Jack Wilshere’s latest highly skilled goal and an equally proficient assist before the break Monday propelled Arsenal, which leapfrogged back to the top of a tight Premier League table, overtaking Chelsea and Manchester City at the completion of Round 21.
Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa in the Midlands reversed the early, alarming result in North London, as Paul Lambert’s young club had prevailed over Gunners on opening day at the Emirates, 3-1.
But that seemed so, so long ago as Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla helped the Premier League leaders stay comfortably in control through most of Monday’s match at Villa Park.
Monday’s match turned on three highly eventful minutes, just after the half-hour mark. First came a big choice from referee Neil Swarbrick; he could have potentially shown red to Gunners defender Ignacio Monreal in the 32nd minute after he got tangled up with Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor, who was proving a nuisance here and there for the visitors’ back line.
Agbonlahor was some distance from goal and slightly out to the right, but still may have been in alone on goal but for Monreal’s late tackle, which was cynical or just clumsy, based surely on your point of view. Either way, Swarbrick produced the yellow, and that was only the beginning of the bad timings about to arrive in heavy doses around Villa Park.
Just two minutes later, there were Monreal and Ozil connecting efficiently along the left. Cazorla did his part by dragging defenders away with a well-timed, convincing dummy run into middle. Monreal’s ball then found an onrushing Wilshere, who needed two high-quality touches to push the ball past U.S. international Brad Guzan, just inside the far post.
Guzan was blameless once again two minutes past that as Wilshere reacted quickly on a poor moment in Villa’s midfield. After an unforced Villa turnover, Wilshere quickly found Olivier Giroud, the striker who keeps doing just enough to keep his place in Arsenal’s bigger plans. Giroud finished with pressure quickly approaching for a 2-0 lead.
Villa produced very little until Christian Benteke’s long-awaited breakthrough in the 76th minute. Villa had barely threatened Gunners’ keeper Wojciech Szczesny when a Carorla turnover in Arsenal’s end provided a needed boost around the ground. Benteke’s diving header at the far post cut the margin in half and ended the Aston Villa striker’s lengthy goalless spell, one that stretched nearly four months.
The game’s other turning point came in the 14th minute as Aston Villa defender Nathan Baker was felled when hit in the face by a hard shot. He was taken into the locker room – reports later said he was mildly concussed but otherwise OK – leaving the home team frightfully short of defenders. Baker was one of three center backs for Villa, as Lambert gambled with something different in an effort to slow first-place Arsenal, now with just one loss in its last nine Premier League matches.
Aston Villa: Guzan; Clark, Vlaar, Baker (Bacuna 21); Lowton, El Ahmadi (Weimann 73), Westwood, Delph, Luna; Benteke, Agbonlahor.
That’s a fictional account of a conversation occurring between Yeovil Town’s Annie Heatherson and Manchester City star Carli Lloyd a moment before the USWNT star threw a ruthless red-card winning elbow in the mug of her mark.
“I think I will decide [on my future] in the next two weeks,” he said.
Asked if United would be his new club he replied: “Possible, possible.” Asked to give the chances on a scale of one to 10, Griezmann added “six”.
There’s a reported $112 million release clause in Griezmann’s contract, and few clubs will be able to meet it. The player has said he’s loyal to Diego Simeone, and the manager said he’s staying at Atleti.
Still, is Griezmann to Old Trafford fait accompli?
Plus, click on the link above to follow all of ProSoccerTalk’s reviews of the 2016-17 season.
Let’s get to it.
Final position: 6th (Europa League group stage) Star man: Paul Pogba — It’s clear that he’ll never justify his price tag to some critics, but once he found his footing in late Fall there was no turning back for one of the most complete players in the world. Only David De Gea played more minutes for the Red Devils. The Gaffer: Jose Mourinho — There were typical odd Mourinho moments, and his fixture congestion talk was tiresome, but all-in-all he navigated the Europa League all the way to the final despite an absurd rash of injuries to defenders and long absences for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata, and Paul Pogba amongst others. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Sixth is no prize for Manchester United, but a win on Wednesday against Ajax may bump this mark up to 7 (perhaps 8 given the injuries). Season summed up in a word: Patience.
Final position: 19th (Relegated) Star man: Ben Gibson — The 24-year-old defender played all 3420 Premier League minutes for Boro, and was the most consistent performer on a team that defended like a top half side. The Gaffer: Aitor Karanka / Steve Agnew — Karanka has a right to feel a bit hard done-by after leading Boro to the Premier League, but he couldn’t orchestrate goals and that is what doomed the Smoggies down to the Championship. Mark out of 10: 4/10 – Even with relegation, Boro didn’t embarrass itself like their Northeast neighbors Sunderland. Season summed up in a word: Inoffensive.
Final position: 8th Star man: Oriol Romeu — The hard-nosed tackler with an eye for the smart pass showed us what Barcelona and Chelsea saw in the center midfielder. The Gaffer: Claude Puel — Not back in Europe, and that’s a disappointment, and seems destined to start next season somewhere else. Is that fair for a League Cup final campaign, one that probably deserved better than a loss? Mark out of 10: 6/10 – An injury to stellar center back Virgil Van Dijk is likely what kept them from contending with Everton for seventh place. Their Europa League return was decent, and Puel (or whoever) will need to boost the club back into the Top Seven discussion early if he wants to stick around St. Mary’s. Season summed up in a word: Acceptable.
Final position: 13th Star man: Bruno Martins Indi — The Dutchman was a beast in the back for Stoke, but heads back to Porto this summer unless Mark Hughes can work a sale. The Gaffer: Mark Hughes — An injury to Geoff Cameron hampered their season, but the Potters stumbled too much given their talent. Mark out of 10: 3/10 – There’s a difference between leveling off and dropping off, and Stoke massively underachieved when it comes to taking any sort of step forward. Season summed up in a word: Underwhelming
Final position: 20th (Relegated) Star man: Jordan Pickford — The young backstop won’t be long for the Stadium of Light. The Gaffer: David Moyes — From word one the Scottish boss said his club wasn’t good enough for the league, which sure didn’t help them en route to relegation. Oddly enough, he could’ve been the right man to lead an undermanned rebound to the Championship. Instead, he’s resigned. Mark out of 10: 1/10 – There was nothing to like from the Northeast, but Jermain Defoe, Didier N’Dong, and Pickford were bright spots. Season summed up in a word: Moribund.
Final position: 15th Star man: Gylfi Sigurdsson — The Icelandic star is simply the reason Swans stayed alive long enough to see their season rescued by Clement and Co. The Gaffer: Francesco Guidolin / Bob Bradley / Paul Clement — Not one of these men were given enough talent to keep the team in the Premier League, so credit to Clement for getting it done. Mark out of 10: 3/10 – Selling Ashley Williams and not adequately replacing him as a leader or center back could go down as the worst move in a long time. Season summed up in a word: Fortunate.
Final position: 2nd (Champions League group stage) Star man: Harry Kane — Two Golden Boots before he’s turned 24, and the latest Englishman to have a deserved comparison to Alan Shearer. The Gaffer: Mauricio Pochettino — He’s one of the best managers in the world, and Spurs are fortunate to have him. Mark out of 10: 10/10 – From the development of Dele Alli to the steadiness of their back line, Spurs could be the next dynastic club in the Premier League. Season summed up in a word: Precipice.
Final position: 17th Star man: Etienne Capoue — Impressed in possession and finishing touch. In some ways he may be like Gylfi Sigurdsson as a player best suited to stand out on a lesser squad than contribute on a well-oiled machine. The Gaffer: Walter Mazzarri — Like Quique Flores, another Watford manager sent packing by an impatient brand. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Avoided the other end of the yo-yo worry. Season summed up in a word: Alive.
West Bromwich Albion
Final position: 10th Star man: Ben Foster — Saved points for the Baggies on so many occasions. The Gaffer: Tony Pulis — Yes he was in the running to be Premier League Manager of the Year, but that feels a bit hollow, like honoring a domestic mainstay for talking down his club’s chances and then keeping them from the drop. At some point, like with Stoke, stagnation makes staying alive less impressive. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, and Foster helped defend to the death, but the club dropped off a cliff. Season summed up in a word: Sated.
West Ham United
Final position: 11th Star man: Winston Reid — The New Zealand captain was a steady presence in a tumultuous season. The Gaffer: Slaven Bilic — Given the club’s massive aims, this season will be combed through in a fine manner. But the Dimitri Payet saga clobbered the team after the Frenchman welched on his commitment to the club. Bilic deserves another chance. Mark out of 10: 5/10 – The chairman will want more than this, and he has to get it early this Fall. Season summed up in a word: Wobbly.