New York Red Bulls v DC United

Drilling down on: D.C. United 1, at Philadelphia 0

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Man of the Match: United desperately needs men to fill the Dwayne De Rosario gap. Chris Pontius keeps doing his part. Against the Union he played three positions, starting on the left in a 4-2-3-1, then playing as a second forward and finally moving to the right in a 4-4-2. He was United’s most dangerous man and did some of the heavy lifting on the contest’s only goal.

Packaged for take-away:

  • United went from sixth (out of the playoffs) to fourth (in the playoffs, with one spot to spare).
  • How big was Lionard Pajoy’s 67th minute goal? First goal in more than 300 minutes on the road for D.C. United. First win on the road  since June. Yeah, this was a huge three points for Ben Olsen’s team.
  • Pajoy had just one goal in six starts coming into PPL Park. His solid hold-up work Thursday finally turned into something more concrete with a goal that will go far in boosting United’s playoffs hope – not to mention the  wonders it will work for United’s confidence playing away from RFK.
  • ESPN voice Glenn Davis summed this one up nicely for the home side when he said the home team was “Playing for pride, playing for jobs, playing for futures.”
  • In that regard, the Union did not do enough. There’s something to be said for managing a match, obviously. But perhaps Philadelphia could play with just a little more abandon? There are times when John Hackworth’s men could add some pressure by slipping just a couple more men forward, seizing the initiative with a little more verve.
  • Most of the problem was Michael Farfan’s absence (due to yellow card suspension).  The Union just struggles to turn up many fresh ideas without their playmaker, so the attack looks labored and tentative. Too much possession without real purpose.
  • Of course, there is a creative type around PPL Park. His name is Freddy Adu. But he must be burrowing pretty good in Hackworth’s doghouse; Adu wasn’t introduced until the 77th minute. From there? Meh.
  • I wish I could boycott games refereed by Baldomero Toledo. Clearly cynical fouls that deserve yellow cards go unpunished. Sometimes awful and potentially injurious fouls, too. It drags down the quality and watchability of the contests.
  • D.C. United will continue to be under pressure through the remainder of the season. So, players will either rise to the moment or sink beneath the weight of it. After watching United’s Bill Hamid struggle with three fairly routine situations in the first 30 minutes of this one, you can ask some questions about which way the young goalkeeper might go. He can clearly make the big saves; Hamid rescued two points last time out with splendid stops in the final 10 minutes of a close win over New England. But he’s got to manage all the simple stuff, too.
  • Andy Najar, once again stationed at right back, certainly adds some push up D.C. United’s right side. But his one-on-one defending isn’t a strong point, and clubs will begin to take advantage. Danny Cruz, playing along the left — presumably so he could do just that — got around Najar too easily a couple of times. So they’ll need to tilt the defensive structure slightly in his direction, getting one of the holding midfielders over or the right-sided attacker back in assistance.
  • Then again, sometimes United’s center backs seem stretched as it is. So, maybe Najar will just need to be on his own out there.
  • When Branko Boskovic gets the ball in space, he’s dangerous, highly capable of making the pass that opens up defenses. But he wants it to be easy. He just doesn’t move enough to create that space. And he always seems to be in the wrong spot, too high up the field when he needs to drop and too far behind the play when United needs an extra attacker. So, his first half was pretty much a big bag of nothing.
  • Looking for more, Ben Olsen moved his team out of the 4-2-3-1 and into a 4-4-2, relocating Pontius from the left to a forward spot alongside Pajoy. Boskovic went out to the right.
  • And that last about 11 minutes. Boskovic was off in the 56th. Meanwhile, Maicon Santos’ energy helped change the game once he was in for Boskovic.
  • Brandon McDonald struggled early, but as Philadelphia pressed forward and became more aggressive about pushing balls into the penalty area, United’s center back was a beast in winning everything around him in the air.

Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win vs. West Ham

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LONDON — Arsenal beat West Ham United 5-1 at the London Stadium on Saturday as the Gunners remained unbeaten since the opening day of the Premier League season.

Mesut Ozil’s first half goal was added to by three from Alexis Sanchez and a stunner from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the second half as the Gunners ran riot.

Here’s what we learned from a one-sided London derby.


SANCHEZ THE DIFFERENCE

There was word going around the press room deep in the London Stadium that Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez had tweaked his groin muscle in the warmup and was struggling.

Arsenal fans everywhere panicked. They were right to do that.

Luckily, Sanchez shook it off  (he was stretching out his left groin readily early on in the game) and was ready to torment West Ham’s defense. He set up Mesut Ozil for Arsenal’s first and then scored three goals himself in the space of 14 second half minutes, with the first a thing of beauty.

Once again deployed in a central striking role, Sanchez showed exactly why he’s so important to Arsenal and why him signing a new contract must be a priority for Arsene Wenger.

With him they have a real chance of challenging for the title and they’re only three points off first-place Chelsea. Without him, they don’t. Alongside Ozil, they are the two world class talents Arsenal possess and the board must break the bank to keep the star attacking duo on board.


NO PAYET? MORE PROBLEMS

For most of the first half you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Dimitri Payet was on the pitch. The French international playmaker strolled around and barely broke into a sweat as he completely failed to control the ball on one occassion and gave it away readily.

He ballooned a shot 20-yards over the bar and din’t do much else. In the second half he drifted in and out of the game, whipping in a few good set pieces and setting up Manuel Lanzini in the box, plus he also casually walked the ball out of play from a goo crossing position in the box.

