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?

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.

Premier League Power Rankings: In tiers

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Liverpool has knocked Manchester City from the Champions League, but sits 19 points behind the leaders and City has a match-in-hand.

Manchester United beat City just weeks ago, but was bounced from the UCL even earlier. The Red Devils also took four of six points from Liverpool.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Spurs are fourth in the table but also took four of six from Liverpool and could be level on points with the Reds by winning its match-in-hand.

So the question remains, who’s the best team in the Premier League right now? That’s why we’re revisiting our Premier League Power Rankings for the first time in a while, since City was the unquestioned No. 1 for months.

Will it change anything? Spoiler alert: Probably not.

Spots 20-14: Not safe yet

20. West Bromwich Albion: The Baggies are going down, but Darren Moore has at least instilled some life into a moribund bunch which was saddled with the dour and unsuccessful tactics of Tony Pulis before moving onto the peppy and hard-to-understand tactics of Alan Pardew.

19. Stoke City — The Paul Lambert jump has faded, and the Potters’ inferior goal differential and one more match played than both Southampton and Swansea City feel like a death knell.

18. Southampton — Yes, the Bottom Three is the same as the table, but Saints are a New South Coast Derby win away from sitting three points back of pulling Palace and perhaps Huddersfield Town and West Ham United back into the picture.

17. Huddersfield Town — If David Wagner cannot lead the Terriers past Everton this weekend, his side finishes at Man City, at Chelsea, and home to Arsenal. That’s a recipe for watching a six-point advantage on the drop zone melt away.

16. Swansea City — Still four points clear of the drop zone, Swans have the cup half-full of facing Saints and Stoke City. The two sides aren’t very good, but also the only teams to worry about when it comes to their Premier League lives.

15. Crystal Palace — Given their turnaround from the beginning of the season, it feels dirty to have them so low. But of the three clubs sitting six points clear of 18th, the Eagles are the one to have three matches left and not four.

14. West Ham United — A brutal schedule featuring two of David Moyes‘ old sides — Everton and Manchester United — means the Irons cannot breathe safely yet (especially with Swans, Saints, and Stoke set to take points off each other).


Spots 13-11: Foot off the gas (and is there any gas in the tank?)

13. Watford — Javi Gracia may have Watford safe, and that was his charge, but the Hornets look like the same team they did under previous bosses. The Hornets have two points from their last six, and would be much further down the table if they weren’t essentially safe.

12. Bournemouth — Eddie Howe is probably wondering how that Arsenal chair would feel right about now, as the Cherries have probably reached a glass ceiling. Now a derby against Saints can define the run-in to the season.

11. Brighton and Hove Albion — Perhaps satiated by a five-match unbeaten run that featured a win over Arsenal and beat downs of Swansea and West Ham, Chris Hughton‘s Gulls have two points in five matches including a derby loss to Palace.

10. Everton — Sam Allardyce‘s men nicked a win off of Newcastle last weekend, and it was about as satisfying as moribund draws against Liverpool’s B Team and Swansea City. There’s a lot of unrest at Goodison Park, and Sam Allardyce has to go. Because of the relative positive vibes at lower table sides Leicester and Newcastle, Everton sinks beneath them.

9. Leicester City — A fun team which has had infuriating lapses at the back. Jamie Vardy‘s as reliable as ever, and there’s a real question what they’ll do without Riyad Mahrez (allegedly) in the future. Wilfred Ndidi, Demarai Gray, and Fousseni Diabate look a big part of said future, but it’s a bit alarming that the Foxes haven’t been able to take advantage of the relatively open door to seventh since Claude Puel righted Craig Shakespeare‘s sinking ship.

8. Newcastle United — The Magpies saw their win streak snapped by Everton, but Rafa Benitez is playing with house money after coaxed a midtable season out of a Championship squad. A healthy Islam Slimani has moved Dwight Gayle to his rightful role as a spark plug off the bench, but don’t sleep on the wonders Benitez has worked in turning Mo Diame, DeAndre Yedlin, and Paul Dummett into serviceable Premier League players. The future is bright if Mike Ashley sells the team or at least opens his purse strings to make one of the longest road trips in the PL even harder for visitors to St. James’ Park.


