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.

Wild day in American soccer: Crew relocation, NASL LOIs, USL reserves

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The top three soccer leagues in the United States of America are dealing with varying bits of turmoil this Tuesday in October.

It began late Monday with reports that Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt aims to take the MLS founding member to Texas, seemingly only paying lip service to the idea of investment keeping the team in Ohio.

[ MORE: Leicester sacks Shakespeare ]

Some have said Precourt’s goals have always been to find a way out of Ohio, and the Crew owner was asked what has changed in the four years he’s owned the club (From ColumbusCrewSC.com):

Q:When we read your story about your purchase of the team, this was back in 2013, part of that was that it was very important to the Hunt family that the Crew remained in Columbus and you said at the time that you were committed to that. So what’s changed?

AP: I was committed to that and I believe that I demonstrated my commitment through significant investment in infrastructure, in personnel, in the quality of our product on the field. What has changed? Our League has grown leaps and bounds, it’s been unprecedented the improvement we’ve seen year over year and new markets that have come in the League have shown dramatic attendance. Let’s look at Atlanta with over 70,000 fans over their last few games, with Orlando building a new facility and averaging over 30,000 fans a game, with New York City FC. The list goes on and on. Our peers get stronger and stronger, year in and year out and I have to get back to our ambition as a club. This is key: our ambition as a club is to be a standard bearer in Major League Soccer, to be respected on and off the field in terms of our soccer operations and our business operations and to operate world-class, soccer-specific infrastructure. We’re going through growing pains now. It’s time for us to explore building a world-class, soccer-specific stadium so that we can be celebrated and successful and sustainable.

So, yes, barring a king’s ransom — word use intended — from the Ohio business community, it’s not being cynical to read Precourt’s intention to leave Ohio as very strong. The idea is very sad for the league, and makes every pro/rel honk’s argument against the closed model.

Then there’s the NASL, where it’s almost head-spinning to keep abreast of the future of the league. New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso has taken the wheel in an attempt to not only see the NASL rise, but remove Sunil Gulati from power at the United States Soccer Federation in the hopes of a complete overhaul. In what should not be read as a footnote, the NASL is currently suing the USSF.

There are reports that the league could have as many as 17 teams next season in a bid to regain sanctioning from the Unites States Soccer Federation, including a series of teams from the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League.

According to SocTakes.com, the NASL has letters of intent from NPSL clubs in Boca Raton, Boston, Detroit, Arizona, New Orleans, and Virginia Beach. Additionally, there’s interest in Hartford and it may not be the NPSL club.

Then came this Tweet:

Now here’s a league, the USL, whose only issues have been perception-related. Growing well and instituting a D-3 companion, the biggest concern has been the mentioned MLS Reserve sides creating a minor league feel for the league.

All of this is manageable, and you could argue that the disappearance or at least rebranding of most of these reserve sides would be a boon for the league.

Taken in a vacuum, any of these stories has the potential to carry a day’s news. Together, and in the wake of the United States men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, they give Tuesday one of those Soccer-USApocalyptic feelings.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview: Chelsea, Man Utd look to break out

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Only one of 16 teams was held off the score sheet on Tuesday. Could the same level of entertainment reach the UEFA Champions League a day later?

Two more Premier League teams take the pitch on Wednesday, with Manchester United facing its stiffest test of the group stage and Chelsea with a tricky visit from AS Roma.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

Manchester United has a significant challenge in Benfica, and may need a man familiar with the Estadio da Luz to help them out. Center back Eric Bailly remains out for United, which could bring Victor Lindelof into the fold to help stop Haris Seferovic, Gabriel Barbosa, Raul Jimenez, and especially Jonas.

Coming off a sleepy weekend draw versus Liverpool in an underwhelming derby, United will take on a desperate Benfica team which is traditionally strong but lost at home to CSKA Moscow and was crushed in Switzerland by Basel.

(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Speaking of the need to rebound, Chelsea’s loss to Crystal Palace still has many scratching their heads. Fortunately, Roma is also in a mini-funk after a weekend loss to Napoli that ended a five-match winning streak.

There’s a reunion for Antonio Rudiger inside Stamford Bridge with Roma in town. I Lupi has been pretty one-dimensional in terms of offense, with ex-Man City man and reigning Serie A capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko. He’s scored eight times in nine matches for Roma this season.

