Premier League Playback: The Wizard of Oz-il, refs get it wrong and sad Jonjo Shelvey

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“COMPLETE THE PERFECT JOB… SEND ME OFF”

“The problem is he [the referee] told me, ‘If you keep going with your manner, I send you off. I send you up to the stand,’”, Paolo Di Canio said. “My mistake was that I invited him and say, ‘that if you want to complete the perfect job today, you have to send me off.’ And then he said ‘go off.’”

I am not going to check the stats on this one, because this was a first in the 22 year history of the Premier League.

A manager asked to be sent off and referee Martin Atkinson duly obliged. Take a bow Di Canio, you never fail to disappoint. Luckily I spoke to him after Sunderland’s controversial 3-1 defeat to Arsenal as he retold his discussion with Mr. Atkinson.

THE WIZARD OF OZ-IL

Meanwhile, as Spurs fans gushed over Christian Eriksen, in the red half of North London, Mesut Ozil was busy tearing it up on his debut. The German international looked like yawning for the entire first half as he ripped open Sunderland at will. He looks like an Arsenal player, knowing where to pass the ball before he even receives it, flicks, tricks, he’s got the lot. And he does it all with such nonchalance that it makes you wonder if he’s even trying. (Think Dennis Bergkamp, but smaller, and German… you get the picture)

His 10th minute assist on Olivier Giroud’s opener was thing of beauty. As Ozil somehow delicately controlled the looping left-wing  pass from Kieran Gibbs out of the air like an experienced ballerina. Watching it live, I haven’t heard a gasp like that at a stadium for quite some time. The wizard of Oz-il had entranced everyone. The ‘King of the Assist’ had worked his magic once again to record his 73rd helper in the last five seasons, as he leads assists over all players in Europe’s top five leagues. At $60million and on this showing, Ozil will turn Arsenal from top four hopefuls to title contenders.

Watch his wizardry.

TOP PERFORMERS

Aaron Ramsey’s name is popping up here on a regular basis now, but he keeps scoring and pushing the Gunners forward from midfield. Another impressive box-to-box display brought this response from Wenger post-game deep in the dungeons of the Stadium of Light. “He has intelligence, a desire to improve and listen. He has a very learning attitude, and he has a fantastic engine.”

Premier League Schedule – Week 4

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle United Recap and watch here
Everton 1-0 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
Hull City 1-1 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Man United 2-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Southampton 0-0 West Ham Recap and watch here
Stoke City 0-0 Manchester City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Swansea City 2-2 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Norwich Recap and watch here

Elsewhere, Jussi Jaskealinnen earned West Ham a point at rainy Southampton after pulling off a number of fine saves. The 38-year-old Finn rolled back the years. And Everton’s Gareth Barry, on loan from Man City, shone on his Toffees debut with a workmanlike display that proved just how good he is. Christian Eriksen delighted Tottenham fans (more on that later) and Spurs’ Gylfi Sigurdsson rounds off the top five after two tidy finishes.

TOP FIVE GOALS

Watch them below, Arlo White and the boys on production do the rest to explain the importance, beauty and sheer splendor of these strikes. (Apart from Steven Naismith’s goal, can’t quite understand why that’s in there…)

THE ERIKSEN SHOW

Life without Gareth Bale should make things more difficult for Tottenham Hotspur. But if Christian Eriksen starts as he means to go on, the Danish starlet could be Spurs’ next star. Eriksen was the pick of the debutants as Marouane Felliani did okay in a cameo and Ozil dazzles for the first half and faded in the second, while Samuel Eto’o missed a couple of sitters for Chelsea.

Sneaking in just before the transfer deadline from Ajax for $18million, Andre-Villas Boas told me after the North London derby that he thought he’d got a steal. “Eriksen is a wonderfully creative player,” AVB said. “He is a great solution for our number 10 position. I think Christian brings that flair and creativity that we saw at Ajax for these last few years, great ability to see a pass and a player that is used to playing in a high level in Europe. I am extremely pleased to have him.”

So are all the Tottenham fans, after he single-handedly tore apart Norwich City in the 2-0 win on Saturday. Just watch below. Eriksen, despite his receding hairline at the age of 21, is a young star who is set to shine in the PL this season. Spurs bought Bale from Southampton for $11 million in 2007. Looks like they’ve unearthed another gem in Eriksen. Bargain bucket alert.

