Quick Six: Top Premier League storylines from weekend no. 2

2 Comments

1. THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH AARON RAMSEY CAN DISGUISE WITH ARSENAL

I haven’t met the person who, after this week, isn’t slightly happy for Aaron Ramsey. I’m not sure I want to. A standout four days for the 22-year-old comes after a five years of promise, injury, doubt, and criticism. For one week, however, the Wales international has lived up to the hype that accompanied him from Cardiff City in 2008.

Back then, an 17-year-old Ramsey was the subject of a bidding war, most notably between Arsenal and Manchester United. He eventually chose North London, embarking on a career that was momentarily sidetracked two years later, his leg broken by a Ryan Shawcross tackle. Returning to the Gunners 14 months later, Ramsey won a role in Arsène Wenger’s squad only to become one of many faces not quite good enough to meet supporters’ ambitions. That he was bought so young, had trouble nailing doubt a specific role, and saw more time in the wake of Cesc Fábregas’s departure made him a de facto symbol of Arsenal’s plight.

But if Ramsey truly is a symbol, then things are looking up for the Gunners, because for two straight matches, he’s been great – arguably the club’s best player. On Wednesday in Istanbul, Ramsey helped create one and scored another as Arsenal downed Fenerbahçe, 4-0. Saturday at Craven Cottage, he was similarly controlling, leaving the injured Mikel Arteta far from the minds of the Arsenal faithful as the Gunners ran out 3-1 winners.

That’s not to say all is well with Arsenal. The problems brought up in the wake of their loss to Villa are still there. If Arsène Wenger chooses to bask in the glow of Ramsey’s glory, he’ll overlook the fact the club still need a central defender, midfielder, better goalkeeping, and potentially help in attack if they’re truly going to compete on all fronts.

But at a time when the club’s fans needed something, anything to show hope need not be lost, a long-held prospect has emerged. And after all he’s been through, why not Aaron Ramsey? Somebody we can all get behind.

source: Reuters2. FOR SPURS, LIVERPOOL, STAR POWER’S OVERRATED

Perhaps Tottenham do need a Gareth Bale-like presence, but the idea that they’re a one-man team is being debunked. Whereas last year Spurs seemed incapable of winning unless their star got on the scoresheet, now they don’t even need him in the team. After their 1-0 win over Swansea City, André Villas-Boas’s side is perfect through two rounds.

But Spurs aren’t the only team thriving without their leading man. With Luis Súarez suspended, Liverpool have also opened with two wins, their second coming Saturday at Aston Villa. Daniel Sturridge (right) has picked up the scoring slack, scoring in each of Liverpool’s 1-0 wins, but perhaps more importantly, Simon Mignolet has proven a prescient signing in goal.

Of course Liverpool and Spurs would be better if they had last year’s stars. And eventually, Liverpool will have theirs. But for all the talk of these clubs being one-man teams last year, it hasn’t taken long for Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers to remind us: There are other ways to win soccer games.

3. MANUEL PELLEGRINI MAY NOT BE ALEX FERGUSON

Given how effusive we were on Monday after City’s trouncing of Newcastle, it behooves us to take a step back from our Manuel Pellegrini praise. And given how long I’ve doted on the former Villarreal, Real Madrid, Málaga boss, I may be due for two, maybe three steps away from the champagne. No, Richard, Pellegrini is not going to redefine English football.

source: Getty ImagesSunday seemed a classic “you don’t know what you’re getting into game,” one a new coach could overlook. On talent, there isn’t much room for Cardiff City to compete with the Sky Blues, but the style of game in the English leagues (or, more readily, the culture) somehow creates an environment where results like this are more likely. Where pace, power, and passion are such integral parts of the sporting ethos, you’re not going to be able to knock the ball around for an hour, take a 1-0 lead, and consider your opponents convinced.

And there’s no reason to think Manchester City assumed as much, yet the match played out that way. Eight minutes after Edin Dzeko opened the scoring, Cardiff had their first of three second half goals, going on to a 3-2 win.

