Arsenal v Aston Villa - Premier League

Arsenal 1 – Aston Villa 3: Benteke penalties sink Gunners (Video)

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Arsenal scored early but defensive mistakes in the box cost them as Christian Benteke buried two penalties and gave Aston Villa a shock 3-1 win on the road at the Emirates.

Olivier Giroud began the scoring in just the 6th minute when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sprinted down the touchline before cutting back behind the defense and hitting Giroud who was free in the middle.  The French striker used just one touch to direction the ball perfectly to the far post past Brad Guzan.

Guzan barely escaped a chance for Arsenal to go 2 up when the American spilled the ball outside of the net, and it fell to Theo Walcott with an empty net but his cross to the front of goal found a Villa defender.

Christian Benteke then pulled Villa level when Wojciech Szczesny was forced to bring down Gabriel Agbonlahor in the box.  Agbonlahor shot a ball ahead through the defense, and trailing his touch all by himself, Szczseny had no choice.  Szczesny saved Benteke’s original penalty, but the ball came back to the Belgian and he headed in the rebound.  It was a superb performance by Agbonlahor on the day, who ran the thin Arsenal defense ragged.

Szczesny did exactly the same as Guzan before in the 36th minute, deciding to play as an outfield player outside of the box and almost allowed Villa to pull ahead, but the defenders held in time for the Polish keeper to make his way back and make a pretty-looking diving save.

Arsenal continued to build from Jack Wilshire in the midfield in the second half as the game got chippy.  Yellow cards began to fly, and Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny brought down Agbonlahor to give away a second penalty. Benteke buried this one for the lead. Arsenal will believe they’ve been harshly judged, as Koscielny went in hard but did get a foot on the ball before bringing Agbonlahor down.

Koscielny then had insult added to injury when he barely made contact with Andreas Weimann but the winger went down anyways and drew Koscielny’s second yellow.  Arsenal still managed to keep attacking. Santi Cazorla banged a 79th minute shot into the ground and it came up and ricocheted off the crossbar.  Bacary Sagna went down hard in added time, making Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s headaches even worse for after the match.

When Arsenal threw everything forward, they continued to come close, but it bit them in the end as a counter fell to Antonio Luna who buried the one-on-one breakaway past Szczesny to secure the result on his club debut.

The Arsenal fans came down hard on Wenger at the end of the match, berating him for having made no moves so far in the transfer window.

Lineups

Arsenal: Wojciech Szczesny; Bacary Sagna (Lukas Podolski, 90′), Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs (Carl Jenkinson, 28′); Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshire; Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Santi Cazorla, 45′), Aaron Ramsey; Olivier Giroud.

Aston Villa: Brad Guzan; Nathan Baker (Ciaran Clark, 17′), Ron Vlaar, Antonio Luna, Matthew Lowton; Karim El Ahmadi, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph; Andreas Weimann (Leandro Bacuna, 88′), Gabriel Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke.

Reaction

Arsene Wenger: “I didn’t like the spirit with which he [Anthony Taylor] refereed this game,” Wenger fumed. “That for me is the most worrying thing, more than the decisions he made. I was quite amazed how stubborn his behaviour was through the whole game. I was really amazed. I can’t fault the spirit of the team. Everything went against us. Injuries, decisions and we had a bit of bad luck.”

Wenger: “I want our fans to be happy and proud of their team and when we lost at home, I just have to be sorry.”

Villa captain Ron Vlaar: “I thought maybe I could have got a second yellow but I was standing there and I couldn’t just disappear out of nothing. It’s a little bit silly to get two yellows for obstruction and the second yellow for Laurent Koscielny, I don’t know if that was one. But it’s his [Taylor’s] decision and that’s not the reason we won the game.”

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)