REFS GET IT WRONG

Oh dear, oh dear. It wasn’t a good weekend for the officials in the Barclays Premier League. We all have off days, but these guys were all over the place. Where to start… John Moss at Old Trafford on Saturday. His ‘was he, wasn’t he’ routine surrounding the delayed penalty kick he awarded to Manchester United was like a Benny Hill sketch. He didn’t know whether or not to give a penalty and then suddenly decided that ‘yes… it must’ve been…oh, I’ll have to send that bloke off now.” That ‘bloke’ was Crystal Palace midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi and he was unlucky as the original tackle was outside the box.

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) Once again, Arsenal’s hero
2. Christian Eriksen (Spurs) Dane tore Norwich apart
3. J. Jaaskelainen (West Ham) 4 great saves, clean sheet
4. Gareth Barry (Everton) At his solid best, reliable
5. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Spurs) 2 cool finishes to seal win

Then, there was Martin Atkinson’s terrible decision to pull the play back as Jozy Altidore outmuscled Bacary Sagna and tucked the ball into the old onion bag for what he thought was his first Black Cats goal… But poor Jozy didn’t hear the ref’s whistle and was already celebrating behind the goal as Atkinson pulled the play back to give Sagna a yellow card (should have been a red) and Sunderland an unwanted free kick.

Cue pandemonium at the Stadium of Light. Di Canio wasn’t happy.

“10, 8.5, 7 FROM THE SWEDISH JUDGE…”

Those were the marks Ashley Young got from the judges at the European Diving Championships on Saturday. Oh, wait, there was no meet in Manchester, but it would explain Young’s ridiculous dive (watch above) in the first half against Palace. This sort of behavior needs to be eradicated from the game. More on that here.

SOMEONE GIVE JONJO A TISSUE…

Please, someone. Never have I seen such a disconsolate young soul being interviewed following a Premier League game. 21-year-old Shelvey started off so well, he scored Swansea’s opener against his former team Liverpool after just two minutes. But then imploded by handing his old employers two goals (Shhh, conspiracy theorists) however he made amends by setting up Michu for the second half equalizer. Either way, watch the interview below to see how down Jonjo is. It’s as strange as it is absorbing, this youngster has experienced the highs and lows of professional soccer all in a few minutes.

If you see this usually cheeky cockney wallowing in the street this week, go up and give him a hug or something. Chin up, Jonjo.

Who are the favorites to take over at Arsenal?

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With Arsene Wenger announcing he will leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, the immediate focus switches to who will take charge of the Gunners beyond this season after almost 22 years of Wenger.

The bookmakers are having a field day slashing the odds of several managers previously linked with the job with nobody really knowing what direction Arsenal’s board will go with their next appointment.

Will they appoint an experienced manager? Or will it be a young coach with a fresh outlook a la Wenger back in 1996?

Here’s a look at the main contenders, according to Oddschecker.


Patrick Vieira (4/1) – Wenger spoke on Thursday about how Vieira has the potential to manage Arsenal but did mention now may be too early. The NYCFC manager has done a fine job in MLS but will Arsenal really hand the reins to their former captain and midfield general? Vieira’s appointment would be welcomed by fans who idolized him but maybe he is the man who should follow the man who replaces Wenger. That said, he is the early favorite to take charge of Arsenal.

Thomas Tuchel (5/1) – Out of work for 12 months, it was heavily reported that Tuchel had agreed to take charge of Arsenal a few months ago. The German coach did well at Borussia Dortmund as they won the German Cup and got the latter stages of the Champions League and he is known for giving youngsters a chance to shine. This would make a lot of sense given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, his former players at Dortmund, arriving at Arsenal in January and the likes of Mesut Ozil around.

Joachim Loew (7/1) – Although the German national team manager has a contract through the 2020 European Championships, later this summer, after the 2018 World Cup, could be the time when Loew steps down from the German national team. He has built a World Cup-winning squad and may feel like he has done everything he can with Die Mannschaft. Loew hasn’t had experience of coaching a club on a day-to-day basis and that may be something which will concern Arsenal’s board.

Brendan Rodgers (7/1) – The odds have been slashed on Celtic’s manager taking charge of Arsenal. The former Liverpool manager (who came so close to winning the Premier League title in 2013/14) has certainly rebuilt his reputation at Celtic and we all know that Rodgers loves to play an attacking style. That fits in seamlessly with what Wenger has built at Arsenal, but would Rodgers’ appointment excite the Arsenal fans? Probably not. Also, with Rodgers known for his teams struggling defensively, there’s a sense that he will just be another Wenger and little progress will be made.

Massimiliano Allegri (10/1) – The Juventus manager is being linked with Chelsea and Arsenal this summer and it is easy to understand why. Allegri has led Juve to three-straight Italian doubles with a solid defensive approach, something Arsenal need more emphasis on if they’re going to make it back to the top four. Allegri has also reached the UEFA Champions League final in two of the three seasons. Seems like it would be a good appointment to improve Arsenal’s defensive unit and play.

Carlo Ancelotti (10/1) – The veteran Italian manager has won everything and he has won it everywhere but he usually takes over established teams with stars delivering. That’s not the case at Arsenal right now. Ancelotti has delivered success at AC Milan, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but he will have to be trusted with a lot of cash to rebuild this Arsenal squad. The former Chelsea manager certainly knows the Premier League well after winning the title and the FA Cup in 2010, so there are no problems there.

Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal

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After almost 22 years in charge, Arsene Wenger has called time on his Arsenal reign.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game ]

Wenger, 68, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Gunners at the end of the current 2017/18 campaign despite having one year remaining on his contract.

Here is the statement from Wenger in full which was posted on Arsenal’s website with the heading “Merci Arsene” taking center stage.

“After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season,” Wenger said. “I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity. I want to thank the staff, the players, the Directors and the fans who make this club so special. I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever.”

The Frenchman is a man who revolutionized the Premier League when he arrived in 1996 and he will be remembered as a bastion of attractive, possession based soccer as his Arsenal team of the 2003/04 season, dubbed the “Invincibles,” will always be remembered for going through an entire PL season unbeaten en route to winning the title.

Wenger has won three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and seven community shield trophies during his time in charge of Arsenal, as well as leading them to 20-straight seasons finishing in the top four of the Premier League and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

That run ended last season as they finished in fifth and in the past few seasons there have been fan protests with “Wenger Out” or “Wenger In” dividing the fanbase.

However, Wenger’s tenure can end on a high in the Europa League as Arsenal face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals and he is essentially three wins away from returning Arsenal to the Champions League.

Wenger has so far managed Arsenal for 1,228 games with 704 wins in all competitions. His final game in charge will be the Europa League final in Lyon, if Arsenal get there. But his final Premier League game in charge of Arsenal will be away at Huddersfield Town on May 13.

The focus will now switch to who will take over from Wenger this summer with the likes of Diego Simeone, Carlo Ancelotti, Brendan Rodgers and Thomas Tuchel all linked with the job.

But in the more immediate future the final few weeks of the 2017/18 campaign in England will turn into an appreciation of Wenger and all he has achieved over the last two decades in charge of Arsenal.

France veteran Malouda loses appeal in Gold Cup case

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former France winger Florent Malouda has lost his appeal against being ruled ineligible to play for French Guiana at the 2017 Gold Cup.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says its judges dismissed Malouda’s appeal against North American soccer body CONCACAF.

French Guiana fielded Malouda in a 0-0 draw against Honduras last July despite being told he was not eligible. CONCACAF awarded a 3-0 win to Honduras and suspended Malouda.

The Gold Cup uses FIFA eligibility rules which bar players from transferring allegiance after playing a competitive game for one country.

Malouda played 80 times for France including a 2006 World Cup final loss against Italy.

The French Guiana soccer federation hoped Malouda, now aged 37, could play in the Gold Cup because it is not a FIFA member.

Report: Bobby Wood unlikely to come to MLS this summer

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A U.S. Men’s National Team forward will probably have to wait a bit longer to come to Major League Soccer if that is the path that he chooses.

Reports have recently surfaced linking Bobby Wood to MLS at the conclusion of the Bundesliga season, however, MLSSoccer.com is reporting that a move for the American likely won’t come in 2018.

Wood, who remains under contract for three more seasons at Hamburg, is currently fighting relegation in Germany with his club side.

Hamburg currently sits 17th in the German top flight, eight points buried in the relegation zone with four matches remaining.

The MLSSoccer.com report suggests that MLS clubs aren’t willing to compensate Wood at the current rate of his contract in Germany.

Currently, Wood is making “several million dollars” per season, and even if Hamburg is relegated in 2017/18 Wood’s contract wouldn’t decrease to a number that clubs are comfortable paying.

If Wood was to join MLS, he would be considered a Discovery signing as he is not currently on the MLS player allocation list. The Washington Post previously reported that an MLS club has Wood included on their Discovery list, although the team’s identity isn’t known.