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Southampton 2-2 Arsenal: Blistering open to second half sees Saints hold league leaders (video)

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An end-to-end match saw Southampton dominate the table-toppers in the first half, only to waste a lead before coming back to steal a point.

Southampton were incredibly bright as they owned the first half and went into the break 1-0 up. Aside from a near-deadly charge by Arsenal to start the second 45, the league leaders would have left St. Marys with nothing

However, three second-half goals by the 54th minute had the match at 2-2 and that’s where it would end. The Gunners would receive a scare with Mathieu Flamini sent off on 81 minutes, but they held on.

The home side dominated the first half, owning nearly 70% possession and a 1-0 halftime lead, but the fun part was yet to come.

Three goals in the first nine minutes after the break saw the game knotted at 2-2,

The Saints began looking to play on the counter, and they got a few early chances as Arsenal were sloppy in possession. In the eighth minute young Sam Gallagher won the ball in the box and stung the hands of Wojceich Szczesny who saved well.

That attempt to play on the counter though built into full-on possession, and by 20 minutes played, Southampton had maintained nearly 75% possession.

That ball-hawking paid off, and a rare moment of frailty by the Arsenal defense gave Southampton the lead. Luke Shaw launched in a pinpoint cross following a free kick, and Jose Fonte rose above Laurent Koscielny to thunder home a header by the near post.

Nothing changed following the goal with the rain pouring down, as Southampton continued to batter the attacking third with possession after possession.  Unfortunately they couldn’t capitalize on their next opportunity.

source: Getty Images
Mathieu Flamini gave Gunner fans a scare in the 81st minute when he was sent off for a nasty challenge on Morgan Schneiderlin.

Gallagher was gifted a clear chance, as a clear by Nacho Monreal slammed into a Southampton player and fell directly into Gallagher’s lap, but with Szczesny bearing down on emergency duty, he stuck it wide.

Arsenal remained unable to get a shot off, running the clock down to halftime without an endeavor on goal. That wouldn’t last long.

Out of the halftime gates at St. Mary’s, Bacary Sagna found the ball on the edge of the Southampton penalty area, and he blasted a shot from a tight angle.  With Olivier Giroud on the ground after a tussle with goalkeeper Artur Boruc, he managed a tip of the shot to deflect it into the net.

It was just Arsenal’s second shot of the match for their first goal, and it wouldn’t take long for the visitors to find another.  With Mesut Ozil finding Santi Cazorla in some space behind the defense outside the penalty area, the Spaniard popped off a shot from range that slid past a surprised Boruc for a 2-1 lead.

But the lead wouldn’t last long as the second half continued to provide fireworks. Southampton went down and got themselves back into the match, as Jay Rodriguez collected a long ball on the left wing and he burst down the touchline. As the youngster sliced into the penalty area, he cut back for Adam Lallana trailing the play and he poked home to bring it back even at 2-2.

The match remained bright, and the two teams pressed each other with quality until a potential turning point occured with 10 minutes to go. Mathieu Flamini lunged into Morgan Schneiderlin, and referee Lee Mason sent him off directly. Replays showed the challenge was low, but the Frenchman went in two-footed with studs up.

Southampton jumped at the opportunity, and Szczesny did all he could to keep the home side out. He dove to keep out Fonte’s volley for a second with just four minutes to go.  Each team would have a final chance, but neither side could earn the three points.

Arsenal will now sweat on their table-topping position, with Chelsea and Manchester City both within striking distance and yet to play.  Southampton will be happy with the point, as they remain above the gap in ninth position, eight points above Swansea in 10th.

GOALS:

Southampton – Fonte 21′; Lallana 54′
Arsenal – Giroud 48′; Cazorla 52′

DISCIPLINE:

Arsenal – Flaimini (straight red) 81′

LINEUPS:

Southampton – Boruc, Chambers, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Cork, Schneiderlin, S. Davis (Do Prado, 90′), Lallana, Rodriguez, Gallagher (Ward-Prowse 70′).

Arsenal – Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Ozil, Cazorla (Gibbs 86′), Gnabry (Oxlade-Chamberlain 70′), Giroud (Podolski 90′).

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”

Wenger discusses future of Sanchez, Ozil at Arsenal

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With just 18 months left on their current contracts, the futures of both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal is becoming a daily topic.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

This week alone Sanchez has been linked with a move to China on Wednesday, plus Real Madrid and Chelsea on Thursday, while another report from the Telegraph suggest the Gunners are willing to listen to offers for 28-year-old Ozil who isn’t willing to back down on his hopes of getting a $487,000 week contract at Arsenal where he is currently the top earner on $180,000.

To try and clear up any of the speculation Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger, who only has a contract at the Emirates until the end of the current season, has been speaking to the media about the reports.

Asked if Arsenal was willing to break their transfer structure, he said they’ll “do the maximum of what we can for every single player” to remain at the club.

He then reinforced the notion that Sanchez and Ozil would remain at Arsenal for at least 18 months, and hopefully much longer.

“Eighteen months is quite long in football. They have 18 months on their contracts and are completely committed to do well as long as they are here,” Wenger said. “Beyond that we will try to extend their contracts but I can’t make that a subject of every press conference as that is normal. These players have 18 months, they will be staying 18 months and hopefully much longer. I don’t believe that it is a problem.”

“A contract is between two parties and on my side the best position is to achieve it early. You have to accept that negotiations are private and secret and we don’t have to explain what we do with negotiations.”

Asked about the astronomical sums of cash reportedly being offered to Sanchez to go and play in the Chinese Super League — reports state the Chilean star has offers of $505,000 per week on the table — Wenger believed it was true but questioned why either would leave England.

“Why should you go to China when you are playing in England? We live in a world where the great players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil earn a lot of money and have the privilege to choose where they want to play,” Wenger said. “The commitment of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil is absolute total and I’m very pleased with that. We are professionals and the first quality is to give 100 percent, it is here and now, that is what it means to be professional and to be fully committed to the cause.”

So, Wenger is confident the superstar duo will stay. Should he be?

With Paul Pogba earning over $368,000 as the current top earner in the Premier League, it’s easy to see why Ozil and Sanchez believe they’re worth more than Pogba is currently earning at Manchester United.

Sanchez, 27, has been ripping it up this season, scoring 11 times in 14 PL outings and Ozil has already matched his goal tally from last season with eight strikes in all competitions.

Arsenal’s wage structure is said to be set at $250,000 per week, with an insistence on no player earning more than Wenger does.

Unless they change that stance it’s difficult to see how Sanchez and Ozil will remain at the Emirates Stadium with so many suitors from across the Premier League, Europe and worldwide willing to double, or even treble, their current wages.

Of course the Premier League is the most-watched in the world and there are many advantages to playing in it for Sanchez, Ozil and other superstars but money talks. If these huge offers from the Chinese Super League are true, why wouldn’t players move there to cash in on their relatively short playing careers?

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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