Three things we learned from Arsenal and Manchester United’s deadlock

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LONDON — Following Arsenal’s 0-0 draw against Manchester United on Wednesday, both sides failed to really push the boat out and go for broke to grab the win.

Perhaps that wasn’t that surprising given United’s poor run of form and Arsenal coming off the back of a 5-1 thumping away at Liverpool on Saturday.

Arsenal’s usual panache was missing in and around the box, while United shut up shop and failed to force the issue.

But what did we learn from the stalemate at the Emirates?

United’s negative tactics will get them nowhere

Even though they grabbed a point on the road away at Arsenal, Manchester United’s defensive tactics will get them nowhere in the long run. The Red Devils knew they were going to come up against an Arsenal side hell-bent on putting the heavy 5-1 defeat against Liverpool firmly in the rear view mirror. So David Moyes set his team up to counteract an onslaught and sacrificed his own teams attacking flair in the process. Record $58 million signing and chief creator Juan Mata was played out of position wide on the left, as United set up in a rigid 4-4-1-1 formation to try and keep Arsenal at bay. It worked, just about, but will this formation and these negative tactics help United turn their season around and make the top four? Not a chance. With Liverpool winning on Wednesday night and stretching their lead over United to 11 points, reaching the final Champions League spot seems to be near on impossible.

So how did David Moyes rate his sides ultra-defensive display?

I see it as a hard place to come, Arsenal are a great team and have had a great season up until now. If you’d said to me at the start of the season, would you be happy to take four points off Arsenal? I would’ve been quite happy. Overall I’d have liked to have won tonight, a lot of good things to take from it and I thought we defended very well.

Nervous tension shines through, which doesn’t bode well down the stretch

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The Gunners looked nervous in the final third, while United’s defensive setup will see them surrender fourth spot

Time and time again Arsenal’s fans threw their arms into the air as their side needlessly gave the ball away. There was a nervous tension in the air around the Emirates Stadium, as the former league leaders missed the chance to go back to the PL summit by throwing away two points at home against United. Coming off the back of demoralizing 5-1 away defeat at Liverpool, this game was always going to be about getting a reaction for Arsene Wenger, and his side didn’t really seem to believe they could punish the Red Devils. I’ve been present at all the big games at the Emirates this season, and much like the 0-0 draw with Chelsea in December, Arsenal seemed to lack the belief in the final third that they were going to score and going win the game.

Often this season they’ve whittled teams down, with their last five home games all yielding clean sheets but not a single goal coming in the first half of games. Against Crystal Palace, Fulham and Cardiff all of Arsenal’s winning strikes came late on after relentless probing caused the away side to finally crack. But diminutive demons Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla just never looked like getting in behind United’s defense, as they looked uncharacteristically uneasy in and around the box.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger observed that uneasy attitude from his usually placid players, who so often ooze panache.

I felt we were nervous. Where we are usually very dangerous breaking through the middle with quick passing, Man United defended very well there. We got plenty of crosses in but their experienced players like Vidic and Ferdinand dealt very well with that.

The Gunners enter pivotal patch with goals still an issue

Arsenal’s French forward Olivier Giroud ran himself into the ground on Wednesday, but the Frenchman, try as he might, just couldn’t convert any of the chances handed to him. Giroud headed off target twice in the first half after losing his marker at a set-piece, then missed a glorious chance in the 77th minute as Bacary Sagna’s right wing cross somehow evaded his right boot and the majority of the 60,000 crowd at the Emirates collectively looked to the sky and hoisted their hands longingly into the air. With no new striker arriving in January and Giroud looking off his touch in front of goal, (no for a lack of effort on his part, ny the way) the Gunners are suddenly looking short of goals with Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey both out injured. With Liverpool coming up on Sunday in the fifth round of the FA Cup, Bayern Munich at home next Wednesday in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League and then Sunderland in the PL on Feb. 22, a pivotal run of games will define the Gunners quest for silverware this season.

You have to go back to their 3-1 Boxing Day win away at West Ham for the last time Arsenal scored more than two goals in a PL game, which certainly isn’t Championship form. Yes, defensively they are superb after keeping their 12th clean sheet of the season. But goals win you games, and Arsenal just don’t look like scoring that many of late.

Wenger agreed his side are struggling to bulge the back of the old onion bag…

We are a bit short of goals at the moment. We lost goalscorers with Walcott and Ramsey, at the moment in the games like that [draw with United], you see that. We must come back to our normal level in the next game offensively.

PHOTOS: Tottenham’s stunning new stadium

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Tottenham Hotspur’s new $1 billion stadium is taking shape and it is looking magnificent.

The plan is for Spurs’ new home at White Hart Lane to be ready for the 2018/19 season, with reports stating that Mauricio Pochettino‘s men will play their first couple of games away from home next season in order to squeeze in a few more weeks for construction.

Spurs’ new  home will seat 62,062 fans and will be the second-largest stadium in the Premier League behind Manchester United’s Old Trafford.

Take a look at the photos below in the spring sunshine in London, with the largest single-tier stand in Europe looking sublime as the roof panels are going on and the stadium is really starting to come to life.


Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso handed three-game ban

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After being named in the PFA’s Premier League Team of the Year on Wednesday, it has been a mixed few days for Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso as he has received a three-game ban with immediate effect after being found guilty of violent conduct.

Alsono, 27, stamped on Shane Long‘s calf in Chelsea’s 3-2 comeback win at Southampton last time out but referee Mike Dean missed the incident completely.

Since then Alonso has received a retrospective charge from the English FA and although the Spanish left back appealed the decision and the length of the ban, it was upheld and he will now miss Chelsea’s next three games.

Alonso will miss the clash at Burnley on Thursday, the FA Cup semifinal against Southampton on Sunday and the trip to Swansea City on Apr. 28.

Who will come in for Alonso?

Antonio Conte has already stated that Emerson Palmeri, a January arrival from AS Roma, will start at Burnley on Thursday and if the Brazilian full back impresses then it is highly likely he will stand in for Alonso in the big FA Cup semifinal on Sunday against Saints. Other options would be Davide Zappacosta playing as the left wing-back or even Cesar Azpilicueta out there.

As for Saints, they feel hard done by after Dean didn’t spot Alonso’s foul even though he was standing yards away from the incident and looking straight at it. At the time of the incident they led 1-0 going into half time and their manager Mark Hughes believes it would have made a big difference as Alonso’s cross set up Olivier Giroud to make it 2-1 and the Spaniard made a big difference from left back in the incredible 3-2 comeback victory. Still, at least Saints won’t have to play against Alonso on Sunday with revenge in the air…

PHOTOS: Liverpool unveil new 2018/19 kit

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Liverpool have gone for a “pepper red” kit for the 2017/18 season.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game ]

On Thursday the Anfield club released their new jersey for next season with New Balance once again their kit suppliers.

The key features of this new kit is a small collar, with a fresh white and red look throughout.

Check out the images and video below.


VAR decisions at World Cup to be explained on giant screens

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia won’t be left wondering about the reasons behind decisions of the video assistant referee.

After the VAR’s decision is made, replays will be shown on giant screens inside the stadiums accompanied by a written explanation.

It’s all part of the VAR information system that FIFA unveiled Wednesday .

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

FIFA will place someone in the VOR (video operations room) who will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate them to both TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.

“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” said Sebastian Runge, group leader of football innovation at FIFA.

With the VAR making its tournament debut during the June 14-July 15 World Cup, FIFA is holding its final training camp this month for the 99 match officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – who have been selected to go to Russia.

Thirteen VARs have been pre-selected and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex, and FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said more VARs and VAR assistants will be chosen from the 99 match officials.

Three of the 13 VARs come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – elite competitions that already use video assistants.

The VAR can support the referee in four game-changing situations: goals and offenses leading up to a goal, penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

Still, VARs in both Italy and Germany have received vehement criticism for long delays and bungled decisions this season.

On Monday, Mainz was awarded a penalty during halftime against a rival Freiburg side that had already left the pitch for the break – prompting the unusual scene of a team returning from the changing room to defend a penalty.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” Collina said without providing further detail.

Collina added that the VAR should not be overused, adding that ideally it would intervene at all in a match.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes,” Collina said. “The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions,” Collina added.

Among other items involving the VAR:

MOSCOW CONTROL CENTER

FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control center for the VAR rather than using trucks outside stadiums.

“We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” Collina said.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs.

Training operation rooms presented to media included six monitors for the VARs and two more for technical assistants enabling the VARs to see requested replays.

There could be up to four technical assistants in the room for World Cup matches.

OFFSIDE CAMERAS

FIFA will install two extra cameras at matches to monitor offside decisions.

The cameras will be in addition to the 33 cameras used for broadcasters and they will be installed under stadium roofs.

Broadcasters will not have direct access to the cameras but if they are used by the VAR then broadcasters can show the video.

Runge added that three dimensional technology – considered the ultimate strategy for determining offside – is not ready for real-time access yet.

SWEAT AND STRESS

VARs will not officiate more than one match per day.

“It’s not like watching a match on the sofa sipping coffee,” Collina said.

Collina, who officiated Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, explained why the VARs will wear track suits similar to referees’ on-pitch attire.

“The reason is at the end they sweat as much as someone on the field, because the tension is very high,” Collina said. “They can’t do two matches per day – it’s too stressful.”

COMMS AND HACKING

The Moscow control center will be connected to match officials via a fiber optic network.

If the network fails, the backup plan includes an old-fashioned land telephone line and a telephone stationed near the fourth referee for emergency use.

“Worst-case scenario includes a backup plan on site. That’s when the IBC is down – no power, no fiber network,” Runge said. “Then we have a plan in place where the fourth official would become the VAR and the fourth official would be replaced by the reserve referee.

“We have a cabin in the broadcast compound from where we send all of the feeds to the IBC anyway. That cabin can be turned into a smaller, light version of the VOR.”

Hacking has also been considered.

“We are aware that there might be something but our IT department put measurements in place that will protect us from that,” Runge said.

POST-MATCH BRIEFINGS

In extraordinary circumstances, FIFA will hold post-match briefings to explain decisions in greater detail.

“If something should happen that we think should properly and accurately be explained – and it doesn’t matter if it’s related to VAR or something different – if it is a matter to explain the background of a decision, as an exception certainly we will do it,” Collina said.

“But it won’t be a post-match press conference for every match, explaining every single decision taken during every single match.”

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf