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′).

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone