Dominance then control see Arsenal cruise past Napoli, 2-0

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Was it Arsenal’s best performance of the year? Or Napoli’s worse? In order to get a game this lopsided, it’d almost have to be both, with the Premier League leaders handing the Partenopei a decisive first loss to their season, 2-0 this evening at the Emirates.

The win leaves Arsenal alone on top of UEFA Champions League’s Group F, with Napoli and Borussia Dortmund, winners over Marseille at the Westfalenstadion, trailing by three points.

The Gunners controlled the game from its early moments but waited until the eighth minute to launch their first major attack, a long ball to striker Olivier Giroud starting a Arsenal transition that tore Napoli open for the game’s first goall. After chesting down 15 yards inside his opponent’s half, Giroud played wide and behind the defense to a streaking Aaron Ramsey, whose foray toward goal ended when he cut a pass back toward the middle of the penalty area. There, a trailing Mesut Özil’s exquisite left-footed finish curled into the left side of goal, eluding a sprawling Pepe Reina to open the scoring.

Seven minutes later, Napoli was even more complicit in their demise, with a poor clearance intercepted at the edge of their defensive third ahead leading to the match-sealing goal. On a ball sent back in to Giroud, the French striker found Özil before moving toward the front of goal. The return ball found the Arsenal number nine for a finish high into Reina’s net, giving Arsenal an early two-goal lead.

Arsenal maintained control throughout the first half, waiting for a Napoli challenge that didn’t arrive. Apparently set to play conservatively on the road, Rafa Benítez’s team never came out of their shell, and while halftime seemed the logical point for the Italians to start chasing their two-goal deficit, the plan remained the same. Napoli would finish the match with only one shot on goal, holding only 37 percent of the match’s possession.

source: Reuters
Mesut Özil’s goal, assist on Tuesday at the Emirates helped run Arsenal’s all-competition record to 9-1-0 this season. The team now leads both the Premier League and their Champions League group. (Photo: AP Photo.)

In their first loss of the year, Napoli also played their worst game of the year; even worse than last week’s draw at last place Sassuolo. That 1-1 result, an initial blemish that seemed so disappointing at the time, will be put in perspective by a Tuesday effort that seemed not only poor but unwilling. Nobody could have foreseen such a meek performance.

Arsenal, however, took advantage of their visitors early. Rather than letting a lackadaisical opponent settle into the match, a new, more confident Arsenal made Napoli pay within 15 minutes, with the three stars that have fueled this season’s rise leading todays charge. Aaron Ramsey, the team’s best player throughout the season, was instrumental on the opening goal, with Olivier Giroud rewarded for his part by being set up for the second. And Mesut Özil, whose acquisition has become symbolic of this Gunner resurgence, played a part in both goals, a pristine finish to open the scoring complemented by his assist on goal number two.

Arsène Wenger’s team went up against a poor opponent, but it was their job to make them look bad,. By that standard, today’s win was a resounding success. The 2-0 ultimately flattered a Napoli team who, packing into their end for much of the game, could have easily been on the wrong end of a truly embarrassing result.

Perhaps that mercy was another product of Arsenal’s confidence. Regardless, the Gunners sit first in Group F, their perfect start continuing on a surprisingly easy night at the Emirates.

Sweden announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s public flirtation and seeming committal to returning to the Swedish national team for the World Cup was a big tease.

Whether it’s his call or not is up for debate.

The Swedish Football Association reports that it’s spoken with Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has declined the chance to return to the fold.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Sweden’s sporting director Lars Richt says Ibrahimovic has not changed his mind on international retirement despite his own words.

Sweden’s current team may have a role in that.

We imagine Richt and Sweden may be cushioning the blow for Ibrahimovic, especially if national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson is speaking on behalf of a team vibe when he speaks of Zlatan being “an individualist” who could ruin Sweden’s team-first concept.

Report: Fulham, NFL owner Khan agrees $700m price for Wembley

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Fulham owner Shad Khan also owns a National Football League team, and could have two top-flight teams from different nations playing in England soon.

For Fulham, the Cottagers are currently very much in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League and at the least will have a chance at qualifying through the playoffs.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

For the Jaguars, who have rarely needed all the seats in their stadium, it could mean a move to London if Khan goes through with what’s being reported as an accepted $700 million bid to buy Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was also built with the design to host NFL games.

