Screw the style points: Santi Cazorla leads Arsenal to victory over Aston Villa

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For most of the first half, if not the entire game, Arsenal was arguably the lesser team. Which means nothing, of course. The game is judged by goals, not figure skating judges, and particularly when there’s a very early goal, we should hold off judging teams based on style points.

But when we’re talking about Arsenal, who beat Aston Villa 2-1 at the Emirates on Saturday, the statement becomes ironic. This is a team that used to be defined by their style, an approach that used to win leagues and became an ideological life-preserver once the trophies stopped flowing. The Gunners played beautiful soccer, better soccer, and employed an approach that would give manager Arsène Wenger license to stubbornly insist his team was better after back-breaking losses to Chelsea and Manchester United.

Even though the Gunners came around on Saturday and eventually controlled the match, that philosophical high ground is gone, another rueful side note in Arsenal’s slow decay. But at least they got three points. After Santi Cazorla completed his double in the 85th minute, restoring a lead he’d given the Gunners six minutes into the match, Wenger can do as every other manager in world soccer does and be happy with three points. Trade your contrived morality for three points, Arsène. Sitting fifth in the league, you need them.

(MORE: Considering the evolving Manchester United narrative.)

For some, this assessment of Arsenal may seem harsh. By more objective measures, Arsenal were the controlling side, dominating possession and more than doubling Aston Villa’s shots on goal. Yet it took a while to get there, Villa eventually equalizing through Andreas Weimann mid-way through the second half. Until that point, the teams looked fairly even except for one extremely important moment: Cazorla’s opening goal. That Arsenal is allowing Villa, one of the league’s worst teams, that much of a match at the Emirates is something we’ve had to get used to.

But that larger arc shouldn’t overshadow Cazorla, who put in one of his best performances of a great debut campaign on Saturday. In recent months the Spaniard had failed to match his early season dominance, but against Villa, it returned, with Cazorla complementing his two goals by consistently providing the team’s most dangerous passes.

Though he again had to make room for a slightly more advances Jack Wilshire, Cazorla gave us our first hints that the setup could work. In a left-to-in role, Cazorla was the game’s best player.

It’s something on which Arsenal can build. With the win, they temporarily sit one point behind fourth place Spurs, with Tottenham set to visit West Ham on Monday.

Here’s Cazorla’s opener, a nice bit of control and finishing after his first shot was blocked:

More reaction to the day’s English Premier League results coming throughout your Saturday.

Turkey hands bid plans for Euro 2024 to UEFA

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Turkey has given UEFA its hosting plan for the 2024 European Championship, citing “unprecedented state support” to help beat Germany to stage the 24-team tournament.

Turkish soccer federation president Yildirim Demiroren says the latest attempt is “our best bid ever.” Ten stadiums proposed include two in Istanbul.

Turkey bid with Greece for EURO 2008, then alone for the 2012 and 2016 editions.

[ MORE: TFC’s “heart has been ripped from chest” ]

Before UEFA chose a multi-nation EURO 2020 hosting plan, Turkey was strongly favored before focusing on Istanbul’s failed 2020 Olympic bid.

Turkey has never hosted a major soccer tournament. West Germany hosted the eight-team EURO 1988 and a unified Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup.

The UEFA executive committee will pick a winner on Sept. 27 in Nyon.

Premier League TV, stream schedule

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A pivotal weekend in the Premier League is coming up, especially in the race for the top four and battle against relegation.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Stoke City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Bournemouth – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. West Bromwich Albion – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Brighton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Leicester City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Chelsea – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
9:15 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM
11:30 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Arsenal – NBCSN [STREAM

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford – NBCSN [STREAM]

 

Southampton’s Hughes sends Boufal to U-23s after reported bust-up

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One of Morocco’s best young players isn’t going to get ideal World Cup preparation, and could even lose his place in the team if things don’t turn around at Southampton.

Southampton’s one-time record signing Sofiane Boufal has been banished to the U-23 side after refusing to warm up in Saints loss to Chelsea last weekend.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

The refusal reportedly led to a dust-up with manager Mark Hughes in the dressing room after Saints came-from-ahead to lose 3-2.

Hughes says everything is better now, but there needs to be punishment for Boufal’s actions. This means one of Saints’ most talented attackers won’t be a part of their desperate battle to overcome relegation (at least not soon).

From the Guardian:

“Given where we are at the moment, he’s probably best served training with a different group just to make people aware the situation we found ourselves in wasn’t what should have happened. He understands that now. He probably needs to rebuild a bit of trust with us and his team-mates. That’s what we’re working on. He won’t be involved this weekend. We’ll have to wait and see [whether he can return this season].”

“He’s remorseful about it, which he needed to be, and we’ll build him back up to be in the group again. But the time for that isn’t now. It’s about him biding his time, doing the right things, until he’s reintegrated.”

Boufal has two goals and two assists in 26 games (11 starts) since arriving from arriving from Lille for around $22 million. He has six caps for Morocco.

Liverpool fans warned, as Roma pledges support

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There was a terrible incident in Liverpool on Tuesday when a Reds supporter was set upon by Roma fans and left in critical condition.

Sean Cox, 53, was attacked outside a pub before Liverpool’s 5-2 UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg win over AS Roma.

[ MORE: LFC 5-2 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

Liverpool has released its plans to keep supporters safe should they be among the 5,000 with tickets in Rome on Wednesday (via LiverpoolFC.com), pledging the “most comprehensive safety and security advice.”

The club has taken the exceptional measure of requesting an extraordinary meeting in the Italian capital, which will take place on Friday April 27. … At the behest of Liverpool, club officials will join AS Roma, UEFA and the relevant Italian police and security services to discuss specific ongoing concerns.

Merseyside Police chief superintendent Dave Charnock backed up Roma’s police demand that Liverpool fans without tickets skip the trip to Italy. According to the BBC, Liverpool was asked to put fans names on their tickets to the game.

“While we understand and appreciate that many Liverpool fans will want to travel to Rome, I would encourage fans who do not have tickets to not travel,” he said.

AS Roma, for its part, posted a photo of Cox with the statement, “His recovery and the safety of all fans attending football matches, is the only thing that matters now.”