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′).

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

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On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.