Spot 7: One of the best stories in Premier League history

7. Burnley — A loss to Chelsea and draw with Stoke has sunk Sean Dyche‘s excitement, we’re sure, but Southampton’s departure from the FA Cup means seventh place means Europa League. It’s Burnley in Europe: Yes, for real!


Spots 6-4: The bargaining stage of grief

6. Chelsea — The Blues have won two-straight in the league and reached an FA Cup Final against old pal Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, but there’s as much uncertainty at Stamford Bridge as there is at the Emirates. The difference? We know Roman Abramovich will spend more to try to fix it.

5. Arsenal — The danger of slipping behind Burnley and into seventh on the table has passed, but the Arsene Wenger goodbye tour is focused firmly on the Gunners’ fate versus Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Europa League and the quite decent form of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as well as a resurgent and healthy Aaron Ramsey. Defenders need improving in a big way and there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding Wenger’s replacement. Don’t know what you’ve got til its gone?

4. Spurs — No trophy again this season, and there’s a very good chance Tottenham will miss out on third place by virtue of goal difference when all is said and done; When all’s said and done, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men will have drawn 1-1 or 0-0 against West Brom, Swansea, Watford, West Ham, Saints, and Brighton. That’ll render a decent record against top foes less impressive.


Spots 3-1: Power trio

3. Manchester United — The Red Devils are better than almost everyone thinks despite precious few standout seasons from its players (David De Gea, Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Jesse Lingard are among the pardoned). When it comes to talking progress, however, second place won’t cut it: Mourinho needs that FA Cup win over Chelsea, a trophy United hasn’t won since (checks his notes) oh, two seasons ago.

2. Liverpool — The Reds looked incredible in dicing up Roma for 80 minutes, but allowed Roma a sliver of hope. Moreover, the last four goals Liverpool has allowed have come in the 79th, 88th, 81st, and 85th minutes. Why won’t we put them ahead of City? Well, let me clarify: it’s not PST, it’s me. I’ll own this: As brilliant as Liverpool was against City, they were out-chanced 31-14 over two legs. Give me that scenario 100 times, and I’m betting on the 31 about 85-90 times. The Reds are almost there, and Naby Keita over Jordan Henderson would be a huge upgrade (especially if this success convinces Emre Can to stick around). Next year, yeah. This year, just no.

  1. Manchester City — The records continue to fall, and it’s funny to consider that should City had lost the first Manchester Derby and been knocked out of the UCL a round earlier — yes, even by Liverpool in the same manner — no one would be arguing for anyone other than City at No. 1.

WATCH: Giovinco levels CONCACAF Champions League Final

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A trademark Sebastian Giovinco goal snapped a 1-1 first half tie and put Toronto FC in the driver’s seat for Major League Soccer’s first title in the CONCACAF Champions League era.

Jozy Altidore scored the first goal after Orbelin Pineda put Chivas Guadalajara ahead early in Mexico, and the tie is level at 3-3 after 135 minutes.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Toronto needs to score once more and stay ahead by one, or win in penalty kicks.

The winner goes to the Club World Cup in December.

Look at this quick work from Giovinco after Marky Delgado slipped him into his office.

Spartak and Zenit fined in latest Russia fan racism cases

AP Photo/Julia Chestnova
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MOSCOW (AP) Spartak Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have both been fined for racist chants by their fans, the latest such incident in World Cup host nation Russia.

Spartak’s fans were accused of aiming monkey chants at FC Tosno player Nuno Rocha, who is black, while some Zenit supporters allegedly chanted a Nazi slogan during a league game.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

The clubs must each pay a 100,000-ruble ($1,600) fine, and Spartak has been hit with a partial stadium closure for its next cup game, state news agency RIA Novosti quotes Russian Football Union disciplinary committee head Artur Grigoryants as saying.

The verdict comes after FIFA charged Russia with racist abuse of France players during last month’s friendly.

Zenit has also faced two racism charges from UEFA this season.