Arsenal 3-1 Stoke: Ozil triple threat as Gunners set-pieces sink Stoke (video)

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Mesut Ozil continued to shine for his new London club, grabbing all three assists on set-pieces as Arsenal thumped Stoke City at the Emirates 3-1 on Sunday.

The win is their seventh straight in all competitions, as all of a sudden the Gunners are now top of the table in the Barclays Premier League.

Arsenal pressed early, and Stoke did all they could not to break.  The early defensive effort was not enough for the visitors though. Mesut Ozil crashed a free kick on goal which Asmir Begovic parried, but only in the path of Ramsey who touched home for the opener in under five minutes.

Jack Wilshire proved a physical presence in the midfield early on for Arsenal, although some of his challenges were less than advisable.  Stoke slowly played themselves into the game, gaining a bit more of possession around the 20th minute mark.

It was the counter that earned Stoke their equalizer.  An absolutely beautiful lofted ball from Steve Nzonzi up to Marouane Chamakh saw the Belgian clatter the left post of Szczesny’s goal, but American Geoff Cameron was there for the rebound, which he put on the opposite end of the net and no chance for the Polish keeper.

With Theo Walcott proving unfit just before the match for the Gunners, 18-year-old Serge Gnabry got his first Premier League start.  The youngster was heavily involved, with Arsene Wenger choosing to build mostly from the right flank with Ramsey and Gnabry combining well.

Arsenal continued to be dangerous on set-pieces, coming close on a number of corners and free-kicks.  That was exactly where they reestablished their lead from, as Ozil delivered a great corner in the 35th minute and Per Mertesacker – always a threat on those plays – headed home from long range.  Laurent Koscienly actually had a chance to redirect the header to be sure it goes in.  He missed, but the ball went past Begovic anyways.

The first chance of the second half fell to Arsenal, as Olivier Giroud almost scored his fifth goal of the young season.  Gnabry did well to pick off a pass in the attacking half and lay off the ball to Giroud who took the 2-on-1 situation himself, firing a laser beam at the top right corner which Begovic did very well to save full-stretch.

The third Arsenal goal came again on a free kick in the 73rd minute, as Ozil delivered a long ball over the pack of players in the box to Bacary Sagna on the far side, who looped his header over Begovic into the far corner.  It was a lovely header from the defender, not someone you’d normally back to score like you would a more aerial threat such as Mertesacker.

Stoke have had a decent start under Mark Hughes and didn’t look totally hapless, but in the end were outclassed by a team clicking on all cylinders.  Hughes’ side remains on 7 points hovering around mid-table.

Goals:

Arsenal – Ramsey 5′, Mertesacker 36′, Sagna 72′
Stoke – Cameron 26′

Lineups:

Arsenal – Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielney, Gibbs; Flamini, Ramsey; Wilshire, Ozil (Arteta, 80′), Gnabry; Giroud.

Stoke – Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Pieters (Palacios, 67′); Walters, Wilson, Nzonzi, Adam (Ireland, 59′), Arnautovic; Jones (Pennant, 75′).

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”