Perhaps there’s nothing Pellegrini could have done to prevent that, but his substitutions didn’t help. Nor did his willingness to roll the dice with Javi Garcia at the back. Ultimately, in his second game in England, Pellegrini lost with a vastly more-talented side.

source: Getty Images4. PROMOTED SIDES BREAK THROUGH

Give Cardiff City credit. They played well; better than most thought them capable of. Perhaps Manchester City could have done more, but Cardiff did well to stick around. And once City cracked — once the visitors ground their gears while trying to find cruise — the Bluebirds pounced. Even if City played better, Cardiff may have found a way to win their first Premier League match at home.

Hull City, on the other hand, had to hang on after losing a man before the half hour mark, though by the time Yannick Sagbo saw himself dismissed, Robbie Brady had already converted from the spot. What followed was less of a siege than a persistent probing, Norwich unable to exert enough pressure to crack the Tigers. They held the ball of 61 percent of the time, brought on the newly acquired Johan Elmander, but couldn’t many more than four shots on goal, a paltry amount considering the 73 minutes with a man advantage.

The only thing that prevented a clean sweep for the promoted club was a comeback at the Britannia, with Stoke City handing Crystal Palace their second straight loss. Regardless, both Cardiff City and Hull City are not only into the win column, they’re outside of the drop zone. For now.

source: Getty Images5. FOUR GAMES, TWO POINTS IN THE NORTH EAST

It should go without saying Newcastle’s first two games have not been good enough. Their first, a thrashing at the boots of Manchester City, can’t be explained by the Yohan Cabaye controversy. Their second, a 0-0 draw against visiting West Ham United, saw the home side fail to register a shot on goal. Alan Pardew’s contract may run through 2020 (no joke), but the same questions of his performance that hovered at the end of last season are about resurface.

Sunderland, in the meantime, also earned a point on Saturday despite the fact they failed to carryover any of the control they showed against Fulham. The nearly didn’t need it, though, with a third minute goal from Emanuele Giaccherini holding up for 85 minutes. If it wasn’t for a goal two minutes from time from Jose Forte, the Black Cats would have completed their smash and grab.

Despite the draws, both teams clearly have a long way to go. While Sunderland has shown some promise, they’ve played two drastically different games, leaving questions as to what they truly have at the Stadium of Light. Newcastle, on the other hand, have played two games they’ll want back.

6. TOO EARLY TO PASS JUDGMENT ON ASTON VILLA, SWANSEA CITY

source: Getty ImagesVilla’s first week has seen them face three European aspirants, with Paul Lambert’s team losing the one game they may have expected to win nine. That they got a surprise result at Arsenal last Saturday means the Liverpool loss stings a little less, though with three points from matches with the Gunners, Chelsea, and the Reds, Villa can be happy with their returns. Had they taken one point from those three games, fans could have rationalized the results.

It does put Lambert in a strange position. He’s trying to evaluate what he has with his team, but he doesn’t have a good point of comparison. Against Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool, Villa were always going to be outgunned. That they did, much of the time, look outgunned not only wasn’t a surprise but also led to 270 minutes where it’s hard to gauge his team’s absolute quality. Lambert will have to rely on his experience to fill in the gaps.

Michael Laudrup’s in the same situation. Swansea’s faced Manchester United and Tottenham, two teams they weren’t expected to beat. That they didn’t take points won’t be seen as a disappointment; however, Swansea’s also left with a skewed perception of self, one that won’t help them determine how they stack up against the other Europa League-aspirants.

“Emotional” Mertesacker: Send Wenger off “with a cup”

Leave a comment

Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has made 220 appearances for the club, all with one man in charge of the Gunners: Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Mertesacker has won three FA Cups with Wenger, and he took up his pen — or laptop — for Sunday’s Matchday program.

The 33-year-old German says it’s down to Arsenal’s players to send off Wenger right: With two more successful rounds in the UEFA Europa League against Atletico Madrid and either Red Bull Salzburg or Marseille. From the BBC:

“We were only informed on Friday about the manager’s decision to step down at the end of the season, so it’s still quite emotional,” Mertesacker said.

“He’s been the major figure of this club for more than 20 years. He’s been so impressive for me and he has trusted me so much throughout my career, in bringing me here and making me captain even when I was injured. He also gave me a future role here at the club so I am very grateful and humbled for the opportunity he gave to me.

“There’s now an emphasis on us doing it for him too. We want to give him the send-off he deserves: with a cup.”

The French legend to end his time at Arsenal against Marseille would be delightful, don’t you think?

