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′).

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.