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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.

VIDEO: Marco Verratti plays a brilliant pass to Eder for Italy goal

PALERMO, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06:  Marco Verratti of Italy in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier match between Italy and Bulgaria on September 6, 2015 in Palermo, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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Italy took a 1-0 lead over Azerbaijan through the in-form Eder in the 11th minute, but the true leg-work (see what I did there) came from bite-sized midfielder Marco Verratti.

The PSG playmaker pinged a beautiful long ball over the top of the Azerbaijan defense that fell right at the feet of Eder, who let the ball settle itself and touched home confidently past Kamran Arhayev for a 1-0 lead.

The goal is the second of Eder’s national career in just five caps, having scored on debut against Bulgaria back in March. He has six goals in seven matches for Sampdoria so far this Serie A season.

Italy needs three points in this match to ensure qualification to Euro 2016. A win would guarantee them a place in the field, while anything less would mean there is work to do in the final match on Tuesday against Norway.


Later in the match, Stephan El Shaarawy gave Italy a 2-1 lead just before halftime, his second career international goal and his first since September of 2012 which came in his third career start.

Agent: Liverpool contacted Klopp only after Rodgers firing

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09:  Jurgen Klopp arrives to be unveiled as the new manager of Liverpool FC at a press conference at Anfield on October 9, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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As soon as Brendan Rodgers was dismissed by Liverpool on Sunday, Jurgen Klopp’s name was tossed around as the likely successor to the then-vacant Liverpool managerial position.

However, according to Klopp’s representatve Marc Kosicke, Liverpool did not make contact with the German until after Rodgers had been officially let go.

“The first call from Liverpool came after the dismissal as coach of Rodgers,” Kosicke told Bild. “Before Liverpool there were naturally quite a few inquiries. But Jurgen always asked me not to take it any further.”

Club management was less committal than Klopp’s rep, but did say they had their eye on the German for some time. “We have learned to keep certain matters confidential. We had a meeting recently with Jurgen that he has talked about and I don’t want to talk too much about these conversations. But we have thought about him for a long time and everyone who knows football knows he is an outstanding manager.”

It’s relatively hard to believe Liverpool would have canned Rodgers without knowing for sure that a top-level target such as Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti were on board to replace him. It also would mean discussions of the contract terms and logistics would have moved at lightning speed, with just four days between the Rodgers dismissal and Klopp’s official unveiling.