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.”

Juventus bumped by Atalanta at the death

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Juventus is still in firm control of the Serie A title race, but they were dealt a slight setback as Atalanta secured a 2-2 draw with a dramatic 89th minute equalizer in Bergamo.

Dani Alves had given Juventus the lead in the 83rd minute on a header after a brilliant far-post cross by Miralem Pjanic, but Remo Freuler answered late as he grabbed a point.

The goal came on a fortunate bounce as Pjanic and substitute Stephen Lichtensteiner got tangled up on the ball and failed to clear, and the ball squirted to Freuler who suddenly found himself free in front of Gianluigi Buffon. The Juventus keeper came off his line to smother the chance, but he failed to completely collect, and the ball again popped free. Freuler followed up the loose ball, and with a trio of Juventus defenders flying in, the 25-year-old Swiss attacker knocked it in.

The draw was deserving for Atalanta, who had controlled the game for much of the first half, and went ahead just seconds before the break on a goal by Andrea Conti. Atalanta outshot Juventus 7-4 in the first half, 3-1 on shots on target. Juventus took over control in the second half, and got back on level terms just five minutes after the break as Juventus loanee Leonardo Spinazzola put one in his own net.

Alves’ goal put Juventus in front, but that lead only lasted six minutes. Juventus goes nine points clear at the top of the Serie A table with the draw, but Roma has the chance to cut that to six if they can beat Lazio at home on Sunday.

MLS Week 8: Litmus tests across the board

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Week 8 in MLS action could teach fans a lot about clubs with plenty to prove.

With questions still abound regarding teams like NYCFC, New England, Seattle, Portland, and New York Red Bulls, all those teams have a chance to make statements regarding their potential strength this season.

[ MORE: Week 8 MLS Power Rankings ]

In addition, struggling teams such as Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Montreal all have opportunities for much-needed points against arguably weaker opposition.

Let’s take a look at the weekend slate chronologically:

Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 p.m. ET Friday

Toronto got a pair from Giovinco last time out, and sitting near the bottom of the crowded East mid-tier, they need points fast to avoid finding themselves in a hole behind the top of the table. There’s goals in this one, with Houston defensively challenged and Cubo Torres on fire to start the year.

Montreal Impact vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
3:00 p.m. ET Saturday

An all-Canadian clash actually serves as a vitally important match for both clubs. With each side near the bottom of their conference standings, they both need a result badly to jump-start the campaign. A draw does nobody any good here moving forward.

Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
4:00 p.m. ET Saturday

The Lions are one of 2017’s surprises, and Cyle Larin is on an absolute tear. Unfortunately, so far, anyone who shuts down Larin shuts down Orlando City. That said, good luck to Colorado shutting down an early MLS Golden Boot challenger.

Cyle Larin has 6 goals in 6 games this season (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images).

NY Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

New York has seen bumps on the early-season road, but overall remains a strong Supporter’s Shield contender. They face a big test against another strong Eastern Conference side, and a win here would make it three straight, all over good competition. Chicago is reeling after its defeat to Toronto, out-shot 9-1, but has another chance to pick up a road win before heading back home.

Columbus Crew vs. NYCFC
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Columbus has been poor on the road, but they return home to Mapfre Stadium to take on a strong NYCFC side. This game could potentially teach us a lot about whoever comes out on top, as both look to build separation from the rest of the pack in the East. Both have lost two of three, but both still appear strong up front, and three points in this game could prove to be a marquee win to point to later in the season.

Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

Minnesota United, owners of one of the worst starts to the season, has shown signs of life. Can they keep it going against another team struggling for points?

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

This is a marquee matchup, and with FC Dallas unbeaten so far, represents a huge test but also a huge opportunity for Portland to announce itself as a true top contender in the West. They’re top of the table, but have played at least one more game than most teams just below them. Can the Timbers find a way through the strong Dallas D?

Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake
8:30 p.m. ET Saturday

A big rivalry game with big table implications, Sporting KC has the unfortunate luck of catching RSL after hiring Mike Petke and not before. This should be a fun one.

Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution
10:00 p.m. ET Saturday

We still don’t know exactly what New England is. For every step forward they’ve taken one back, and for every setback they’ve had they’ve found a way through. This is a fantastic test. There are plenty of excuses for a potential loss with the team going cross-country to face one of the league’s best attacks, but a result could be a true statement.

LA Galaxy vs. Philadelphia Union
10:30 p.m. ET Saturday

With Philadelphia struggling and now traveling a long way, this should be a chance for the Galaxy to turn things around. Should be.

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
3:00 p.m. ET Sunday

Atlanta is back home for the first time in over a month. They have slipped a bit since the torrid start, but still appear a dangerous club. D.C. will have its work cut out.

Asian FIFA executive pleads guilty to bribery charges

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A guilty plea was entered early Friday by senior Asian Federation (AFC) official Richard Lai to bribery charges, leading FIFA to suspend the 55-year-old indefinitely.

Lai has served as the head of the Guam FA since 2001, and is a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. He was also formerly a member of the AFC executive committee, and currently sits on the AFC marketing committee. Lai is a United States citizen.

The guilty plea confirms more than $1 million in bribes accepted by Lai, including those from Kuwaiti officials looking to increase their influence over FIFA voters in the confederation. Two unnamed AFC executives, including one Kuwaiti, were also named as co-conspirators.

“One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates,” a Department of Justice document published on Friday said.

That wording seems to indirectly implicate Qatari executive Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for bribery.

“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement following the plea. “I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world.”

Lai has also been provisionally suspended by the AFC.

Argentina closes in on Sampaoli, according to FA boss

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The Argentinian FA is hoping to convince Jorge Sampaoli to abandon Sevilla and take the opening in his home nation.

President Claudio Tapia confirmed that Sampaoli is their top target, calling the 57-year-old their “chosen one” in an interview with ESPN.

“We have chosen a coach that has a contract,” Tapia told ESPN. “We want to be respectful and wait because he has a release clause which is once the tournament ends. We will communicate it to the club and we will sit down and negotiate his departure and release clause. We want things to go well in the final games he has left.”

Argentina dismissed coach Edgardo Bauza after the country fell to fifth in CONMEBOL World Cup qualification following defeats to Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile over the past six months.

Sampaoli is under contract with Sevilla until the summer of 2018, but has a $1.6 million release clause, to which Tapia was referring. Sevilla sits in fourth position in the La Liga table, level on points with Atletico Madrid but behind significantly on goal differential. The club finishes its league season on May 21st against Osasuna, and Argentina’s next game is a friendly on June 9th at home against Brazil. The next World Cup qualifier is in August against Uruguay.

Samapoli has been with Sevilla since since last summer in his first European club job, but the Argentinian has ample experience to take over for his home country. He managed Chile for four years, winning the 2015 Copa America in Chile. He resigned in early 2016 due to a contract dispute, paying a heavy price to do so as he gave up bonuses to wriggle free of his contract.

Argentina’s desire to secure Sampaoli as coach is nothing new, as the man himself confirmed an offer for the job a week ago, but said he would not consider it until the end of the season. It appears now that a deal is likely, and he will have a very short turnaround to get his first look at the team against a fierce continental rival.