Premier League Playback: Arsenal’s strength in-depth, festive madness, Liverpool’s reality check

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Some of you will read that sub-header with a smirk on your face, but honestly, Arsene Wenger may be able to keep his pennies in his purse in January and still lead Arsenal towards the Premier League title.

Over the Christmas period two new attackers finally arrived, as Theo Walcott scored twice and Lukas Podolski bagged a goal on his return from injury in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham on Boxing Day.

Those two hold the key to Arsenal’s success in the second half of the season, as both have been missing for lengthy spells and feel like brand new signings for the Gunners faithful.

“Podolski has been out for four months, he has not played one game. I try to get him slowly back to competitiveness and he has shown he can have a huge impact because he can score and make goals – he can give assists. On the pitch at the end we had Podolski and Walcott and Giroud and Ozil and Cazorla.” – Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s attacking options

Following their win at Upton Park, the Gunners then relied on their leading front man Olivier Giroud to score the only goal of the game as they beat Newcastle on Sunday and went top of the PL standings. But the resurgence of Walcott and Podolski (who admittedly are both used on the wing but can easily be deployed in central roles) is cause for hope for any Arsenal fans fretting about which strikers will arrive at the Emirates in the next month or so.

Wenger doesn’t need to dip his toes into the murky waters of the January transfer window. He’s done that before and failed miserably. Look at the panic buy of Jose Antonio Reyes to name just one example, Wenger could do without wasting another $30 million on a player who won’t help him grab some silverware for the first time in eight years.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

So if Giroud gets hurt, he could do a lot worse than playing Walcott or Podolski centrally. Both are top internationals for England and Germany respectively, know how to finish and will cause problems for opposition defenses. A few months ago the attacking options at Wenger’s disposal were looking threadbare. The greatest gift Arsenal’s French manager got this Christmas was two top attacking players back to full fitness and his forward line bolstered in the process. And then there’s the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Serge Gnabry waiting in the wings for the second half of the season, too.

Who said Arsenal don’t have enough strength in-depth?

Premier League Schedule – Week 18, Boxing Day

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-1 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Cardiff 0-3 Southampton Recap and watch here
Chelsea 1-0 Swansea Recap and watch here
Everton 0-1 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Hull 2-3 Man United Recap and watch here
Man City 2-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Newcastle 5-1 Stoke Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-2 Fulham Recap and watch here
Tottenham 1-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-3 Arsenal Recap and watch here


Boxing Day and Week 19 provided two match days of distinction around the holidays. It’s hard to sum it all up in this column, but the incidents, goals and drama we saw epitomized what the festive schedule is all about: unpredictability. Before the Boxing Day madness (the first time in five years that all 20 PL teams have played on the same day, excluding the final day of the campaign) I picked out three things we should watch and here they are.

GOALS -59 balls hit the back of the net in the 20 games that have taken place since Boxing Day, that’s an average of 2.95 goals per game. Not bad at all, plus there were some crazy 5-1, 6-0 and 3-3 score lines to go with it.

RED CARDS –There were four red cards alone on Boxing Day, as Stoke City imploded with two reds in two minutes vs. Newcastle, Antonio Valencia was sent off needlessly and poor Tim Howard was put in an impossible position and got a straight red.

THE UNEXPECTED – Hull City cruising after leading Man United 2-0 after the first 12 minutes on Boxing Day… then losing 3-2. Cardiff City 2-0 up against Sunderland on the 28th… then blowing it by letting in two goals in the final seven minutes. Plus Liverpool lead at Man City and Chelsea but blew it twice to lost back-to-back in three days.


A spoonful of sugar wasn’t dished out around Anfield during the festive season, just a bitter dose of reality.

The Reds always knew the past few days would have a big say in how seriously we could consider them as title contenders and heck, the way the PL is going this year they still have a great chance. But spirited back-to-back 2-1 defeats away at Manchester City and Chelsea proved that they can’t cut it with the big boys. Not just yet anyway.

Brendan Rodgers’ side looked sharp and dominated large spells against City and Chelsea but they lacked a cutting edge as Luis Suarez’ one-man band was locked down by two or three defenders marking him at a time. That allowed the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling to get more chances in on goal but they simply weren’t clinical enough when it mattered. I can’t help but think that if Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard would’ve been around and not injured, then Liverpool could be sitting top of the standings heading into 2014… instead they’re in fifth. That shows the small margins were dealing with this campaign.

