Snap Judgments: Saturday in the English Premier League

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The English Premier League’s two best Saturday matches were the ones least likely to be watched, and it wasn’t just about the final scores. Matches in Reading and Wigan did combine for 10 goals, but the day’s other four contests offered little to offset their lack of goals. With most of the league’s big names playing on Sunday, we should have expected a somewhat down day in England, though even with deflated expectations, the Premier League’s matchday failed to satisfy.

Aston Villa 1-1 Norwich City

You take what you can get when you’re playing with 10 men. The problem for Villa is how they looked with 11. Though they took an early lead through Belgian attacker Christian Benteke (his second goal of the season), Villa continued to be there unoffensive, ineffective selves. Even against  a Norwich side that’s had trouble preventing goals, Villa looked utterly preventable. When an ill-advised foul from Joe Bennett left Villa a man down for the last 38 minutes, the result seemed inevitable. Michael Turner’s header gave the Canaries a point from a match Villa would have targeted for three.

Impact: Aston Villa’s 17th after nine rounds, and only Sunderland’s scored fewer goals. It’s not time for panic, but it is time for worry. Norwich City’s only one place better.

Arsenal 1-0 Queens Park Rangers

Two poor teams saw their match decided by a poor individual decision. Stephane Mbia’s irrational kick towards Thomas Vermaelen earned straight red in the 78th minute, with Arsenal scoring two minutes later. Replays showed Mikel Arteta was offside when heading a ball onto the crossbar (before eventually volleying home the winner), but if it wasn’t for some heroics from QPR keeper Julio Cesar, Arsenal would have put away the game much earlier.

It was another discouraging performance for cellar-dwelling QPR, who need to assess whether Mark Hughes can get something out of their expensive squad. Right now, there’s no evidence he can.

For Arsenal, although the win snapped a two-match losing streak, their play continues to show regression from their early-season form.

Impact: Arsenal jumps fourth and continue to have the league’s best defense. QPR is last, tied with Norwich City and Southampton for the league’s worst goal difference.

Reading 3-3 Fulham

The Royals and Cottagers combined for three goals from the 85th minute on, with Hal Robinson-Kanu’s stoppage time equalizer salvaging a point for the home side. Fulham is playing some of the most attractive soccer in the Premier League, even if they weren’t able to convert their 66 percent possession into three points. Dimitar Berbatov continues to emerge as the focal point of Martin Jol’s attack, while a goal off the bench from Bryan Ruiz hints last year’s big purchase might be ready to live up to his price tag (£10.6 million).

Impact: Fulham is now up to sixth but need to find an answer for a defense that has allowed 14 goals. Reading is 18th but showed the first signs of living up to expectations that they’ll survive their Premier League return.

Stoke City 0-0 Sunderland

This match was predictably horrible and has to leave Sunderland fans wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into. When Martin O’Neill arrived on Tyne last year, the Black Cats looked capable of respectability. Now, they’re an uninspiring draw machine incapable of putting a shot on target against Stoke. Through eight rounds, they have a win, a loss, and eight draws. They let the worst possession team in the league have 52 percent of the ball, and judging by O’Neill’s choice to leave Stephane Sessegnon (overrated though he may be) out of his starting XI, this result may have been by design. Did Sunderland just out-Stoke Stoke?

Impact: None.

Wigan 2-1 West Ham

This result is more impressive result than it looks. Sam Allardyce has forged a solid squad, the type of team that would normally get a result from the DW this early in the season. Wigan, however, were up two by the 47th minute, scoring soon after each kickoff, giving the impression that manager Roberto Martínez might have had some undo influence on this game. If that’s the case – if Martínez has already got his pieces in place for Wigan – the Latics may avoid the type of drama they’ve courting over the last few seasons.

Impact: Wigan’s up to 15th while West Ham stays in the top half, sitting ninth.

Manchester City 1-0 Swansea City

A long distance strike from Carlos Tevez and some slow reactions from Michel Vorm are all the separated the two sides, both on the scoreboard and on merit. Manchester City rebounded from their mid-week loss in Amsterdam with an equally uninspiring performance, with Citizens supporters sure to ask what’s going on with their team.

It’s a soccer cliché to sound the alarms too early on a struggling team, but with Chelsea and Manchester United both better than their 2011-12 editions, City’s margin for error is much smaller than last year.

Impact: Oh, look here. Manchester City sits second and have yet to lose. In fact, they have a four-match winning streak. Though their play has been poor, the results are there. Swansea, on the other hand, have three points in five, dropping to 10th place.

Atlanta’s Almiron will miss at least three weeks with hamstring injury

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This isn’t what Atlanta United wanted to see right before the playoffs, but the club will be praying that it gets one of its biggest stars back in time for the MLS postseason.

[ MORE: Trio of USWNT players stay in locker room for national anthem ]

Miguel Almiron has been ruled out at least three weeks after suffering a hamstring injury during Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact.

Given the projected three-week timetable, Almiron could return for the team’s final two matches of the regular season against the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC.

Meanwhile, Almiron will also likely miss out on Paraguay’s two final CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, which is a devastating blow for the country’s qualification chances. Paraguay currently sits three points behind fifth-place Argentina in South American qualifying.

In his first season in MLS, Almiron has taken the league by storm after scoring nine goals and adding 13 assists. Additionally, the 23-year-old has three game-winning goals for the expansion side, who currently sits third in the Eastern Conference.

Tackling the MLS MVP debate: Which players are for real?

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We have a former MVP, a league newcomer and everything in between this season as MLS’ most prestigious individual award nears its end.

