Wenger: Robben ‘made a lot of’ Szczesny contact; penalty ‘killed the game’

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The replay seemed clear, though in Arsène Wenger’s defense, he eventually confessed that he still needed to “see [the play] again.” But after his team’s 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich, that didn’t stop the Arsenal boss from claiming München attacker Arjen Robben “made more of [the contact]” he received from Wojciech Szczesny in Wednesday’s 37th minute. The Arsenal goalkeeper was shown a straight red card, leaving the Gunners to play with 10 men for 53 minutes in their UEFA Champions League defeat.

The incident occurred when Bayern midfielder Toni Kroos, from the middle of his attacking half, lofted a ball over the Arsenal defense, sending Robben in alone on Szczesny. The Arsenal keeper came out to try and beat Robben to the ball, but when the Dutch international played a touch past the challenge and toward goal, Szczesny’s outstretched leg brought him down, denying the attacker a goal scoring opportunity.

Wenger, speaking post-match, claimed Robben embellished the Szczesny’s contact, which wouldn’t have justified a sending off in every league.

“I think the rules are different in every country,” Wenger said, asked about the sending off. “Our‘keeper went for the ball but he touched Robben, who certainly made more of it. That’s what I told [Robben].

“[The call] killed the game. The game was top quality until then, in the second half it was boring. It was one way traffic. The referee made the decision that killed the game.”

Wenger stopped short of describing Robben’s act with the d-word, but when asked if he was accusing the Bayern attacker of diving, he did everything but stamp the label on Bayern’s entire squad.

“[Robben] has enough experience to know to make more of it,” Wenger said of Robben. “Overall, Bayern made a lot of every single contact. We are not used to that in England.”

What they are used to in England (and everywhere else in the world) is managers seeing games from a very partisan perspective – a view so biased that coaches see what you want rather than what actually happened. Given license to say whatever they feel in the wake of a disappointing loss, managers are allowed to discard perspective and balance and indulge their most jaded, often conspiratorial fantasies. At least this time, the manager in question stopped short of saying the officials were actively working against him.

Perhaps Robben did exaggerate the effect of Szczesny’s contact, but it’s too much to imply a goalkeeper tripping an attacker moving in on goal would be called differently in other countries. There is, after all, a reason Szczesny left the field with almost no protest, with more disappointment than surprise when he was shown the red card. If Wenger is imagining a world where such plays don’t end with a whistle, he may also be imagining a world where his post-match comments don’t sound embittered by his goalkeeper’s error.

To Wenger’s credit, he did concede Szczesny may have been culpable, albeit slightly.

“The regret I have tonight, Wojiech misjudged the situation, maybe,” Wenger said, before going on to address the sanction. “It was no clear desire to make a foul.  It completely killed the game.

“I feel frustrated. It was a great football game until half time, and it was no game at all after half time. On a European night it was very frustrating.”

Equally frustrating: The implication that certain games should have a different set of rules than others. That’s what Wenger is implying when he suggests the quality of the play and the Champions League occasion should have been part of the decision-making process. Though he doesn’t come straight out and say it, that’s always the subtext when managers try to add circumstance and the game’s flow to the list of factors a referee should consider.

Overall, the press conference comes off as whining, which is understandable. Perhaps other managers would handle themselves differently, but it’s no mystery why a man who saw his team perform well for 37 minutes feels bitter after his goalkeeper’s momentary lapse. That lapse has his team down two and on the brink of elimination from Champions League.

Reporting from Joe Prince-Wright contributed to this post.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham

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Southampton will host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both sides hoping to pick up three points for very different reasons.

The Saints are currently in the midst of a fierce relegation battle through 23 matches, and sit in 18th place in the Premier League, while Spurs are hoping challenge for a top-four position.

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Mauricio Pellegrino‘s Southampton could get defender Maya Yoshida back in time for Sunday’s match, however, the side will be without Charlie Austin once more, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, a number of key figures will miss the match for Tottenham, including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Harry Winks. Also, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld remain sidelined with injuries, although the latter is expected to be back soon.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pellegrino on state of the Saints: “We are not happy with our position but in three or four weeks’ time everything can change. It’s part of our competition. I feel in our team the spirit is really good and everybody is conscious about what we need. I receive these messages from players every day, and we have to convert these feelings into stats.”

Mauricio Pochettino on potential January moves: “To be honest it will be difficult. At some point you always dream but not too much exciting [is happening]. If it happens, it happens. If not, then it doesn’t happen. We are happy with the squad.”

Prediction

Harry Kane is firing at an absurd rate recently, and Southampton’s current form is worrisome to say the least. With just four wins all season, it’s hard to imagine the Saints coming out in front in their clash. Southampton 0-3 Tottenham

La Liga: Las Palmas stuns nine-man Valencia, Atleti settles for draw

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Las Palmas 2-1 Valencia

It’s never ideal when you finish a match with nine men, and that was the case on the day for third-place Valencia. Things were going according to plan for the visitors early on at the Gran Canaria when Santi Mina scored five minutes into the match.

However, goals from Jonathan Viera (22nd minute) and Jonathan Calleri (53rd minute) brought Las Palmas in front, and they wouldn’t relinquish the advantage.

Gabriel Paulista‘s second yellow card, which set up Las Palmas’ penalty kick in the second half was the first sending off for Valencia, while Ruben Vezo joined his teammate in the locker room with three minutes remaining in regulation.

The victory moves Las Palmas into 19th place in La Liga.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Girona

Barcelona’s lead at the top of La Liga will likely grow courtesy of Atletico’s inability to apply pressure on the Blaugrana. Antoine Griezmann’s first-half strike wasn’t enough to cushion the Atleti lead, and in turn, Girona equalized with 17 minutes left in regulation when Portu scored off of a great take out of the air.

Espanyol 0-3 Sevilla

Franco Vasquez got things started for the visiting side after just 15 minutes, and before halftime Sevilla managed to double their lead through Pablo Sarabia. For good measure, the sixth-place side added a third goal in the 90th minute as Luis Muriel finished off a pass from Sarabia.


Elsewhere in La Liga

Villareal 2-1 Levante


Sunday’s La Liga matches

Alaves vs. Leganes — 6 a.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. Deportivo La Coruna — 10:15 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad vs. Celta Vigo — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Blockbuster trade sends Kamara to Galaxy, Zardes to Columbus

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The MLS offseason has been in full force for some time now, and the blockbuster moves continue to take shape.

On Saturday, the Columbus Crew finalized a deal with the LA Galaxy to send striker Ola Kamara to the Western Conference side.

[ MORE: All of the picks from Friday’s MLS SuperDraft first & second rounds ]

In exchange for Kamara, the Galaxy have sent U.S. Men’s National Team attacker Gyasi Zardes and $400,000 in Targeted Allocation Money to the Crew. The amount of TAM could increase to $500,000 if Kamara scores 12 or more goals in 2018.

Since arriving on the MLS scene in 2016, the Norwegian had scored 34 regular season goals for the Crew, while adding five assists.

Meanwhile, Zardes has spent his entire professional career with the Galaxy up until this point, after having signed a Homegrown contract with the club over five years ago.

The USMNT winger has scored 34 goals in 131 regular season appearances since making his senior team debut for the Galaxy.