Arsenal's Ramsey celebrates after scoring a goal against Liverpool during their English Premier League soccer match at the Emirates stadium in London

Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool: Cazorla, Ramsey send Gunners five points clear at summit

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Arsenal put in a dominant display at the Emirates to down Liverpool 2-0 and go five points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

Santi Cazorla’s first half strike was added to by Aaron Ramsey’s stunning volley, as the Gunners eased to victory and sent out a message to the rest of the league.

Liverpool never got a grasp on the game at looked shaky defensively at times as Arsenal’s midfield movement was too much for Brendan Rodgers men to handle.

With the win Arsenal stay top on 25 points, while Liverpool stay in second five points behind.

The match, which was built up as the biggest game of the season so far, started off at a blistering pace as Tomas Rosicky made a darting run forward in the 5th minute and played a one-two with Santi Cazorla to set him free. But the Czech Republic midfielder saw his shot tipped wide by Simon Mignolet in goal for Liverpool with the first effort on target for either time.

The game was back and forth during the early stages, as both teams tried to dictate the tempo and get a foothold on proceedings.

Liverpool began to pile on the pressure on Arsenal as Daniel Sturridge’s clever flick from a corner saw the ball go goalwards but the Gunners were able to clear.

However not long after, Arsenal were ahead.

Spanish international Cazorla put the Gunners in front as Bacary Sagna raced down the right flank and whipped in an inviting ball that Cazorla headed against the post before reacting quickest to the ricochet by dispatching the rebound calmly to send the Emriates wild and put Arsenal 1-0 up.

source: Getty Images
Ramsey’s tremendous second half volley settled the game for the Gunners.

Soon after Liverpool thought they had equalized through Jordan Henderson but referee Martin Atkinson waved play back. Luis Suarez was fouled by Sagna, and the Uruguayan forward acted quickly to slot Daniel Sturridge in who then found Henderson at the back post to tap the ball home. Yet Atkinson had blown his whistle to stop play, as he wanted to book Sagna. Liverpool and Suarez were incensed after some quick-thinking could’ve got the back in the game.

For the rest of the first half both teams battled it out in the center of the pitch, as Arsenal looked comfortable in possession and zipped the ball around with ease to go in ahead at the break. The last 20 times Arsenal led at half time they’d gone on to win… Liverpool were in trouble.

At the interval Liverpool brought on Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho for left wing-back Aly Cissokho, as Rodgers switched to a flat back four. It certainly worked early on, as Suarez twice got free in the box and on the second occasion his cross found Henderson who blasted over from 12 yards out on the angle.

In the 54th minute Liverpool almost gifted the Gunners a second goal as Kolo Toure’s pass went straight to Olivier Giroud who went clean through on goal but his chipped effort over Mignolet went wide.

But that didn’t matter, as Ramsey scored an absolute stunner in the 59th minute to put the Gunners 2-0 ahead. Arsenal’s player of the season so far scored his tenth goal of the campaign with a controlled volley from 25 yards out, handing his side a commanding lead just before the hour mark.

In the 72nd minute Suarez almost pulled a goal back as he latched onto a loose ball in the box and hit a shot with the outside of his right foot that clipped the post. And in the 87th minute Suarez raced clear after a sloppy pass from the Arsenal defense, but his tame finish rolled wide of the far post, and with it went Liverpool’s hopes of making a miraculous comeback.

Arsenal closed the game out expertly but bringing on full backs Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson for attacking players, and could’ve adde a third thanks to good work from Giroud and Mesut Ozil as the latter went close, as the Gunners grabbed their eighth win from 10 games to start the season.

Cries of “we are top of the league” rang around the Emirates at full time. After this display, it’s easy to see why.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs (Vermaelen, 77), Rosicky (Monreal, 71), Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla (Jenkinson, 83), Ozil, Giroud

Liverpool: Mignolet, Flanagan (Moses, 67), Cissokho (Coutinho, 45), Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson, Suarez, Sturridge

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Courtois: Chelsea can still win title without Costa

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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A week from now, Diego Costa may still be a Chelsea player; he may also very well be off to the Chinese Super League by then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The beauty insanity of the transfer market — and a volatile figure like Costa, in particular — is that no one knows which path he’ll take. After being made to train on his own on Monday, the best anyone can tell you is, “It’s 50-50.”

There aren’t many sides in the world that could stand to lose the league’s top goal-scorer (14 goals in 19 appearances this season; Chelsea have played 21 games) and still win the league title, but Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes that the current Blues squad is one that could hold onto its seven-point lead with 17 games remaining — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“Of course we have enough quality to replace Diego. Diego is important for us, but if he’s not there for one game, we know we can handle it as well.

“Was this a message to our rivals? Yes, just to see Chelsea won 3-0 and that loss at Spurs didn’t affect us and we can play without Diego if need be. I think everybody hoped for us to drop points and we didn’t so that was very good.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Eden Hazard has chipped in with nine goals of his own this season — his performances have been bordering on brilliance at points — while Pedro and Willian each have five league goals to their name. 19 goals from three secondary-type scorers is what champions are made of, until you consider the only other true striker currently in the squad, 23-year-old Premier League newcomer Michy Batshuayi, has 1) made just 13 PL appearances (all as a substitute); 2) scored just once, all the way back in August.

Louis van Gone: Ex-Man United, Barca boss LvG retires from coaching

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United celebrates after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Louis Van Gaal.

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In his mind, he probably imagine himself manager Manchester United for the duration of his three-year contract before riding off into the sunset after restoring the Red Devils as Premier League champions four months from now. At the very least, he’d agree to stay on one more season to complete a bit of unfinished business after narrowly missing out on the title in his third season in charge at Old Trafford.

Instead, he was fired last May, two days after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and has been out of a job ever since. Van Gaal’s unemployment will now continue for the rest of his days, as the 65-year-old announced on Monday that he has retired from coaching after 26 years at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands (twice), Bayern Munich and Manchester United — quote from the BBC:

“I thought maybe I would stop, then I thought it would be a sabbatical, but now I do not think I will return to coaching.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

After the stress put upon his shoulders while at Man United, the last eight months must have felt like heaven to Van Gaal. Why on earth would anyone ever go back?

AFCON: DR Congo go top of Group C with win; Ivory Coast, Togo draw

Congo's Lomalisa Mutambala, right, with Morocco's Faycal Fajr, left, during their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Morocco at the Stade de Oyem in Oyem, Gabon, Monday Jan. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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A roundup of all of Monday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ivory Coast 0-0 Togo

OYEM, Gabon (AP) Ivory Coast’s Europe-based stars stumbled in the heat of northern Gabon in their African Cup of Nations opener, with the defending champion held by Togo to 0-0 on Monday in another twist to start the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s title-winning coach fared worse as Congo beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in the day’s second game.

Congo, a team that was on strike and refusing to train two days ago, finished with nine men on the field and on top of Group D.

Ivory Coast created few clear chances against Togo, with Wilfried Zaha‘s blocked shot in the second half after a clever run probably its best. Zaha was substituted two minutes later and, although Ivory Coast pressed hard in stages, it never broke open Togo’s well-drilled defense in the first game in Group C in the northern jungle town of Oyem.

Togo was competitive in the first half and had two good openings with around 10 minutes to go, when Kodjo Laba missed with a header from in front of goal and Mathieu Dossevi’s deflected shot dropped onto the roof of the net.

Four of the first six games at the African Cup have been draws, with Ivory Coast’s fellow title challenger, Algeria, held to 2-2 by Zimbabwe, a team that hasn’t qualified for the African Cup in over a decade. Also, host Gabon couldn’t beat outsider and tournament debutant Guinea-Bissau in the opening game.

“After Algeria-Zimbabwe and Gabon-Guinea-Bissau, we were very careful,” Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer said. “But we still have two (group) matches so we are still confident.”