With a report circulating on Saturday that Arsenal were lining up a bid for Payet, 29, in January, some could argue that he has mentally checked out at West Ham. The Hammers look set to be embroiled in a relegation battle and Payet just isn’t up for that. His midweek performance in the EFL Cup at Manchester United suggested as much and this display reinforced those notions.

He only committed his future to the Hammers in the summer but if Arsenal come calling in January with a big bid, it’s clear that Payet would prefer to move on. West Ham’s owners would loathe selling Payet, an action which would put further presure on themselves given the tumultuous move to the London Stadium. But ask yourself this: is it better to get $45-50 million for Payet now (ballpark figure) and reinvest it in center backs and strikers you badly need? Or keep him around so he can saunter across the pitch so it’s basically like playing with 10 men?

There’s no doubting West Ham would miss Payet’s creativity in the final third but right now he should be the least of their worries.


BILIC ON THE ROPES

There’s no getting around it. The situation is bleak for the Hammers.

Slaven Bilic‘s team performed so well last season, his debut campaign as West Ham manager. They rode nostalgia-driven euphoria in their final season at Upton Park to finish seventh in the Premier League.

With three defeats in their last five and no wins in that stretch, Bilic seems to be on the brink. They are one point out of the relegation zone and three points off the bottom.

Yes, the Hammers have plenty of  issues in defense and that was exasperated by James Collins coming off injured early on, but the entire game was just a case of them hanging in and hoping Payet or Lanzini would bail them out. That was never likely to happen.

The team gave up on Bilic in the end as Arsenal struck three times in the final 10 minutes. Given the stadium issues and fans not being happy with the owners about the move and a multitude of issues, Bilic and his players have been cut plenty of slack so far.

That won’t go on for much longer. With a pivotal two week period from Dec. 14-31 coming up, Bilic will need wins against Burnley, Hull, Swansea and Leicester if he’s not only going to get West Ham out of trouble, but also keep his job.

Make no mistake about, West Ham is in freefall.

West Ham United 1-5 Arsenal: Electric Alexis lights up Olympic Stadium

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Mesut Oezil of Arsenal celebrates with team-mate Alexis Sanchez after scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
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  • Ozil puts Gunners ahead
  • Hat trick, assist for Alexis
  • Arsenal on 31 points
  • Carroll pulls one back

Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain helped Arsenal to a 5-1 road win at West Ham United on Saturday.

The win boosts Arsenal into second, three points back of Chelsea, though Liverpool can pass the Gunners with a point on Sunday.

Andy Carroll added a goal for the Irons when Dimitri Payet‘s free kick rebounded off the cross bar and directly to the big man’s noggin.

The Irons continue to disappoint, now just a point above the drop zone in 17th. Hull would shove West Ham into 17th with a win over Middlesbrough on Monday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

An early injury to James Collins threatening to plague West Ham’s chances of a win, and the Gunners definitely had the better of the play.

Arsenal’s breakthrough came when West Ham’s Angelo Ogbonna made a big mistake, his pass blocked into the path of Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean worked Winston Reid quickly before passing across to Ozil for an easy tap-in.

The damage was limited into the break, although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit a good chance woefully wide of the goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

West Ham’s second half started well, with both Dimitri Payet and Ashley Fletcher ripping shots toward the Arsenal goal.

The Irons kept up the pressure, with Ogbonna thwarting an Arsenal threat against the run of play by Theo Walcott.

Arsenal was countering for the second half’s first half hour, quite effectively. Darren Randolph was soon called upon to stop a pair of Gunner chances.

Turns out those counters were indicative of a change in control, and Sanchez scored a wonderful goal in the 72nd minute. Randolph was too deep in his goal, and the Chilean beat him far post.

He’d add another across the body of a sliding Randolph with 10 minutes to go, and this one was essentially over. Carroll, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Sanchez scored goals in the final 10 minutes.

Sanchez’s was a cute little dink over Randolph in the 87th minute.

Follow @NicholasMendola

VIDEO: Alexis Sanchez scores sensational twisting, spinning goal

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Alexis Sanchez is a beast.

On Saturday he scored a stunning solo goal at the London Stadium in Arsenal’s clash against West Ham.

First his first goal the ball was drilled into him by Shkodran Mustafi and in one movement he controlled the ball, spun his marker and was away.

He still had plenty to do but the Chilean striker drilled a perfect effort across goal and into the far corner to put the Gunners 2-0 up. He then added two more goals for a 14 minute hat trick.

What a menace.

Watch his first goal in the video above, as Sanchez shrugged off a groin issue he suffered in the warmup and tormented West Ham.

WATCH: 2 red cards for fight… between Preston teammates

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - APRIL 09:  Gaston Ramirez of Middlesbrough (C) is challenged by Dan Johnson (L) and Eoin Doyle of Preston North End during the Sky Bet Championship match between Middlesbrough and Preston North End at the Riverside Stadium on April 9, 2016 in Middlesbrough, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
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Preston North End attacker Eoin Doyle scored a goal and saw a ridiculous red card within an eight-minute span in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Sheffield Wednesday.

It wasn’t ridiculous that he was given the card, rather how he earned the sending off.

[ MORE: El Clasico ends in late draw ]

Doyle and teammate Jermaine Beckford had to broken up by teammates and opponents after the pair failed to team up for a scoring chance.

Beckford thought he was open for a pass that never came from Doyle, and shoves were exchanged before referee Scott Duncan sent both players to the stands in the 90th minute.

Follow @NicholasMendola