Late Lewandowski winner sees Borussia Dortmund past Arsenal

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Two slips bookending an otherwise solid performance undid Arsenal on Tuesday, the new ambition of Arsène Wenger’s side handed a harsh reminder from one of last year’s finalists. An Aaron Ramsey error, leading to a 16th minute goal, and pristine execution on a 82nd minute counter saw visiting Borussia Dortmund take full points from the Emirates, their 2-1 win claiming a valuable road win in UEFA Champions League’s toughest group.

The result, along with Napoli’s 2-1 win in Marseille, leave three teams tied at the top of Group F, though perhaps more importantly, Borussia Dortmund becomes the first of the trio to draw blood on the road. With home games remaining against Arsenal and Napoli, BVB have the inside track to first place in the group, leaving Arsenal hoping to reclaim lost points two weeks from now in Dortmund.

It took Arsenal 16 minutes and Ramsey mistake’s to wake up, a first quarter-hour spent second best to their visitors capped by a goal from Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Ramsey, foolishly trying to dribble through Borussia Dortmund’s attackers at the edge of his own penalty area, created the first goal, a turnover forced by Marco Reus helping Robert Lewandowski set up his teammate’s finish into the right of goal.

With the lead, Dortmund receded back into their more comfortable posture. Instead of orchestrating the match, they reacted to it, allowing Arsenal to come into the game. By the half hour mark, the Gunners looked like their normal selves, even if they were still chasing a goal.

source: Reuters
Olivier Giroud, celebrating his goal on Tuesday, pulled back Borussia Dortmund’s early lead. (Photo: Reuters.)

That goal was pulled back just before halftime, in no small part because of Dortmund’s lax defending. With Arsenal in possession at the edge of their attacking third, a ball played wide to the oncoming Bacary Sagna gave the Arsenal right back all the time in the world to put a ball right inside the six-yard box. Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller came for the ball but positioned himself to take it on the bounce, leaving his net open as Olivier Giroud got inside Neven Subotic and half-volleyed Arsenal’s equalizer home.

Coming out of halftime, Dortmund tried to resume the presence they had at the match’s onset, though they found more resistance. Arsenal had woken up, and while Dortmund were enjoying more possession then they had over the first half’s final 15 minutes, they weren’t generating additional chances. Arsenal still looked the slightly better hide, coming close to a winner when substitute Santi Cazorla hit the woodwork.

In the last quarter-hour Arsenal started pushing for their winner, an impertinence for which they’d pay. One 82nd minute dash down the right from Jakub Blaszczykowski, one sublime far post cross, and an exquisitely finished volley from Lewandowski gave Dortmund their second lead of the match. The counter-attacking posture that seemed ill-advised in the first half paid off in the second, taking advantage of Arsenal’s pursuit and a poor decision from Kieran Gibbs to snatch the game-winning goal.

source: Reuters
Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyeng celebrate in front of Borussia Dortmund’s fans after Tuesday’s game-winning goal. (Photo: Reuters.)

Had Arsenal not been so slow out of the gate, the match may have gone the other way, a difficult caveat to cling to given the Gunners’ opportunities to win this match. That they didn’t tells of their relative strength in this season of resurgence. Like other recent leaders in England, they’ve found Champions League to be a much higher level, and while Arsène Wenger’s team may yet do damage in this year’s tournament, for one night they allowed their fate to get away from them. Borussia Dortmund, despite having lost at Napoli in match one, is now in control of their group stage fate.

That they reclaimed it without three of their normal starters was telling, though we’ve long gotten used to the absences of Ilkay Gündogen and Lukasz Piszczek. With the likes of Lewandowski and Mkhitarayan, one counterattack or opponent’s slip at the edge of the penalty area is all BVB need. More than any other team in Europe, they’ve become accustomed to making the most of those situations.

Wenger called it yesterday, in his pre-match press conference. What separates Dortmund is their efficiency; their quality. Often content with few chances, their execution makes offsets their willingness to cede control. As Arsenal managed the body of the match, they may have forgotten: Dortmund’s as dangerous controlling the match as they are when they’re being controlled.

Perhaps Arsenal, just now coming to rips with renewed ambitions, needed to be reminded of the difference between Premier League quality and Champions League excellence. Dortmund provided that tonight.

Tuesday’s lineups:

ARSENAL: Wojciech Szczesny; Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs; Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta; Tomas Rosicky, Mesut Özil, Jack Wilshere; Olivier Giroud

Substitutes: Serge Gnabry, Niklas Bendtner, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Vermaelen, Lukasz Fabianski, Carl Jenkinson, Nacho Monreal

BORUSSIA DORTMUND: Roman Weidenfeller; Kevin Großkreutz, Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer; Sven Bender, Nuri Shain; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Henrikh Mkhitaryan; Robert Lewandowski

Substitutes: Jonas Hofmann, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Oliver Kirch, Erik Durm, Mitchell Langerak, Julian Schieber

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday