Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League

Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. ARSENAL GOES FIVE POINTS CLEAR AT THE TOP

Arsenal’s stars came through. Santi Carzola opened the scoring early, Mesut Özil had an assist, and Aaron Ramsey’s back to his September form.  As much as Arsenal’s 2013-14 has started as a story of redemption, it’s also about the difference a few special players can make. Özil’s addition, Ramsey’s improvement, Olivier Giroud’s contributions – they’ve all played vital parts in Arsenal’s rise.

It wasn’t a bad loss for Liverpool, but their 2-0 defeat at the Emirates showed the small but important gap between themselves and the title contenders. Like last year’s Arsenal, they’re probably three or four improvements away from competing at the top.

But consider the fact that Arsenal, a team generally thought the fourth or fifth best in England before round one, has already established itself as a title contender. Just over a quarter of the way through the season, Arsène Wenger’s team has convinced us has already proved us wrong. For the first time since Cesc Fábregas left London, Arsenal can reasonably be thought of as a title contender. Saturday’s performance was a reminder.

Thanks to Chelsea’s loss at Newcastle, the Gunners are five points clear at the top of the Premier League. That’s bigger than Bayern’s lead in Germany (one), Barcelona’s in Spain (one), Roma’s in Italy (three), and PSG’s in France (two). Expected to struggle to retain their Champions League spot, Arsenal now has the biggest lead among Europe’s top five leagues, a testament to how quickly things have come together.

2. NO DEFENSE FOR LETTING LLORIS PLAY-ON

If Hugo Lloris wasn’t out cold, he’d at least lost his sense of place and time after colliding with Romelu Lukaku. Late in Tottenham’s trip to Everton, the Spurs goalkeeper looked destined to be subbed out after his head made contact with the Belgian’s lower thigh, the Toffees forward’s speed nearly knocking Lloris out cold.

Shockingly, Lloris was allowed to play on. PST’s Kyle Bonn:

In allowing his player to run back onto the field, [Tottenham manager André Villas Boas] failed his players and proved that when it comes to head injuries, the Barclays Premier League lacks greatly in both the knowledge of head injuries and how to properly and safely deal with them.

I suppose I want to wait until we know a little bit more about Lloris’s state and the advice Villas-Boas was given, but I suspect I’ll be on Kyle’s side before too long. It’s hard to reconcile the decisions of Lloris, Villa-Boas, and potentially Spurs’ medical staff with common sense. Head injuries should be a proceed with caution scenario. It’s a shame this needs to be reiterated.

3. CHELSEA FLOPS, HAS MOURINHO FRUSTRATED

Before we start talking about the manager we can’t ignore, Alan Pardew deserves some credit. The Newcastle boss has seen his job speculated about since round one, and not without good reason. The Magpies’ blowout loss at Manchester City on the season’s opening Monday wasn’t their only disappointing performance of the season. On Saturday, however, the mildly embattled manager took three from one the league’s big boys, a 2-0 win over Chelsea seeing Newcastle put eight shots on goal to the Blues’ two.

His back line’s been thinned out by injury, and he still doesn’t have room for his most-skilled player (Hatem Ben Arfa), but after their upset victory, Newcastle’s in ninth place. Pardew’s recent tweaks deserve a lot of credit. On Saturday, his tactics played a big part in his team’s surprise result.

Coming out of the other technical area, José Mourinho was left lamenting the “”11 mistakes” he started at St. James Park. They’re strong words from a man still trying to get his squad to play to his vision, but after three months of performancse that’ve seen Chelsea fail to reach their title-threatening potential, perhaps it was time for a wake-up call. While losing at Newcastle isn’t the end of the world, being decidedly second best is unacceptable.

But we can overstate blips. What we should look for is a pattern. Absent a larger tendency toward these performances, there’s no good case to be made that Chelsea aren’t a very good team. They came into the match unbeaten in eight games. That doesn’t suddenly become irrelevant after one loss.

But this was their worst performance of the season. If there’s any time to ask what’s wrong, this is it.

4. WHAT NOW FOR JOE HART?

Manuel Pellegrini’s already confirmed Costel Pantilimon will start mid-week against CSKA Moscow. In fact, the Manchester City boss was practically fatalistic about his goalkeeping controversy after yesterday’s 7-0 win over visiting Norwich City. Asked about promoting Pantilimon past Joe Hart (and, implicitly, the possibility of Hart regaining the job), Pellegrini said, “It’s done and I am sure [Pantilimon] will do very well.”

So that’s that. Joe Hart’s now Manchester City’s No. 2, a move that was was long overdue. Yet while Manchester City pushes on (only six points back of Arsenal, despite an uneven start), the England national team’s left to wonder: What’s to come of their number one?

We’re a week away from another international break. Hart should get some time then, but come 2014, there’s only one break between January and the end of the European season.

If he sits on the bench for the better part of seven months, is Joe Hart starting in Brazil? Perhaps. It might come down to how convincing Fraser Forster is during the few truly high-level games Celtic plays each season.

5. ASMIR BEGOVIC: GOAL SCORER

Some things need neither analysis nor explanation:

The Stoke keeper’s score held up for 41 minutes before Jay Rodriguez equalized for Southampton. Come full time, the Bosnian international’s goal had given the Potters a valuable point over the sixth-place Saints.

It took wind, timing, the right bounces and some help from Artur Boruc, but what 100-yard goal doesn’t need a little luck? Every couple of years the planets align and we get a moment like this. Previously, it was Tim Howard. This weekend, it was Asmir Begovic.

6. CARDIFF THE KINGS OF WALES

Perhaps the action didn’t match the hype, but there’s so way it could. The occasion of the first Premier League South Wales Derby’s was always destined to overshadow what happened in the match, though defender Steven Caulker will always be remembered for having delivered the Bluebirds a historical three points.

PST’s Joseph Prince-Wright:

Of course the game winning-goal came had to come courtesy of a former Swansea player, as Caulker came back to haunt his former team who he played for in their debut Premier League season. But there were no over-zealous celebrations from the man Cardiff bought to the Welsh capital for $12 million this summer, as bedlam ensued around him.

Afterwards Caulker explained why.

“It was a different experience playing against them today,” Cardiff’s 21-year-old captain said. “I always enjoyed my time there, but now I’m a Bluebird and I’m focused on the win for us and even more buzzing to get the goal. I always respect the other teams that I played for and they [Swansea] took me in a couple of years ago. So there’s no hard feelings on my behalf at all.”

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

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

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

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

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.