Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Arsenal

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  • Swansea haven’t won any of their last seven league games at home
  • Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey has scored 7 goals in 7 games this season
  • The Gunners have lost two of their last 21 PL games (16-2-3)

Arsenal will go into the game against Swansea on Saturday (12:30pm ET live on NBC and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) looking for their 12th straight away win, extending a club record.

And with the form their currently in, not many would bet against it.

During the week Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has publicly backed Arsene Wenger to stay in charge for many more season, with the Frenchman celebrating his 17 years in charge this week.

As for the home side, Swansea will be buoyant after two wins in their last three league games and a great point at home against Liverpool. They’ve also prospered in the Europa League with a 3-0 win against Valencia in Spain, but came crashing down to earth on Wednesday night as they lost to Birmingham City in the third round of the League Cup, to surrender the trophy they won last year at the very first hurdle. Three games in six days is hard for a squad of Swansea’s size to handle.

As a result of that, Swans manager Michael Laudrup will be looking for a reaction in what will be a beautiful game of soccer between two teams who to stroke the ball around. Swansea have seen Spanish striker Michu deliver the goods in the past two Premier League games, and he must be on top form if they going to take anything from this.

Arsenal sit top of the table, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil running the show, but injuries are stacking up for the Gunners which is the main threat to derailing their title ambitions.

Ramsey is touch and go for the game in his homeland, while Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky are all out injured.

Swansea have no real injury concerns, as Ashely Williams should return to the action after missing their midweek League Cup defeat. Look forward to a game full of creative passing, flowing movements and clinical finishing. This will be a real cracker.

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger on 17 years in charge at Arsenal: “For me the most interesting is tomorrow’s game. [I’ve never thought] that I don’t really need this anymore. I want it even more. I think the good thing about football is that it’s unpredictable and the next game is always a discovery and a new adventure and so you focus on that. All the rest is decoration. What is important is that you feel you can do your job where you are and I’m very grateful to this club because during the 17 years we’ve had ups and downs, but they have always shown a big faith in me and they always let me do the job like I thought it had to be done.”

Michael Laudrup on having so many games in a short space of time: “Europe can be a hindrance. You see it not just in this country but all over Europe, especially with teams who are not used to playing European football like us. But it is not so much tiredness physically, but because of all the games players can lose a bit of focus. It’s not even the number of games but the fact that you can have three matches in three different competitions in six days, like we have just had.”

Prediction

This should be one of the purest spectacles of soccer you will see in the Premier League this season, as both teams will look to keep the ball and penetrate through the center with lovely creative movements. The Gunners are on a roll, but with their injury list growing longer, a draw away at the Liberty Stadium would be a good result. And I think that’s exactly what will happen, as two free-flowing sides will cancel each other out. Goals galore, hopefully.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.