Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger walks down the tunnel following their English Premier League soccer match against Aston Villa in London

Quick Six: Top Premier League storylines from weekend no. 1

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source: Reuters

1. ARSENAL’S CONJURING MEMORIES OF 2011

After Arsenal lost 8-2 at Manchester United on Aug. 28, 2011, Arsène Wegner’s hand was forced. To that point, the Gunners’ boss had been cautions about throwing his recently received Cesc Fábregas/Samir Nasri money at new players, but with his team on one point through three rounds (having been held scoreless in their first two matches), Wenger had to do something. The subsequent ‘panic buys’ of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker have worked out well for the club.

Perhaps that’s the silver lining Arsenal fans can take out of Saturday’s match, a bitter opener that saw the Gunners lose 3-1 at The Emirates to Aston Villa. Though there’s a small number of Premier League clubs to whom Arsenal can justify losing at home, Villa is not one of them, let alone in the manner they did. Villa scored the match’s last three goals, led for the final half hour, and put more shots on net over the 90 minutes.

If they’re so inclined, Arsenal can hide behind excuses. Laurent Koscielny was sent off, leaving the team short-handed for 23 minutes, while two of Villa’s goals can be attributed to penalty kicks. Those circumstances are unlikely to be replicated next week at Fulham. Still, Wenger would be better served to summon the urgency of Aug. 2011 and throw some money at the problem.

source: Reuters2. MANCHESTER UNITED SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN OVERLOOKED

Barring a Monday night explosion from Manchester City (and with the Sky Blues hosting Newcastle, that could happen), the red side of Manchester will hold the top spot after the Premier League’s opening round. Perhaps that’s only appropriate, given the defending champions had been deprived of the spotlight in the build-up to the season. Though the Red Devils bring back a near-identical squad to the one that ran away with last year’s Premier League, none of your PST writers have them finishing in the top two.

New manager David Moyes has said his club intends on buying, hinting the squad still has weaknesses. Most people point to the midfield as its main point of need, though United’s had the same problems in midfield since Roy Keane left. They’ve still managed to claim silverware since – both at home and abroad.

Saturday was a bucket of cold water for those of us who had dwelt on that weakness. Swansea City — a team that opened last season with two lopsided wins; who drew United on their last visit to the Liberty Stadium — were torn apart by braces from Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck. Although Swansea’s poor play contributed to that results, United’s firepower means they’ll be capable of this kind of result.

source: Reuters3. MOURINHO’S RETURN MORE ‘DECENT’ THAN ‘SPECIAL’

If we learned anything about Chelsea from match one, it’s that they had an easy start. Hull City, roundly picked to resume a place in the Championship, failed to provide a challenge. The Blues dominated for a half hour, built a 2-0 league, then clicked it into cruise. We’ll have to wait for stiffer competition before passing judgment on the Blues.

There were hints, however, of what we could expect from Mourinho’s second term, including in the way Chelsea cruised. Perhaps the team didn’t pile on goals as Mourinho’s Real Madrid might have, but team’s return to a belligerent pragmatism that won two Premier League crowns will be welcome by some. Frank Lampard, despite having a penalty kick saved, lent credence to the notion his effectiveness will be prolonged by his reunion with Mourinho, while the Blues’ three substitutes (André Schurrle, Romelu Lukaku, Marco van Ginkel) confirmed new blood will play a key part.

Hull’s limited performance never gave Chelsea a chance to truly convince, but there were still things to learn from the Special One’s return.

source: Reuters4. PROMOTED SIDES SHOW LITTLE LIFE IN TOP FLIGHT RETURNS

Hull weren’t the only promoted side to disappoint. Crystal Palace, picked 20th by so many coming into the season, were able to keep the score close, their 1-0 loss to visiting Spurs disguising the fact Tottenham controlled the game. Cardiff City, winners of last year’s Championship, fell 2-0 at West Ham United.

Underdogs in each match, it’s no surprise all three Premier League newbies lost, yet their inability is still concerning. Out-shot by a combined 59-24 (13-6, shots on goal), the trio of neophytes seem to lack a Norwich City or Southampton – two promoted sides who managed to stay up last season. While recent signings from Cardiff and Hull may soon change their teams’ outlooks (and it is far too early to condemn any of the new clubs), matchday one was a grim reminder of how far the new teams have to go.

source: Getty Images5. PENALTY KICK GRACE PRESERVES RESULTS

Liverpool’s Saturday win over Stoke recalled the good and bad of last year: strong play; at times not reflected in the score; sometimes leaving matches to be stolen by lesser teams. Thanks to Simon Mignolet’s 89th minute save on Jon Walter’s penalty kick, Daniel Sturridge’s first half opener held up, giving the Reds the 1-0 win they probably deserved.

But penalty kick grace was also evident at The Hawthorns, where West Brom nearly held on for a 0-0 with Southampton before Ricky Lambert converted in the 90th minute, giving a Saints team that had been the ever-so-slightly better side an ever-so-slightly better result. And in South London, Roberto Soldado’s early second half conversion assured Spurs a result to mirror their control.

source: Getty Images6. SUNDERLAND AS IMPRESSIVE ON GRASS AS ON PAPER

Going into Saturday’s match, the on-paper Black Cats’ didn’t look too impressive, but given the club that survived last year’s Premier League, it was easy to look at the additions of Jozy Altidore, Emmanuel Giaccherini, Cabral, Valentin Roberge, and Ondrej Celustka and see an improved team, overlooking the possibility they may still be inferior to their competition.

Saturday reinforced the notion this team’s facing significant obstacles. Against another flawed side (Fulham), the Black Cats lost at the Stadium of Light , putting only three shots on goal. They did out-shoot Fulham 21-5 and held 57 percent of the ball, but given nine of those shots came after the 52nd minute (when the Pajtim Kasami’s goal gave Fulham incentive to change their approach), Sunderland should lament the result rather than dwell on the circumstances.

LIVE – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

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With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”

Man United’s Europa League clash in doubt over frozen pitch

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Manchester United and Jose Mourinho may not play their UEFA Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez leaving Arsenal? ]

Amid freezing conditions in the Ukrainian city of Odessa (Zorya cannot play their games at home due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine) the pitch underwent an inspection on Thursday and with covers and heaters on the playing surface overnight, there is hope the game should go ahead.

However, Jose Mourinho has already talked about the state of the pitch as not being ideal, while the likes of Daley Blind and Paul Pogba looked far from impressed when they went out for a training session on Wednesday in freezing conditions.

Remember, United only needs a point from the game against Zorya to qualify for the Europa League Round of 32 and Mourinho has selected a strong 19-man squad for the trip. 

A statement from Zorya said the following on Thursday morning, as they remain hopeful of the game going ahead.

“Everything depends on the weather. The pitch is not brilliant at the moment. We are expecting temperatures of two or three degrees and everything should be okay.”

Below was the scene in Odessa yesterday for United’s training session, via Simon Peach of the Press Association.


Yep, the pitch doesn’t look great.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”