Wenger’s team fought back before the hour.

That opener came after a Antonio Nocerino shot from the right of the area was popped up in the six-yard box, allowing Jarvis to run onto the header that sent his team in front. The lead only lasted four minutes, however, with Podolski pulling his team back just before intermission.

Shortly after half time, Giroud’s short from the right of goal beat Adrián far post, giving the home side its first lead of the day. When Podolski added his season in the 78th minute, Arsenal was back in the win column for the first time since March 16’s win at White Hart Lane.

With 67 minutes, the Gunners sit just above Everton in the table, with the Toffees hosting Crystal Palace tomorrow. West Ham, coming off a weekend loss to Liverpool stay in 11th place, the club’s 37 points leaving it at the extreme reaches of a relegation battle.

Staying deep and relying on the counter attack, the Hammers had the better for play for the first half hour, with early shots by Mohamed Diamé and Antonio Nocerino drawing blocks inside Arsenal’s penalty area. With a perfectly threaded through ball from 40 yards out, however, Santi Cazorla produced the Gunners’ first big chance, with Giroud’s test of Adrián in the 29th minute threatening to switch the match’s momentum.

In the 40th minute, West Ham was finally rewarded for its stalwart start. After a Nocerino shot from the right of Arsenal’s area drew Wojciech Szczesny beyond his left post, Jarvis was able to run onto the rebound, heading home from inside the six to give the Hammers a 1-0 lead.

source: Getty ImagesThanks to a mistake from Stewart Downing, that edge lasted only four minutes. Attempting to clear a ball near West Ham’s right corner, the Irons’ winger played a long pass back toward the middle of the field, finding Cazorla above the penalty area. A ball quickly rolled toward goal allowed Podolski to take a touch before blasting a shot into the right side netting, bringing Arsenal even just before half time.

Early in the second, the Gunners claimed their first lead of the match, assuaging fears the Hammers could compound the team’s late-season problems. After a 55th minute corner was cleared out of the West Ham area, Thomas Vermaelen lobbed a pass back toward goal, finding Giroud in between Winston Reid and Andy Carroll. A skillful trap from the Gunners’ striker allowed him to get a shot off before Adrián could close down his angles, with the far post try giving the home side a 2-1 lead.

In the 78th minute, Giroud was part of the day’s final goal, putting a cross in from the left that found Aaron Ramsey just above the 18-yard box. The substitute midfielder headed the ball into the left channel, where Podolski quickly put a left-footed shot into the top of Adrián’s net.

Down two goals, the fight drained out of West Ham, with the urgent concern on Sam Allardyce’s face fading into calm conversation with his assistants. On the other bench, the worry that defined Wenger’s scowl after Jarvis’s opener gave way to a more settled resolve, that of a man who wouldn’t have to explain another failing after the final whistle.

Instead of failure, Arsenal can now embrace hope, with its Tuesday win giving fans reasons to believe the team can capitalize on its easy run-in. Win out, and the Gunners may yet return to Champions League.

For West Ham, the opening goal may have raised spirits, but points were never likely to come at the Emirates. The loss is less of a set back than the expected result.

Lineups

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Arteta, Rosicky (Ramsey 72′), Kallstrom, Cazorla (Jenkinson 88′), Podolski, Giroud

Goals: Podolski (44′, 78′), Giroud (55′)

West Ham: Adrian, Reid, Tomkins, Jarvis (Vaz Te 78′), Armero, Demel, Noble, Downing (J. Cole 78′), Diame, Nocerino, Carroll (C. Cole 84′)

Goals: Jarvis (40′)

Leicester fan will win $50,000 from $10 bet if Foxes win Premier League

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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As their odds of winning the Premier League title continue to be slashed, tales of Leicester City fans set to win an incredible amount of cash continue.

The latest story is a beauty.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired” ]

On the eve of the 2015-16 Premier League season one Leicester City fan, Chloe Cope, decided to put $10 on her side to win the title. The odds were 5,000 -1. So, with the Foxes five points clear at the top of the table with just 13 games to go, the first league title in Leicester’s 132 year history would not only bring unbeliavable amounts of jubilation to the East Midlands city but also plenty of cash for its fans. $50,000 for this Miss Cope, in fact.

The story gets even better. Check this out.

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Miss Cope’s flutter on her beloved Foxes was actually her first-ever bet. She opened up an online betting account last summer in the UK with Sky Bet and was rewarded a free $30 bet which she used to make a bet that Leicester would finish in the top six this season. That’s virtually assured so she will win another $637.

The two bets she made back on August 7 2015 are shown in the Tweet below via Jacqui Oatley.

A few other Leicester fans are also in line to win plenty of cash, but this one seems to have the most riding on it.

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
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With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

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On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

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The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

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Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.

VIDEO: Will Ferrell is feeling guilty – “I got Jose Mourinho fired”

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Sometimes there’s just something you have to admit.

[ MORE: Mourinho to United “done deal”

It sounds better if you say it out loud and get it off your chest. This is one of those moments for comedian, actor and now part-owner of a Major League Soccer franchise, Los Angeles FC, Will Ferrell.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Joining the Men In Blazers this week the self-proclaimed soccer nut joked that he was the one who actually got Jose Mourinho fired by Chelsea.

For real. Watch the video above to see Ferrell’s admission as he explains exactly what happened.

[ MORE: Arsenal, Spurs to fight for the PL title? ]

Just seven months after leading Chelsea to the Premier League title, Mourinho was dismissed by the west London club in December.

NOTE: Severe tongue-in-cheek mode activated.

WATCH: NBC to stream USWNT, every CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying game

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The CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championships kick off on Wednesday and NBC Sports will be streaming all 15 games of the tournament over the next 11 days.

Every single game will be streamed live online or on the app via NBC Sports Live Extra, in addition to up to four matches airing on NBCSN with the U.S women’s national team — aiming for a fourth-straight Olympic gold — featuring heavily in live broadcasts.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The eight-team tournament takes place from Feb. 10-21 in Houston and Frisco, Texas, with the top two teams advancing to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Below is a full schedule of the games.

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Puerto Rico vs. Mexico                                   5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Costa Rica                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN