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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

source: AP
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.

“Sorry to kill your stories”: Klopp not seeking new Liverpool GK

during the UEFA Europa League Group B match between Liverpool FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield on November 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
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The topic of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a lightning rod for a certain subset of Liverpool fans, but you can count Jurgen Klopp in the group that likes him just fine, thank you.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

The 27-year-old Belgian has been the man between the sticks for Klopp since the manager took over at Anfield, and Klopp is already tiring of the rumors that he’s looking for better in the goalkeeping department.

From the BBC:

“I’m absolutely satisfied with our goalkeeper situation.

“I’m sorry to kill your stories about German goalkeepers and different goalkeepers from Stoke – we are not looking for another goalkeeper.”

Pretty clear cut there. Jack Butland would be nice and all, but Klopp’s fine with Mignolet and ex-Bolton man Adam Bogdan.

Do you think they need better?

Klinsmann backs Altidore ahead of busy 2016; USMNT star “back on board”

Jurgen Klinsmann, Jozy Altidore
AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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Jurgen Klinsmann thinks Jozy Altidore‘s tumultuous year ended on an upswing, and expects it to continued into an important 2016.

The Toronto FC hitman had plenty of ups and downs for club, and just as many for country. Whether injuries or form, Altidore wasn’t often the player USMNT fans remember from years past.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But the recently-turned 26-year-old scored six times in his last nine games with TFC to give him 13 on the season, and Klinsmann seems to think his big striker is out of the woods.

From US Soccer:

“Everybody saw that 2015 for Jozy Altidore has been very difficult, a tricky year, but it has become a year toward the end of it where it got stronger and stronger. He had some injury issues and some fitness issues in the beginning of the year. Obviously we had the episode in the Gold Cup where he was not in the shape he needed to be. In then towards July, August, September, he got more and more into the flow. He started to score goals for Toronto, and he got stronger and stronger for the national team as well. This is a very positive sign for us to have Jozy back on board, to plan with Jozy into a very busy 2016, obviously the biggest highlight is the Copa America in June.”

It’s great for the coach to have faith in the United States’ fourth all-time leading scorer, who should catch Eric Wynalda for third this season. Whether Klinsmann will be rewarded for his faith in the striker is another thing altogether, especially in that pivotal, U.S. hosted tournament this summer.

The tricky thing for Altidore, in the run up to the 2018 World Cup, will be for him to prove his merit if players like Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson and Jordan Morris continue their rises as scoring options.

Manchester City defeat a “cruel” reminder for Hull City’s Bruce

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Hull City Manager Steve Bruce during the Sky Bet Championship match between Bristol City and Hull City at Ashton Gate on November 21, 2015 in Bristol, England.  (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images
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For nearly 90 percent of Hull City’s League Cup quarterfinal against Manchester City, the Tigers hung tough.

A 1-0 deficit made dreams of an Etihad equalizer far from absurd, and Hull had to be thinking about the possibility of another extended Cup run after making it to the 2014 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: League Cup roundup sees Man City, Stoke, Everton advance ]

Then, the 80th minute hit Hull. Seven minutes later, it was 4-0 Man City. Boom. It finished 4-1.

From the BBC:

“If we needed a reminder how cruel it was to play against the big boys, we just had one.

“After 80 minutes we just had our best spell of the match and after 87 minutes it was 4-0. It was never a 4-1.”

Hull is three points off the lead in the Championship after being relegated from the Premier League last season. Their only loss since Sept. 12 came Saturday against Derby County, so the gifts of Man City were likely a surprise.

With loads of genuine respect to Bruce and complete understanding of what he’s inferring, it did feel more like a 4-1 than the 1-0 his Tigers faced for 68 minutes after Wilfried Bony‘s 12th minute tally.

What would it mean for MLS if Portland wins it all on Sunday?

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers
AP Photo/The Oregonian, Randy Rasmussen
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It’s a tricky question, isn’t it? Would there be an underlying thread, a lesson, or a copycat inspiration inside of Portland scoring a minor upset of Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday?

Here are some thoughts on the storylines from a post-Timbers title.

1) Stick with the boss

Caleb Porter’s reputation is rather “hate or love”, and people (including this “perhaps still bitter from the Olympics” writer) were expecting his days to be numbered after a rough start to this season.

In his first year in PDX, Porter engineered a 20-point upgrade to the West’s No. 1 slot, but Year Two featured no playoffs and it looked headed that way for much of this year.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But after leaping into control of its playoff destiny with a game to play, Porter now has a Conference Final and an MLS Cup Final (at least) on his resume inside of three seasons.

Where other teams have gone through coaches like candy, Portland keeps going with Porter. Perhaps there’s a lesson there, as in 102 games he’s posted 41 wins and 36 draws to go with just 25 losses (and he was missing Will Johnson and Diego Valeri for the critical moments of his bum season).

2) Spend* at the back, and spread it out

Portland spent the league’s 10th highest total dollars on players when including Designated Players, but that total leaps to sixth if you discount the big money guys (Liam Ridgewell, Lucas Melano, Diego Valeri).

You have to get to 19th on the list of top MLS salaries to find Portland’s first entrant (Ridgewell), and you don’t hit another until No. 33 (Fanendo Adi).

[ MLS: Impact to sign 96-times capped Ivorian defender? ]

But Portland has six players in the Top 100, compared to Columbus’ four. High-end spenders NYC (five players), Toronto (four), and L.A. (four) all don’t hit that figure inside of the Top 100 (and to be specific, Portland does in 98).

They also rank ninth in spending on forwards, 14th on midfielders, and third in defenders. Of the 15 players making more than 100k in base salary, four are defenders and one is goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.

All numbers come from Spotrac*

3) Get Darlington Nagbe

This will be harder to copycat, seeing as there’s only one Darlington Nagbe, but the Timbers’ midfielder is versatile and helps Porter challenge opposing coaches because of the unpredictable nature of how he can be deployed on the pitch.

In fact, when you run numbers on advanced statistics site Squawka, you’ll see something quite interesting. Among players who hit the pitch in at least 2/3 of their teams’ games this season, Nagbe is fourth in MLS in combined score. More intriguing? Besides Michael Bradley, he’s the most complete contributor (offense, defense, possession) of any top scorer.

[ MORE:  Who is the favorite for MLS Cup 2015? ]

Nagbe stats4) Parity continues to reign

For the same reason people barely celebrate the NHL’s Presidents Trophy, the MLS Supporters Shield is a bit of a fallback party for fan bases who fail to capitalize on a season’s worth of solid play.

In much of world soccer, the season-long title matter more than a tournament, but North America is about the playoffs. The fact of the matter is that only one team in MLS this season finished more than four wins out of a playoff spot (Chicago), and most teams that missed the playoffs by a bunch (New York City, Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Houston), earned their gaps off the playoff pace by losing a lot once they were officially eliminated.

Even Chicago, who was awful, had a shot at the playoffs when August ended, only to lose seven of eight to finish the season. MLS, for better or worse, literally is anyone’s ball game at nearly any time.