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′).

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.