Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace: Brace from the Ox on return puts Gunners back on top (video)

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On his first full return from a long-term knee injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showed Arsenal – and the rest of the Premier League – just exactly what the title contenders were missing.

The 20-year-old England international picked up a brace to make the Gunner midfield look even scarier than it did coming in, and they returned to the top of the Premier League table with the 2-0 win at the Emirates.

Arsenal dominated the first half, owning nearly 80% of possession through 25 minutes.  They couldn’t break through early, however, with Crystal Palace’s defending not pretty but effective.

While Arsene Wenger struggled with the zipper on his puffy coat, Arsenal struggled with a final product in the Crystal Palace half.

Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla both had chances in the first half hour, but couldn’t find the back of the net.

The best chance came in the 34th minute, when Laurent Koscielny nearly got a head to a free kick but he whiffed and Julian Speroni saved full-stretch.

source: AP
The 20-year-old showed no ill effects from his knee injury with a pair of goals for the home fans.

They continued to probe and prod the Palace defense, but nothing would come of it in the first half as Crystal Palace’s shape actually improved as the first 45 drew on. Arsenal finished the first half with 75% of the possession, but only had one successful take-on out of seven they attempted.

Out of the break, though, the Gunners attack made much better use of the open areas they’d been given, and they delivered straight away.

Santi Cazorla ran through acres of space in the midfield, and he found Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making a far-post run.  The winger got Speroni to commit and then touched effortlessly over the keeper’s head for the opener.

Oxlade-Chamberlain made his run behind Palace defender Joel Ward who had completely lost touch with the young England international until it was too late.

With the visitors pegged back, they nearly had a chance to draw level just after the goal.  A deflected cross from the left flank found Yannick Bolaise in the box who headed on for Cameron Jerome.  The striker remained onsides and had a brilliant chance to score with a diving header, but the angle was too tight and Wociech Szczesny came to Arsenal’s rescue.

Arsenal stepped it up after that, and while a nervous 25 minutes went by without any insurance, Oxlade-Chamberlain returned for an encore.  A brilliant one-two with Giroud saw Ox crash the box and cut back across goal before finishing low into the far corner.

It finished out with Arsenal maintaining that high possession number, and the pair of breakthroughs were enough to fell an otherwise staunch Palace defense on the day.  Marouane Chamakh was largely a nonfactor on his return to the Emirates ,where he was generally a disappointment during his time at the London club.

Arsenal return two points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, with the Citizens to play Chelsea tomorrow. With the West Bromwich Albion point earlier in the day, Palace fall to 17th, just a lone point off the relegation zone.

GOALS:

Arsenal – Oxlade-Chamberlain 48′, 73′

LINEUPS:

Arsenal – Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Ozil (Gibbs 84′), Podolski (Rosicky 71′); Giroud (Bendtner 84′).

Crystal Palace Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Parr; Bolasie, Dikgacoi, Jedinak, Puncheon; Chamakh (Gayle 82′), Jerome (Bannan 56′).

Money from Wembley replay will “support Rochdale for 2 or 3 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