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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′).

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)