Aaron Ramsey: In form and leading the way at the Emirates

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Arsenal are on top of the Barclays Premier League table.  The Gunners also currently lead their Champions League Group of Death.

Everything is clicking at the Emirates this season, and somehow, some way, the most improbable of players is at the forefront of their early-season charge.

It’s not Olivier Giroud, the in-form French striker who has earned himself – for now – a stay in the French national side with fantastic play in front of goal.

It’s not Mesut Ozil, the prolific German who Arsenal paid £44 million ($70.7 million) for in one of the highest-profile transfers of the summer.

No, it’s Aaron Ramsey, scorer of just 11 goals in his 150 games before this season.  Recipient of a horrific broken leg three seasons ago that left him wondering if he’ll ever play again.  Emergency purveyor of right-back in the first half of last year when things were going from bad to worse in North London.

Aaron Ramsey this season, however, is the proud owner of 11 goals this year – most of any Gunner – including the winner against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday in one of the most meaningful European victories in Arsenal history.

(MORE: Aaron Ramsey’s latest big moment gives Arsenal a huge 1-0 Champions League win at Dortmund)

The 22-year-old holding midfielder is having a season for the ages, a stunner that has graced us from the depths of Douglas Adams’ Infinite Improbability Drive, and it’s captivating.

His work rate has been astonishing.  Of Arsenal’s 1620 minutes played so far this season, Ramsey has played 1,444 of them, second on the team only to defender Per Mertesacker. His 11 goals leads the Arsenal squad this season, and he’s contributed five assists and created 13 chances.

Manager Arsene Wenger has been an admirer of Ramsey from the beginning.  While courting the youngster back in 2008, Wenger fought off Manchester United and Liverpool for Ramsey’s signature by flying the player out in a private jet to Austria and Switzerland to watch Euro 2008 while the manager made his pitch.

source: Getty ImagesIn September, when Ramsey’s stellar season was still just a protostar, Wenger saw what was coming.  “There’s still a lot of improvement to come from him,” the Frenchman declared following a 2-1 win at Swansea.  Prophetic.

But don’t just go labeling Ramsey just a goal-scorer all of a sudden. According to Squawka statistics, the Welsh kid leads the Barclays Premier League with 40 successful tackles, proving he plays his role as a holding midfielder just as well, something that makes his manager smile even more than finishing goals.

“I didn’t expect him to score so many goals but he has improved in his passing, his technical quality,” Wenger told the Daily Mail just over a month ago. “He was always in good positions in the box…For me the most important thing is the quality of his game. Aaron is playing well and that is most important, that he continues to improve.”

However, in the past Ramsey was just a role player, a cog in the greater whole.  This year, he’s breaking out. “This season he has the confidence and he has an unbelievable engine to get from box to box,” said Wenger. “His ability makes him a dangerous player.”

And what an asset it is for Arsenal to have such a dangerous player.  While teams are preparing to defend the likes of Giroud and Ozil, Ramsey is there to pick up the pieces.

A player who once scored so rarely it was commonly joked that he murdered celebrities with his goals is now bagging them at a regular pace.  But more importantly, he’s led his team to the top early on with every intention of keeping them there. And he’s got his whole career in front of him.

Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace: Benteke haunts Klopp

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  • Palace win third-straight at Anfield
  • Christian Benteke scores twice
  • Liverpool slip up in top four race
  • Eagles 7 points above drop zone

Crystal Palace stunned Liverpool at Anfield once again on Sunday as the Eagles fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 and added to their recent impressive wins against Arsenal and Chelsea.

Phillipe Coutinho gave Liverpool the lead with a stunning free kick but just before half time Christian Benteke made it 1-1 and then the former Liverpool striker headed home in the second half to give Palace a precious three points.

With the win the Eagles are on 38 points and move up to 12th place as they surge away from the relegation zone, while Liverpool remain on 66 points and can feel Manchester City and Manchester United breathing down their neck in the race for the top four.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Liverpool started the game well but found it tough to break down a stubborn Palace defense and the Eagles always looked dangerous on the break.

One of their breaks saw the ball drop to Benteke but the former Liverpool dragged his effort wide of the post after beating two players.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Coutinho soon had Liverpool ahead as the Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick for his 10th Premier League goal of the season. 1-0 to the Reds.

Just before half time Palace were level as sloppy defending let in Yohan Cabaye and his perfect cross was tapped home by Benteke against his former club. 1-1. Benteke had another shot on target before half time but Simon Mignolet saved as Palace were buoyed by their equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the second half Coutinho danced free on the edge of the box but smashed an effort way over as Palace sat in deep and frustrated Liverpool’s attack.

Palace threatened at the other end from set pieces and Benteke caused mayhem in the 71st minute but Cabaye smashed an effort over the bar with the goal gaping.

Moments later Benteke put Palace ahead as Andros Townsend‘s corner from the right missed everyone and the Belgian nodded home his second goal of the game. 2-1 to the Eagles.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Late on Liverpool pushed hard for the equalizer but Palace held on for their third-straight win at Anfield and all but secured their Premier League status for another season.

Arsenal 2-1 Man City: Gunners reach FA Cup final

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Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-1 after extra time at Wembley on Sunday as Arsene Wenger got the better of Pep Guardiola to set up an FA Cup final against Chelsea.

