Arsenal v Norwich City - Premier League

Quick Six: Top Stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. WITH ARSENAL, REASONS FOR DOUBT THINNING OUT

It’s not just that Arsenal’s winning. It’s how they’re winning. Though the Premier League’s leaders are merely second in their league both goals scored and goal difference, there’s an element of control to their game that transcends those rankings. We’ve seen it during their not-so-glamorous (but still good) performances against Tottenham and Swansea, and now we’ve seen it when they really click it into gear: their 4-1 win over Norwich City.

[MORE: Arsenal 4-1 Norwich City – Teamwork and class on display for Gunners.]

Granted, it was only Norwich, who have struggled to seven points through their first eight matches, but against that type of competition, Arsenal gave the type of performance you want to see from a title-contenders. They got an early goal from Jack Wilshere, and after making it to halftime without building on their dominance, scored early in the second half. After Norwich delivered them a wake-up call that halved their lead, the Gunners pulled away. Come full time, it was 4-1.

It was Arsenal’s largest win of the season, and along with a still-missing victory over another top-of-the-table power, it was one of the pieces missing from their title-contending résumé. We still need to see them knock off a Manchester City or Chelsea (or Liverpool, for that matter), but we also need to know they won’t get nickle-and-dimed by the bottom of the table. When they play a bad team, they need to treat them like a bad team. They need to put them beyond the reach of a late penalty, random corner, or other variables that sees better sides pulled back by lessers. They need to dominate.

Arsenal showed they may have moved beyond, and while there are still questions about their title-contending case, the doubts are diminishing. The Gunners continue to improve.

2. ARISE SIR ANDROS, THIS WEEK’S NEXT-LATEST STAR

When Gareth Bale left for Real Madrid, it was assumed Erik Lamela would be the man to pick up (some of) the slack, the 21-year-old Argentine’s $41 million price reflecting talent that produced 15 goals from wide in last year’s Serie A. Instead it was Gylfi Sigurdsson, once thought surpluse, who filled the immediate void. Now, carrying over his international form, Andros Townsend is setting up on the other side, giving Spurs the direct option their attack desperately lacked while sputtering through the start of the season.

By direct option, we don’t mean hitting long balls down the right for Townsend to run onto, though given the England international’s current confidence level, that would probably work. Instead, what we mean is an option that allows Tottenham to go directly at a defense, try to win a one-on-one battle, and score a goal without having to relying on them tapping their way through a slowly manipulated seam. Only 22 and seeing his first regular action with Spurs, Townsend gives André Villas-Boas something that can work when tactics and approach don’t.

He’s nowhere close to Aaron Ramsey’s level, but like the Arsenal midfielder, he has a chance to be one of the season’s breakout stars. Add Ross Barkley to that list, potentially Adnan Januzaj, Ravel Morrison (of course) and keep in mind the likes of Dejan Lovren, even if he’s a bit older. Regardless, there’s a group of players exerting themselves early, impacts on the Premier League – a selection of talents few were touting as impact players two months ago. Barkley led the pack at the onset. Then it was Zanuzaj’s turn.

This week, it’s Townsend. Who knows who’s next, but odds are, more players will fill the void the previous generation’s left behind. Townend’s just our latest treat.

3. CHELSEA’S SPECIAL DISTRATION

Sometimes you wonder if we like the spectacle more than the competition. Case in point: After Chelsea’s win on Saturday, more people were talking about José Mourinho than his team’s lopsided result. You’d think like Arsenal’s, a 4-1 win would be something to trumpet, and it was, but when your manager is Mourinho, the broader press is always going to dwell on the Special One.

[MORE: Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff – Hazard double leads Blues.]

They should be dwelling on Eden Hazard, the Belgian international having the type of influence fans hoped to see on a regular basis when he was lured from Lille last year. Though Cardiff’s poor defending (goalkeeping lumped in) played a huge part in the result, Hazard had a hand in each goal,  his most clever contribution being the off-the-ball run that prevented Kévin Theóphil-Catherine from being in position to close down Oscar ahead of his goal.

Perhaps more encouraging than Hazard, however, was Samuel Eto’o, who played a part in two goals before coming off. His first contribution was controversial, with Cardiff still seeking an explanation why he was allowed to poke the ball away while David Marshall attempted to bounce it. (Why? Why not. Don’t bounce the ball, man.) But like Hazard, the important thing isn’t so much the how as the how many. Eto’o’s involvement’s increasing, giving fans reason to think he may yet fill their void up top.

But all of that was overshadowed by Mourinho, who (in getting sent off) put himself at the center of attention. Of course, he’s not the one that writes the articles or produces the television segments, but he is the one who sokes it all in. This is all part of the package you get when you toss him the keys.

It’s annoying, if you look at it through your grandfather’s monocle, but the act mostly ends up being helpful (even if it bit him during his last days at Real Madrid). Contrary to popular assumption, most athletes don’t want microphones in their faces all day. Mourinho lures them away, but not so much that the attention-seekers can’t find an attentive lens. During the lulls in the season, this ends up being a good thing, as Mourinho can deflect attention while the team focuses on their jobs.

On weekends like this, though, he might detract from a 4-1 win, if only a little.

4. DAVID MOYES: THE ANTI-FERGUSON

Supporters will complain it’s unfair to compare David Moyes to his predecessor, but he signed up for the job. Whomever followed Alex Ferguson was destined to jump the icon’s shadow, and given United’s coming off a title-winning season, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect the Red Devils to persist near the top of the table. It’s not like the team thinned out when Fergie went to his stables.

All this needs to be reiterated because some will see Saturday’s result as acceptable in some broader, charitable sense, and those bleeding hearts may be right. One point from Southampton may not only be a decent result but eventually be cast in the greater context of Moyes’ success story. The middling results that have characterized the start of this season could be the momentary transition between two successful bosses.

[MORE: Manchester United 1-1 Southampton: Saints snare deserved draw.]

But with Saints snatching a late equalizer at Old Trafford, it’s impossible to ignore another point of contrast. Alex Ferguson’s teams were famous for those results – the last minute, little stabs that ripped results from their opponent’s hearts. Manchester United are the ones that are supposed to be snatching late equalizers, not their opponents.

Maybe those days are gone. Maybe it’s just the Manchester United of Ferguson that could defy the odds. Moyes’s Devils are already proving much more human.

5. GARETH BARRY AND MORE THIN MARGINS

The Manchester City loanee had his most-influential game of the year, if you go by Hull City manager Steve Bruce’s reaction to his performance. The no-longer-Tigers boss couldn’t help but note Barry’s involvement screening the first goal (though not from the offside position Bruce suggests), taking out one of his attackers with a tackle, and then going over the ball on another challenge that could have been a sending off.

“The one on Danny Graham is bad enough,” Bruce said, alluding to the tackle that forced the Hull City attacker out after 17 minutes. “That is worthy of a yellow card. But the challenge on Aluko is absolutely horrific. It is over the top of the ball.”

Aluko played on, eventually scoring the equalizer, but Bruce’s complaints highlight just how close the margins of a soccer game can be. If Barry gets a yellow early, he’s hindered for the rest of the match. If he sees a second yellow or straight red on the Aluko challenge, Hull are in a much better place to take a result out of Goodison. And if Kevin Mirallas’s opener is waved off, the linesman making the same mistake Bruce made? Well, goals change matches.

Everton pulled this one out, a late goal from Steven Pienaar leaving the Toffees eighth, the result further illustrating those thin margins. Hull didn’t have enough to distinguish themselves from Everton and left empty-handed, one late goal costing them a point. And from Everton’s point of view, they needed the official’s benevolence (rightly or wrongly given) to maintain their chance to hold off one of the league’s more limited sides.

That’s why Arsenal’s win was so telling. That’s why Everton’s win, despite their record, prompts questions, although with their 4-1-3, they’re the type of questions Toffees should be happy to entertain.

6. BIPOLARISM IN THE ENGLISH NORTH EAST: A NEWCASTLE UNITED STORY

After their draw with Liverpool, Newcastle sits 10th in the Premier League, a remarkable status for a team that’s looked Championship-caliber at multiple points this season. Manchester City routed them in their opener, Everton went up three on them at Goodison, and the Magpies managed to lose at home to Hull. You’d likely get better results from Burnley, Queens Park Rangers, or Leicester City.

[MORE: Newcastle 2-2 Liverpool: 10-man Magpies hold Reds.]

But that poor quality hasn’t carried over into Newcastle’s other games, where a 3-0-2 record has fueled their rise to mediocrity. Along the way they’ve won at Villa and Cardiff while managing a point while down a man to the Liverpool. Even after considering the quality of their opposition, these are still incredibly schizophrenic results.

On Sunday they played 50 minutes without the recarded Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa only to see his replacement, Paul Dummett restore the lead the Frenchman relinquished. Though Daniel Sturridge would later build on Steven Gerrard’s conversion, bringing Liverpool back to 2-2, Newcastle held on for a point few saw them getting at kickoff. The underdogs, down a man, salvaged a result.

For Liverpool, it’s still worth waiting until Lucas Leiva returns before passing judgment (they’re also missing Philippe Coutinho from a formation where he’ll be a focal point), but for Newcastle, uncertainty lingers. While the unexpected point was nice to get, does that resourcefulness hint this team shouldn’t be losing to the likes of Hull? Or, should these results be seen as the exception to the rule?

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.