Togo even started better, and Dossevi was clear on goal in the 29th minute only for Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo to smother the chance.

Zaha was at the heart of Ivory Coast’s two best attacks, first in the first half when he sped down the right wing and sent across a dangerous low cross that was scrambled away. Then, in the 68th minute, he tricked his marker with a clever turn, cut inside, and hit a low shot that was headed to goal before two Togo defenders managed to get in the way.

Senegal and Congo are the only teams to win at the tournament.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

DR Congo 1-0 Morocco

Junior Kabananga got the winner for Congo in the 55th minute after a mistake from Morocco `keeper Monir el-Kajoui. Congo’s Lomalisa Mutambala was sent off for a wild tackle in the 81st and played the last six minutes of normal time plus six minutes of injury time with nine men when captain Gabriel Zakuani went off injured with all their substitutes used up.

Still, victory was a major mood-changer for Congo, whose players refused to train on Friday and Saturday, claiming they hadn’t been paid tournament bonuses. They also posted a video on social media during their strike, where they complained about their treatment.

On Monday, Morocco was the one frustrated: Midfielder M’Bark Boussoufa hit the crossbar in the second minute. Goalkeeper El-Kajoui tried to block a cross with his feet and managed only to divert the ball to Kabananga to score the winning goal. Then, substitutes Youssef En Nesyri and Youssef el-Arabi missed late chances.

Although Ivory Coast and later Renard failed their first tests at the tournament, the Stade d’Oyem held up despite a desperate race to be ready in time, which saw workers scrambling around the venue finishing all sorts of jobs on the day of the game. Television viewers won’t have seen the construction debris that surrounds the outside of the stadium, which juts out of dense jungle canopy around 15 kilometers outside of Oyem.

Even organizers couldn’t do anything about the heat during the opening match, though, with Togo coach Claude le Roy’s shirt covered in dark sweat patches after urging his team on to a promising draw against the defending champion Ivorians.

“It was very hot. We were sweating so much,” Le Roy said. “We did what it takes. We are satisfied with the draw.”

Tuesday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Uganda — 11 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. ET

Report: RBNY send McCarty to Chicago for hefty allocation fee

New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty reacts towards the fans after an MLS playoff soccer match against the D.C. United, at RFK Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Washington. McCarty scored the only goal and New York won 1-0. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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UPDATE: The Fire and Red Bulls have officially announced the trade. The deal will send $200,000 of allocation money to RBNY in 2017, and $200,000 again in 2018.

Don’t look now, but the Chicago Fire are building something noteworthy in Bridgeview.

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Three weeks after signing three-time MLS Cup-winning (LA Galaxy) midfielder Juninho to anchor the midfield in Veljko Paunovic’s second season in charge, the Fire sent a hefty chunk of general allocation money to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for do-everything stalwart Dax McCarty, who’ll partner the Brazilian in comprising one of MLS’s toughest midfield duos.

According to a report on FourFourTwo.com, the Fire will send $400,000 of general allocation money to the Red Bulls, which represents the largest sum of MLS dollars to change hands since the league began announcing figures during the 2017 SuperDraft on Friday (New York City FC traded $250,000 to the Fire in exchange for the no. 3 overall pick, which helped fund the acquisition of McCarty). In total, McCarty made 169 regular-season appearances for the Red Bulls, serving the last two seasons as club captain, and helping the red half of New York to the only two major trophies in club history, the 2013 and 2015 Supporters’ Shields. The 29-year-old (he’ll turn 30 in April) is currently participating in January camp with the U.S. national team.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

The Fire also signed 28-year-old Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic to a Designated Player contract last month. Nikolic has nearly 200 goals to his name in 326 career games played.

With seven weeks still to go before First Kick 2017, the Fire’s opening-day starting lineup is shaping up to look something like this…

Nikolic

Accam — De Leeuw — ???

Juninho — McCarty

Vincent — Meira — Campbell — ???

Bava

The Fire might be good this year.