Four talking points from Arsenal v. Everton

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With a Champions League spot on the line, 3rd place Arsenal and 6th place Everton battled a hard fought match to a nil-nil draw. The result should not be too detrimental to Arsenal’s Top 4 hopes but leaves the Toffees in a position where the Europa League may now be the target.

Here are four talking points from today’s match.

Moment Of Silence For Victims In Boston

What a classy move by Arsenal to hold a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. A lot has been made of these moments being so trite that they lose their effectiveness. Some have even suggested they be done away with all together.

But if for only a moment the football world acknowledges that there are bigger, more important things that connect us together than mere sport, it’s difficult to see how this can be a bad thing.

Physical Play All Part Of The Plan

As the first-half roared to life Everton reached deep into their blue collar roots to deliver some fierce tackles that Arsenal didn’t take kindly to. Marouane Fellaini managed three fouls in the opening nine minutes, Ross Barkley laid a thumping tackle on Jack Wilshire and Darron Gibson implanted himself between Theo Walcott’s legs, much to the ire of the Emirates faithful.

The physical manner in which Everton imposed itself toed the line between hard and dirty. The Toffees were determined to get stuck in and do whatever necessary to thwart the speedy counter-attack of Wilshire, Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey.

But as soon as things looked like they might be getting out of hand, David Moyes pulled his troops back. The teethy challenges receded and it became clear that the physical play was simply an opening siege in the Scot’s battle plan.

Time To Give Aaron Ramsey Some Credit

Aaron Ramsey will not go down as an Arsenal great, but he’s vastly improved over the last year. The Welshman used to suffer from taking too many touches and being deployed on the wing, which didn’t suit his strengths. Recently he’s back playing in the middle of the park and has been playing much simpler, more effective football.

On Tuesday he lined up next to a subdued Mikel Arteta and an out of form Wilshire. While his partners struggled, Ramsey took the bull by the horns – flying into tackles, diffusing the barreling runs of Fellaini, distributing with acuity and showing deceptive speed on the counter-attack.

The unlikely engine of the Arsenal midfield, Ramsey was Arsenal’s man-of-the-match.

Ross Barkley, Growing Up Before Our Very Eyes

Everyone knows that Everton’s 19 year old man child, Ross Barkley, has the talent to be a great footballer. But until today’s match that talent had largely gone unfulfilled. After a stunning debut against QPR to kick off the 2011-12 season, the Wavertree-born attacker tailed off and David Moyes was quick with the hook.

After a handful of substitute appearances and loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United, Barkley was reintroduced at Everton this past March. The result was three ineffective displays against Wigan, Stoke and Spurs that caused Evertonians to re-think Barkley’s place in the team.

But Moyes stuck with the boy, handing him a starting spot against Arsenal as a replacement for the injured Leon Osman. Fellaini dropped into the midfield leaving Barkley to play in the hole behind Victor Anichebe. The result was spectacular.

Barkley displayed masterful skill, an adept ability to hold up the ball and an eye for goal that nearly resulted in a match-winner. Even more endearing, the broad-shouldered forward dropped into the defensive third on at least three occasions to disposes the Arsenal attack. That’s the kind of spirit that epitomizes Everton.

Has he arrived? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But Barkley is definitely growing up before our very eyes.

Andrija Novakovich: “It’s a good feeling” to earn USMNT call up

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As the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its transition towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a new face has emerged for the Stars and Stripes ahead of its upcoming friendly against Paraguay.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

Striker Andrija Novakovich earned his first call up on Sunday when U.S. manager Dave Sarachan named the Telstar player in his squad, which will play the South American side on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina.

The 21-year-old forward has been nothing short of brilliant in his first season with the Dutch second-division club, scoring 18 league goals for Telstar — who sit fourth in the Eerste Divisie.

“It’s a good feeling to get the call-up and hopefully it will be a very good experience,” Novakovich said. “They [the U.S. national team] sent the club and myself an email saying that I was on the preliminary roster and we were just waiting, and then this week I got another email saying I was on the final roster.

“I called my Mum right away and she’s proud, she’s happy.

“I’m just there for the experience — of course I want to play, of course I want to get the opportunity and hopefully that will happen, It’s an honour to be called up and I’m very proud and very happy.”

Novakovich, a Wisconsin native, is currently on loan at Telstar from English Championship side Reading.

The young USMNT player moved to England back in 2014 to join Reading’s academy, despite originally planning on playing for Marquette University following high school.

Despite this being his first senior-team call up, Novakovich is familiar with the U.S. national team setup. Novakovich has previously represented the Under-17, U-18 and U-20 national teams.

Lionel Messi suggests 2018 will be his final World Cup

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Lionel Messi’s track record as a professional has encompassed just about every imaginable accolade, but one that has eluded he and his Argentina national teammates is winning the World Cup.

[ MORE: Kekuta Manneh added to USMNT squad ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

The Barcelona star has played a significant role for the Albiceleste since debuting for Argentina back in 2005, and even helped guide the South American power to the 2014 World Cup final, however, harsh criticism from local media could push Messi and many of his teammates towards not returning to the national team.

This wouldn’t be the first time Messi has contemplated international retirement, though.

Following the 2016 Copa America Centenario final — which resulted in a Chilean victory over Messi’s Argentina — the Blaugrana attacker announced his retirement from the Albiceleste. While he has since returned to the international scene, it appears Messi is once again considering a halt from representing Argentina.

“It’s just the feeling that this group of players has. It seems that having reached three straight finals didn’t mean anything,” Messi told La Cornisa TV. “Obviously, we depend on results and unfortunately, we reached three finals and we didn’t win them.

“A lot was said about us. The criticisms hurt back then. But the demand is going to be there for this group to get it done. We think that if we don’t do it, we are going to get a lot more [criticism] and we are not going to have another possibility.”

Argentina has fallen in three consecutive major finals dating back to 2014, including two Copa America competitions and the World Cup.

Messi says these shortcomings have weighed heavily on him, and that winning a World Cup is still the one goal that has left him hungry.

“I’ve cried many times for lost finals,” the Barca forward said. “I cried for not being able to fulfill the dream of our nation. My desire is the same as every Argentine, which is to lift the World Cup.”

He continued: “To win a World Cup is not easy. It doesn’t happen often. The last time we did things well but due to minor details we didn’t get it done. We are very enthusiastic and eager to lift the cup for our country. I hope God helps us and it happens.”

Messi has scored 61 international goals in his international career for Argentina, the most of any player from his native country.

Brazil to play Austria in final warmup game for World Cup

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VIENNA (AP) The Austrian soccer federation says Brazil will play its final warmup game for the World Cup against Austria on June 10, a week before the five-time world champions take on Switzerland in their Group E opener.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of friendly ]

The match will be played in Vienna at Ernst Happel Stadium, the same venue where both teams last met in a 2014 friendly, which Brazil won 2-1.

Brazil has further build-up games against World Cup host Russia (March 23), world champion Germany (March 27) and Croatia (June 3) ahead of the June 14-July 15 tournament, where it also meets Costa Rica and Serbia in the group stage.

Austria failed to qualify for the World Cup but will also play friendlies against Russia on May 30 and Germany on June 2.

Fiorentina renames training ground for Davide Astori

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images
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Fiorentina’s training ground has been renamed “Centro Sportivo Davide Astori” in honor of the club’s deceased captain.

[ MORE: Manneh added to USMNT squad ]

Davide Astori died in his team hotel room on March 4, shocking the Italian soccer world and triggering tributes around the world of soccer.

The respected Italian national team center back has had number retired by both Fiorentina and former club Cagliari.

Thousands packed a Florence piazza to salute the player en route to his funeral, and the club won its first match after his passing following vivid pre- and in-match tributes.