Watch Live: Arsenal-West Ham, Stoke-Burnley

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

The Premier League has a pair of 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday kickoffs for us this morning, including one of Arsene Wenger‘s final matches at Arsenal.

There’s a London Derby between Arsenal and West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners look to stay fresh for Atletico Madrid and the Hammers aim to firm up their Premier League status for next season (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Welbeck, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Holding, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Nelson. Aubameyang.

West Ham United: Hart, Zabaleta, Ogbonna, Rice, Cresswell, Masuaku, Kouyate, Noble, Fernandes, Mario, Arnautovic. Subs: Adrian, Cullen, Evra, Lanzini, Hugill, Carroll, Chicharito.


Stoke City’s climb out of the relegation zone will have to overcome Burnley’s desires for a Top Six place, as the Clarets can pass sixth place Arsenal with a win and a Gunners loss to West Ham (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, M.Indi, Pieters; Bauer, Allen, Badou, Shaqiri; Crouch, Diouf. Subs: Haugaard, Zouma, Ireland, Cameron, Fletcher, Ramadan, Campbell.

Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Long, Tarkowski, Ward, Lennon, Cork, Westwood, Gudmundsson, Wood, Barnes. Subs: Heaton, Taylor, Marney, Vokes, Hendrick, Walters, Bardsley.

Ligue 1: Depay’s goal streak hits 5 games; Lyon reeling in Monaco

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MONACO (AP) Lyon won at Dijon 5-2 and moved within one point of second-place Monaco in the French league on Friday.

Lyon’s sixth straight league win kept them level on points with fourth-place Marseille.

The team finishing second qualifies automatically for next season’s Champions League, while the team in third goes into the playoffs. After this weekend, there will be four rounds remaining.

Memphis Depay has scored or created 12 of Lyon’s 16 last goals.

The Netherlands forward opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a close-range volley, and set up the fourth goal for winger Bertrand Traore in the 77th.

Depay almost scored another, just failing to reach right back Rafael‘s cross in the 50th. Midfielder Houssem Aouar followed up and his strike was turned into his own net by defender Valentin Rosier.

Lyon’s other goals came from forwards Nabil Fekir in the 53rd and Maxwell Cornet in the 82nd.


MONACO (AP) — After losing the French title last weekend, Monaco is in danger of throwing away second place after losing at Guingamp 3-1 on Saturday.

The defeat leaves Monaco just one point ahead of Lyon and Marseille as the three sides chase an automatic place in the Champions League with four games left.

Monaco was thrashed by champion Paris Saint-Germain 7-1 last Sunday and the defense leaked easily again, albeit with a little help from one of its defenders.

A makeshift Monaco fell behind midway through the first half after Brazilian defender Jemerson was given a red card for stopping a shot on the line. He was sent off and veteran forward Jimmy Briand netted from the penalty spot for mid-table Guingamp.

Monaco capitulated and trailed 3-0 after 47 minutes. Defender Almamy Toure replied in vain with a consolation goal midway through the second half.


Marseille crushed Lille 5-1 to join Lyon on 69 points. Lyon, which won at Dijon 5-2 on Friday for a sixth straight win, has a better goal difference.

Marseille also has the Europa League and plays the first leg of its semifinal at home to Austrian side Salzburg next Thursday. But Lyon has only Ligue 1 to think about.

Still, Marseille is also brimming with confidence these days, especially winger Florian Thauvin.

He scored twice against Lille to extend his career-best league tally to 19. Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou also netted twice, and forward Lucas Ocampos completed the rout against 19th-place Lille.

In other matches: Amiens won against Strasbourg 3-1; struggling Toulouse beat Angers 2-0, and last-place Metz drew at home to Caen 1-1.

PSG is at Bordeaux on Sunday. Also, Nice is at home to Montpellier, and Saint-Etienne takes on Troyes.

UEFA says Europa League trophy not damaged after being stolen

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says the Europa League trophy was not damaged after being stolen in Mexico.

The silverware was at a promotional event in the central city of Leon when it was reported by authorities to have been taken from a vehicle.

The theft came ahead of the semifinals of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

UEFA says the “Europa League trophy was in Mexico for a partner event and got briefly stolen. It was quickly recovered and has suffered no damages.”

In the semifinal first legs next week, Arsenal plays Atletico Madrid and Marseille takes on Salzburg.