Full Wednesday UCL schedule
All kickoffs at 2:45 p.m. ET except where indicated

Qarabag vs. Atletico Madrid — Noon ET
Anderlecht vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Benfica vs. Manchester United
Juventus vs. Sporting Lisbon
Barcelona vs. Olympiacos
Chelsea vs. Roma
Bayern Munich vs. Celtic
CSKA Moscow vs. Basel

U-17 World Cup wrap: England advances to meet USA

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The United States now knows it’ll have to take down England’s best to get to the semifinals of the U-17 World Cup in India.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

England, don’t laugh, won in penalty kicks after a scoreless match with Japan, advancing to meet the Baby Yanks.


England 0-0 (5-3, PKs) Japan

There wasn’t a single miss amongst the England shooters, as Rhian Brewster (Liverpool), Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea), Phil Foden (Man City), Nya Kirby (Crystal Palace), and Curtis Anderson (Man City) converted from the spot to set up a date against the U.S.

Mali 5-1 Iraq

Lassana Ndiaye scored twice to join France’s Amine Gouiri atop the goal scoring list for the tournament as Mali advances to face the winner of Ghana vs. Niger.

France 1-2 Spain

Barcelona prospects Juan Miranda and Abel Ruiz get the better of France to set up a date with high-flying Iran.

 

Iran 2-1 Mexico

Iran conceded for just the second time in the tournament, but not before Mohammad Sharifi and Allahyar Sayyad (both of Iranian club Saifa) made it 2-0 by the 11th minute.

UEFA Champions League wrap: Tables turned on wild day

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One clean sheet in eight Tuesday matches certainly helped the entertainment value of the UEFA Champions League, and the group ramifications follow suit.

Borussia Dortmund whiffed on a chance to take advantage of Real Madrid’s home draw versus Spurs, while Sevilla was waxed in Russia, and Besiktas continues to strut in UCL play.

Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham HotspurRECAP, VIDEO

Raphael Varane’s plans to mark Harry Kane were subverted by the French defender’s unwitting legs, but Serge Aurier chopped down Toni Kroos in the 42nd minute for a yellow card and penalty that Cristiano Ronaldo sent beyond the reach of Spurs backstop Hugo Lloris.

It was Lloris’ outstanding day, along with a couple timely Keylor Navas saves, that kept the score line 1-1 after 90 minutes. The backstops will likely match wits again come Nov. 1 at Wembley Stadium.

Manchester City 2-1 NapoliRECAP

Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scored in the ninth and 13th minutes as City has been an unwelcoming host for the Neapolitan side. Ederson stopped a Dries Mertens penalty, adding insult to Napoli’s twin concessions, but Napoli would get a second penalty kick and pulled back a goal courtesy of Amadou Diawara.

Monaco 1-2 Besiktas

Reported Newcastle United and Crystal Palace target Cenk Tosun scored a pair of goals as group-leading Besiktas came back to beat Monaco after Radamel Falcao made it 1-0 to the hosts.

Feyenoord 1-2 Shakhtar Donetsk

Similar story in the Netherlands, where Ex-Watford man Steven Berghuis gave the Eredivisie hosts a lead only to see a Bernard brace lead Shakhtar at De Kuip.

Spartak Moscow 5-1 Sevilla

Liverpool’s score line was a bit surprising, but this one raised eyebrows even given Sevilla’s long road (or flight path) to Russia. Quincy Promes scored twice to make Sevilla consider its Europa roots (though plenty of time remains in the group stage).

Spartak’s Luiz Adriano scores past Sevilla’s Sergio Rico (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Maribor 0-7 LiverpoolRECAP

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds are sent their finishing demons off a cliff. It was 3-0 after 20 minutes, 4-0 at half, and when all was said and done there were braces for Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah to go with single markers from Philippe Coutinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

APOEL Nicosia 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

A significant step backward for BVB, who would’ve done well to take advantage of Real and Spurs drawing at the Bernabeu. The Germans even trailed for five second-half minutes before Sokratis Papastathopoulos provided the equalizing goal.

RB Leipzig 3-2 Porto

Five first half goals felt like the start of something special, but the upstart Germans held on through a scoreless second half to claim their first UCL win.