Premier League Schedule – Week 19

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Cardiff 2-2 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Everton 2-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Hull 6-0 Fulham Recap and watch here
Man City 1-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Norwich 0-1 Man United Recap and watch here
Tottenham 3-0 Stoke Recap and watch here
West Ham 3-3 West Brom Recap and watch here


So, this is the time of the season where the title race intensifies and the top five or six sort themselves out and pull away from the few hopefuls dragging on their coattails in the top half of the standings.

But let your eyes wander down a little… yeah, that’s right. There’s an almighty scrap about to take place at the bottom as a relegation battle.

Below is a snapshot of the bottom seven, as Sunderland somehow clawed themselves right back into things with a win at Everton on Boxing Day, followed by a marvelous two goal salvo in the final seven minutes to break Cardiff City’s hearts and drag the Bluebirds deep into the mire. Around them West Brom and West Ham scrapped it out in a fantastic 3-3 draw at Upton Park, while the likes of Norwich and Crystal Palace put up valiant efforts against the Manchester giants. Get ready folks, these small teams fighting it out at the bottom will be going hell for leather every single week in the second half of the season as they best form of defense is attack for these chaps.

In previous years there’s always been one side that’s been utterly doomed and never looked like staying up. Last season it was QPR and Reading, before that it was Wolves. But at the halfway point in 2013/14, only five points separates Sunderland in last place with Norwich in 14th, while just ahead of them Swansea, Stoke and Aston Villa are looking worriedly over their shoulders.

Click to enlarge: The bottom seven are clustered tightly as we usher in 2014.

Who’ll be safe will only become more apparent as the winter months leave us behind and the relentless rain of an early English spring help the negative vibes soak into fans of teams embroiled in yet another relegation battle. This is unlikely to be sorted out before the final weekend of the season. That’s the beauty of it, this season nobody knows what will happen.


After 54 games without a goal, Tom Huddlestone’s hair has become more of a feature than his vast spectrum of passes and impressively destructive displays in the middle of the pitch. But following his strike in Hull’s 6-0 shellacking of Fulham on Saturday, which also happened to be his 27th birthday, Huddlestone raced to the bench and grabbed a pair of scissors as his entangled locks were lopped away mercifully.

Sadly, a lonesome pair of shears has sat on the bench for quite some time now, as the former Tottenham midfielders strike was his first goal since April 2011. Since then he’s had a long-standing wager that he won’t cut his hair until he scored… he possesses a rasping right foot and I’d hazard a guess that he didn’t think it would take almost two and a half years to get his barnet trimmed.

Huddlestone was carrying on with his “no haircut ‘til I score” stance as charities were benefiting from the donations people sent in from all over the world. It was a bit of good fun that was for a good cause and sealed an utterly superb end to 2013 for Hull City AFC. Now Huddlestone can get back to the important things in life… speaking to his barber again and choosing a new hairstyle.

And just a word on Hull’s remarkable season so far, out of the three promoted teams many expected them to flounder the most with their heavy-handed, route one approach not the way modern PL sides are set up… how wrong those doubters were. Steve Bruce has built a robust squad that’s hard to beat at home and can cause plenty of problems with a direct style of play. While their fellow newly-promoted friends Cardiff City and Crystal Palace are embroiled in a relegation battle, Hull sit in 10th spot with 23 points from their first 19 games. Hats off to the Tigers.


Two of the seasons surprise packages put on a show at Goodison Park to see out 2013, as Everton beat the Saints 2-1 in an end-to-end clash that warmed the hearts of soccer purists. Intricate one-two’s, fast flowing counter attacks and possession built from the back ruled the day. Sprinkle into the mix a whole host of English talents and there’s hope for the English national side in Brazil this summer, at least if some of these players on show make the plane. Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley and even Leon Osman were superb, while Southampton’s Adam Lallana (who got married on Christmas Eve to avoid a clash with the World Cup), Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert all put in a good showing. Three fantastic goals were scored as Everton closed out the year by moving into the top four and above their arch-rivals Liverpool. The Saints finish 2013 in ninth, as you get the feeling that we’re only at the start of Mauricio Pochettino’s revolution at St. Mary’s. Two great teams who play soccer intelligently and are easy on the eye, it was hard not to drool watching some of that match.

This was also a glimpse into the future of the PL, as young English talent is being directed by young foreign managers (Roberto Martinez and Pochettino) who’ve got a track record of getting the best out of youngsters. Expect the Toffees and Saints’ model to be copied by many PL sides in the coming years.

Watch all the action from week 19 below, as we’ve reached the halfway point of the PL season. Here’s to hoping the second half of the campaign is just as dramatic as the first. Happy New Year to you all out there and don’t forget to celebrate New Year’s Day in the best way possible, a full slate of PL games live on NBC Sports!

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekends actions from the PL, it comes out every week.

Watch Live: Three Premier League games, 11am ET

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Three Premier League games are coming your way at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Huddersfield host Crystal Palace, West Brom head to Bournemouth and Stoke welcome Everton to the Potteries.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 11 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for the three games at 11 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.

11 a.m. ET: Huddersfield vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM

Tottenham beat Swansea to reach FA Cup semis

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Tottenham Hotspur beat Swansea City 3-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday to book their spot in the FA Cup semifinal for the second time in as many seasons.

With Harry Kane out injured, plus the likes of Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele on the bench, Christian Eriksen was the star of the show as he scored twice, while Erik Lamela added another in a game Mauricio Pochettino‘s men dominated from start to finish as their final chance of silverware this season remains intact.

The semifinals of the FA Cup being held at Wembley Stadium on April 21-22 also give Spurs a big advantage as Wembley has been their temporary home ground for the 2017-18 season.

Swansea will now focus on staying in the Premier League as Carlos Carvalhal‘s men are battling against relegation.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores ] 

Early on Nathan Dyer burst through and although it looked like he could’ve won a penalty kick as Michel Vorm raced out, neither the referee or VAR awarded the Swans a penalty kick.

Spurs then took the lead with a moment of magic as Eriksen ran towards goal and curled home a superb effort into the far corner to give his side the lead. That was his seventh goal in 10 games against the Swans.

Tottenham then dominated much of the game after going ahead as Eriksen’s perfect ball over the top found Heung-Min Son and he finished magnificently off the crossbar but the South Korean star was flagged offside and VAR decided that was the correct call. Another moment of controversy surrounding VAR…

Chances kept coming for Spurs. A cross from the left almost found Lucas Moura at the near post but he couldn’t quite get on the end of it, then Eriksen had a curling effort tipped onto the bar by Nordfeldt and Eric Dier nodded just over as Tottenham totally dominated the first half.

Lamela made it 2-0 right on half time as he ran towards goal and curled home a low shot past the unsighted Nordfeldt.

At half time Luciano Narsingh came on for the Swans as they tried to get back into the game.

Martin Olsson had a rasper pushed away by Vorm and the former Swansea goalkeeper then denied Tammy Abraham with a fine double stop. At the other end Dier’s long-range shot was tipped wide by Nordfeldt brilliantly as the game opened up.

Eriksen then finished the game off as Moura found him on the edge of the box and his low shot crept past several Swansea defenders and in. Game. Set. Match.

Tottenham could’ve added more goals late on but they settled for three goals as Swansea were in full damage limitation mode.

FIFA budgets $6.56BN income for 2022 World Cup in Qatar

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA expects to earn $6.56 billion in a four-year financial cycle to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, despite a drop in ticket and corporate hospitality sales.

FIFA’s 2019-2022 budget projects rises of more than $400 million each in broadcasting and marketing income over the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Still, FIFA says “smaller stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup” should mean ticket and hospitality sales of $500 million will be $75 million less than in 2015-18.

More than half of FIFA’s revenue will come from broadcasting rights, “86 percent of which is already contracted.”

FIFA plans to spend $6.46 billion from 2019-2022, including a $250,000 annual raise for member associations. Each will get $1.5 million annually.

FIFA expects to end the 2022 World Cup with reserves of $1.9 billion.

VIDEO: Eriksen curls home screamer for Spurs

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Christian Eriksen, take a bow.

Tottenham’s Danish magician waltzed towards Swansea’s goal early in their FA Cup quarterfinal on Saturday and curled home a stunning effort into the far corner to give his side the lead.

Eriksen stepped up to the plate with Harry Kane out injured, plus Dele Alli and Fernando Llorente on the bench, as the playmaker has now scored seven goals in 10 appearances against Swansea.

Check out the video below to see Eriksen at his very best.