Sergio Aguero put City ahead in the second half but Nacho Monreal equalized in normal time and then Alexis Sanchez scored the winning goal in extra time to seal the Gunners spot in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley.

It will be an all-London affair in the FA Cup final and it could perhaps be Wenger’s final game in charge.

[ MORE: Full FA Cup schedule ] 

Aguero went close early but made a mess of a patient build up play and David Silva‘s header was pushed over by Petr Cech, while Arsenal had the ball in the net at the other end but Laurent Koscielny was offside as he flicked the ball past Claudio Bravo.

City were forced into an early change as Silva limped off after a collision and Raheem Sterling came on and soon after Aguero went down in the box under a challenge from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but referee Craig Pawson waved away the appeals.

Aguero slammed a shot into the side-netting as half time approached with City controlling the possession but failing to break through. A huge moment of controversy arrived five minutes before half time as Leroy Sane’s cross was flagged to have gone out of play as Aguero and then Sterling both finished but replays showed it had stayed in.

A huge let-off for Arsenal and right on half time they could’ve had a penalty kick as Jesus Navas bundled over Sanchez in the box.

In the second half it was Arsenal who put City under pressure as Fernandinho gave the ball away on the edge of the box and Olivier Giroud‘s effort was blocked by Nicolas Otamendi.

Moments later City were 1-0 up as Aaron Ramsey was robbed by Yaya Toure and Aguero raced free from Monreal and dinked home to put City ahead. The goal was Aguero’s fifth in as many FA Cup appearances this season and with 12 goals in his last 12 games he now has 166 for City, taking him to tied second on their all-time list of scorers.

Mesut Ozil flashed an effort just wide of the post after City went ahead as the Gunners continued to push forward in pursuit of an equalizer.

The leveler arrived with less than 20 minutes to go as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fine cross from the right found Monreal at the back post and the Spanish left back nonchalantly smashed home with the outside of his right foot. 1-1. Game on.

Moments later Toure’s stunning volley was superbly saved by the fingertips of Cech as the ball hit the post and came out and soon after Fernandinho’s header cannoned off the bar as City pushed hard for a late winner.

Substitute Danny Welbeck went so close to snatching the win for Arsenal in normal time but the former Manchester United striker lashed an effort inches wide of the far post after breaking free.

In extra time it was Arsenal who could’ve gone 2-1 up as Rob Holding headed over the bar from close range. Soon after Sanchez did put Arsenal ahead as Welbeck missed his kick but Sanchez controlled and finished clinically to make it 2-1.

At the other end Sterling’s cross was cleared by Holding and the sub was subbed at the half time of extra time with Kelechi Iheanacho coming on as City’s fourth substitute as the new FA rules were used.

Fabian Delph, another sub, was put in by Kevin De Bruyne in the 110th minute but Hector Bellerin deflected his effort wide at the crucial moment then De Bruyne flashed an effort just wide as City poured forward for an equalizer.

In the end Arsenal held on to seal a third FA Cup final appearance in the last four seasons.

VIDEO: Coutinho curls home stunning free kick

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Philippe Coutinho was at it again at Anfield on Sunday.

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The Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick in the first half to put Liverpool 1-0 up against Crystal Palace.

Click play on the video above to watch his 10th Premier League goal of the season as Wayne Hennessey couldn’t get close to it.

How Martial’s goal cost United $10.8 million; Pogba injury update

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You could perhaps forgive Manchester United’s hierarchy for not celebrating Anthony Martial‘s goal against Burnley with the usually zest…

[ MORE: United see off Burnley ]

That’s because Martial’s strike in the 2-0 victory at Turf Moor on Sunday was his 25th for United.

‘So what?’ you might be asking. Well, when Martial arrived at Old Trafford as a teenager in the summer of 2015 his transfer from AS Monaco was heavily incentivized with documents leaked in recent weeks showing many clauses in place which could see the deal rise to over $80 million over the years.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Monaco are now owed an extra $10.8 million with Martial scoring his 25th goal for United and it was just his eighth goal of the season as he’s mostly been used as a sub by Jose Mourinho.

If Martial reaches 25 caps for the French national team before 2019 while at United (he’s currently on 15) Monaco will get another $10.8 million and if he wins the Ballon d’Or before 2019 Monaco will also get another $10.8 million.

That’s some deal for the Ligue 1 side but Martial will be playing a lot more games in the coming weeks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic out for the season with a horror knee injury.

Staying in United news, and finances, the most expensive player on the planet, Paul Pogba, hobbled off towards the end of the victory.

Speaking after the game Mourinho confirmed that he’s “not sure” if Pogba will play against Manchester City on Thursday and singled out the displays of Eric Bailly and Pogba after both had played the full 120 minutes against Anderlecht on Thursday.

“We wanted Anthony Martial to get behind as he’s faster, and he did well. But I can’t choose an individual performance as they all did well,” Mourinho said. “Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly get a mention after two hours of football against Anderlecht.”

United will be sweating on the fitness of Pogba ahead of the monster clash against City as United’s win means they’re now just one point and one place behind their crosstown rivals who occupy the final UEFA Champions League spot in the Premier League standings.