Here’s how ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith puts a bow on it (on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar, nonetheless):

So it’s possible that there could soon be two iconic soccer stadiums in London with strong NFL ties, one which was built with NFL games in mind, and another that is owned by an NFL owner. The league is pouring serious resources into London.

It seems unlikely Khan would move Fulham from Craven Cottage, but there are other repercussions of this move for soccer in England.

There’s the potential for the England national team to no longer utlizie a permanent home, and the FA Cup and League Cup both potentially requiring new or rotating venues for their final rounds.

A lot to monitor here, and we’ll surely have all the details as they emerge from Khan’s crew.

TFC on CCL loss: “Feels the heart has been ripped from the chest”

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Michael Bradley went 90 minutes at center back, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco scored, and Toronto FC nearly, oh-so-nearly, became the first Major League Soccer side to win a continental title in the CONCACAF Champions League era.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“We wanted to be the first (MLS side) to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono, according to MLSSoccer.com. “We failed in that goal; that’s massively disappointing. … This is the way the game goes, it’s unjust; it feels the heart has been ripped from the chest sometimes.”

Bono made some big saves in regulation as TFC flipped its 2-1 first leg loss on its ear over 90 minutes, but Chivas Guadalajara scored all four of their penalty kick attempts as Jonathan Osorio hit the bar and Bradley set his effort on a path to the moon.

That part was possibly academic, as Chivas could’ve sealed it with their fifth penalty, but Marky Delgado’s miss of a perfect Sebastian Giovinco stoppage time cross is what sent the match into kicks.

Here’s how The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson framed his post-match interview with Delgado, described as one of the few players not to walk past the media after the loss:

“That’s football sometimes,” Delgado searched for words. “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it goes in. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s heartbreaking.”

It felt cruel to keep him standing there any longer.

“Wherever we are, we want to win,” the soft-spoken American said. “Unfortunately today we didn’t, but we know we dominated the game.”

And Bradley, in the season after Toronto won a trouble but also 18 months removed from missing a PK in the MLS Cup Final — not to mention marshaling the USMNT midfield in its monumental failure to qualify for the World Cup was mostly good in playing out-of-position.

“In the biggest moments, we threw caution to the wind and played with balls, bravery, and pride in ourselves, in each other, in our club and our city,” Bradley said on Canadian television outlet TSN.

They did, and now they must hope to win the Canadian Championship, MLS Supporters’ Shield, or MLS Cup to get another shot at qualifying for the Club World Cup.

Toronto loses CONCACAF Champions League in PKs

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Chivas Guadalajara scored on all of its penalty kicks to clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, breaking the hearts of Toronto FC in Mexico on Wednesday and earning a berth in the 2018 Club World Cup.

Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore scored in regulation as Toronto FC picked up a 2-1 win to reverse their first leg loss and push it to kicks.

Orbelin Pineda scored Chivas’ goal.

Hometown kid Jonathan Osorio hit the cross bar on Toronto’s second PK and Michael Bradley sent the fifth offering into outer space.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

Toronto flew out of the gates, and Rodolfo Cota came flying off his line to deny Altidore a 10th minute chance.

Alex Bono collected a header off a Chivas corner kick earned by a counterattack.

Pineda then made Toronto’s task even harder with a 19th minute goal, cooking Auro’s mark to reach a through ball and dancing around Bono for 1-0.

But Altidore was somehow unmarked for Nic Hasler’s pass despite five Chivas defenders and Cota inside the six-yard box, and TFC leveled the second leg at 1.

And TFC got the next goal through Giovinco, slipped through by Marky Delgado and taking advantage of a yard of space and a second to shoot with his fourth goal of the CCL knockout rounds.

The Reds kept coming in the second half, with Delgado winning a big 50-50 ball deep in Chivas territory and Victor Vasquez ripping a shot that Cota dove to smother.

Chivas found its footing in 58th minute, sending a shot over the bar before Jesus Godinez hit the post in the 61st (though his dive seemingly had the near post covered). Bono the next knocked a free kick over the bar from a similar position as the ball that beat him in the first leg.

Javier Lopez curled a vicious attempt just over the goal in the 72nd. He’d have the next best chances moments after Altidore subbed off with an apparent hamstring injury, but dribbled onto Bono’s lap and fired off the keeper.

Giovinco worked a 1-2 with Osorio and cruised a shot just wide of the far post in the 87th minute. Delgado then mailed a sitter over the bar in the first minute of stoppage time.