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.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.