[ MORE: Atlanta continues home-field dominance with win vs. Impact ]

New York City FC’s David Villa is strongly in position to win his second MVP award in a row, while Diego Valeri, Josef Martinez and others chase the former Barcelona man.

PST takes a look at five serious candidates for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award this season.

David Villa

The debate starts with the NYCFC captain for a second consecutive season. “El Guaje” has come out and lit it up once more for the Bronx side and propelled his side into a prime spot to grab a first-round bye in the Eastern Conference, despite Atlanta’s hot pursuit. The biggest thing working against Villa right now is a combination of injuries and lacking finishing. The Spanish international hasn’t scored an MLS goal since August 20, making his stock fall a bit.

Diego Valeri

Is there a player hotter than Diego Valeri right now? Well, there might be one other, but we’ll talk about him in a minute. The Argentine is simply scorching MLS defenses right now, scoring in nine straight matches and lifting the Portland Timbers to within a point of the Western Conference lead. Not only has Valeri exhibited incredible finishing technique in 2017, but the 31-year-old has also recorded nine assists for Caleb Porter’s group. Valeri’s most important trait could very well be his clutch factor. The attacker has six (yes, six) game-winning finishes this season for the Timbers.

Josef Martinez

Cut the whole “he missed half the season” argument out of the equation because that argument actually helps his case. The Designated Player has scored 17 goals in 16 matches this season for newcomers Atlanta, and while the expansion side has plenty of attacking firepower, such as Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad, it’s Martinez that has proven to be the vital piece for Tata Martino and Co. down the stretch. By the way, Atlanta is 9-2-2 this season when Martinez starts for them. That’s not a coincidence.

Ignacio Piatti

These last two players won’t be sexy picks given the possibility that neither of their teams will make the postseason, but just listen to why they should be in consideration. Piatti has recorded a 25.3 percent conversion rate this season, which ranks second-highest in MLS when accounting for players that have scored 10 goals or more. The Impact have given up the second-most goals in the East this year, making it more difficult for Piatti and Co. to work

Lee Nguyen

To many, this pick will be a bit out of left field, but bear with me for a second. The 30-year-old has recorded 10 goals and 15 assists this season, making him the New England Revolution’s most dangerous attacking player because of his duel-threat abilities. Nguyen is the only player in Revolution history to record double-digit goals and assists in the same season, which further makes the case for what a historic season he is having. The Revs will need some help in order to qualify for the playoffs, but if they do, Nguyen’s stock will have to increase even more.

Report: UEFA forces PSG to sell players or risk exclusion from UCL

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Paris Saint-Germain is currently undergoing some issues within its squad, but the French giants may have bigger problems if the club fails to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play laws.

[ MORE: Arsenal knocks off West Brom behind Lacazette brace ]

The club went out and spent well over $400 million this summer when PSG acquired Neymar and Kylian Mbappe from Barcelona and Monaco, respectively, and now other major clubs throughout Europe are reportedly fed up with the team’s spending spree.

Spanish outlet El Pais has reported that PSG could face expulsion from the 2018/19 Champions League competition if the club doesn’t sell up to eight of its players.

PSG has reportedly transfer listed several big names within its roster, including Angel di Maria, Javier Pastore and Julian Draxler, while veteran Thiago Silva is also among those on the chopping block.

Given his recent spat with Neymar and others in the squad, Edinson Cavani could also be on his way out if PSG receives a bid for the Uruguayan.

There are still a few things that are unclear though about UEFA’s reported sanctions. There’s been no timetable given as to when PSG needs to comply, and more importantly, it’s hard to tell whether or not the club will actually be disciplined if they don’t sell more players in January or next summer.

Arsenal 2-0 West Brom: Lacazette brace keeps Gunners rolling

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Arsenal’s early-season struggles appear to be behind them as Arsene Wenger and Co. kept up its fine form on Monday at the Emirates Stadium.

Wenger’s side took down West Bromwich Albion, 2-0, in London behind a pair of goals from Alexandre Lacazette.

[ MORE: Hemed denies intent in Yedlin stamp ]

Lacazette continued his fine scoring form on Monday, scoring his third and fourth goals at the Emirates for the Gunners.

The Frenchman found the back of the net in the 18th minute following Alexis Sanchez’s free kick, which was originally saved by West Brom keeper Ben Foster.

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The Gunners then doubled their lead in the 67th minute in controversial fashion when Lacazette converted from the penalty spot.

The club’s big-money summer signing stepped up for the spot kick after Aaron Ramsey went down in the West Brom penalty area moments earlier. Baggies defender Allan Nyom was called for the foul as he shouldered Ramsey off the ball near the end line.

The Frenchman found the back of the net in the 18th minute following Alexis Sanchez’s free kick, which was originally saved by West Brom keeper Ben Foster.

Lacazette came so close to a second for the home side in the 51st minute after a brilliant build up down the left wing by Sead Kolasinac.

West Brom was furious not to have a penalty after nine minutes when it appeared that Shkodran Mustafi took down a surging Jay Rodriguez inside the Arsenal area. Rodriguez did himself no favors though after getting back up and carrying on with his run following the challenge from the Arsenal defender.

Unfortunately for Rodriguez, his attempt went off the post after Petr Cech got a small touch to his shot.

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Rodriguez was the biggest threat for West Brom on the day, with the Baggies attacker coming close to a breakthrough on several occasions.

The win for Arsenal brings the club up to seventh place in the PL, while West Brom drops one spot to 11th.