Three things we learned in Arsenal’s battling defeat to Bayern Munich

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LONDON — Following Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, there were plenty of talking points.

And then some.

Two penalties were missed, Arsenal had their goalkeeper sent off, the home side dug in and defended resolutely, while two moments of genius won Bayern the game. It was an exhilarating knockout game in Europe’s premier club competition.

Without further adieu, let’s see what we learned.

Arsenal’s confidence takes a hit, but they’ve been here before

Not only did Arsenal go toe-to-toe and battle admirably with Bayern in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League knockout game, the Gunners obliterated Munich in the opening 20 minutes as they out worked their German counterparts and forced the issue time and time again. Arsenal’s stirring start should’ve been capped by a 1-0 lead after seven minutes, but German international Mesut Ozil saw his spot kick saved by Manuel Neuer. Then it all came crumbling down in the 36th minute, and the Gunners never really recovered.

Arjen Robben burst through and was taken out by Arsenal ‘keeper Wojiech Szcezeny. Red Card. Penalty kick to Bayern. And Arsenal’s Champions League dreams looked in ruins. A brief respite arrived as David Alaba put the spot kick wide, much to the delight of the home crowd, and the Gunners regrouped impressively. But in the 52nd minute Toni Kroos bent in a marvelous effort that put Bayern 1-0 up and the remainder of the game resembled a defense vs. attack training drill. Bayern attacked, Arsenal defended, and the Gunners almost held out with 10-men.

(MORE: Munich grabs control over Arsenal in heavyweight battle)

But like Manchester City had conceded a killer second goal against Barcelona late in the game on Tuesday, Arsenal did the same when Thomas Muller headed home with a perfect run to make it 2-0 as the clocked ticked to 90 minutes. The mountain Arsenal have to climb got considerably steeper with that one flick of Muller’s head. But this resolute defensive display, coupled with the fact that they went to the Allianz and won 2-0 last season after a two-goal deficit from the first leg, should give them a chance to overcome the reigning European champions. A very slim one though.

Ozil failed to show up once again

Mesut Ozil. The man, the myth, the legend. In the opening stages the German attacker looked on his game, with darting runs from the left and intelligent balls causing Bayern’s defense all kinds of problems. Then he was found on the left side of the box by Jack Wilshere with a sublime pass and the German showed why Arsene Wenger spent all his transfer kitty to bring Ozil to the Emirates. A clever drag back tricked Jerome Boateng and won Arsenal a penalty, that Ozil himself stepped up to take but never looked confident enough to convert. 13 games without a goal became 14, as Ozil’s $63 million pricetag all of a sudden looked astronomical as he hit his penalty tamely down the middle and Neuer saved to deflate the raucous crowd inside the Emirates. Arsenal had started superbly, but with Ozil’s failure to take a golden chance to put the Gunners 1-0 up against the reigning European Champions, the entire stadium sensed the North London club would rue that lazy swipe of their German superstars left foot.

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Kroos and Robben tore Arsenal apart in Bayern’s win.

That wasn’t the only lazy thing Ozil did, as the left winger somehow stayed on the pitch for the entire game but was lambasted by his own teammates, notably Mathieu Flamini, for failing to work back and track his runners as Arsenal tried to keep Bayernat bay. Too often this season Ozil has failed to turn up in the big games. Against Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and now Bayern, Arsenal’s record-signing hasn’t justified his pricetag. His lack of desire and drive will worry Arsenal’s fans.

Kroos and Robben are just as good as Ribery

Walking up to the Emirates Stadium, I overheard some Bayern fans bemoaning the absence of Franck Ribery from the team due to injury. They needn’t worry. Midfielders Robben and Kroos destroyed Arsenal time and time again as the deadly duo combined to win Bayern the penalty which Alaba should’ve converted. Kroos’ delicate chipped ball found Robben clean through and the Dutchman was clipped by Szcezeny to win the PK. That time Bayern didn’t go 1-0 up… but the next time Kroos and Robben combined, they did go ahead. The tiki-taka style Bayern’s new boss Pep Guardiola has implemented to devastating effect in Munich undid Arsenal, as in the 52nd minute Kroos and Robben passed back and forth multiple times, then Lahm played the ball to Kroos who was given too much space on the edge of the box and bent in a delicious effort to silence the home crowd. When Bayern had the ball in the final third, they often drove it out wide to Robben who jinxed inside, then out, before either whipping in wicked crosses or giving it back to Kroos to create another opening. The German international occupied the central area and sprayed the ball around majestically in his white boots. Afterwards Guardiola rightly lauded both players, and gave particular praise to Kroos.

With Ribery deemed as one of the three best players in the world last season, according to FIFA’s Ballon d’Or vote, if Robben and Kroos keep up this form they could surpass Bayern’s other talented attacker. Munich certainly didn’t miss their French attacker against Arsenal. Kroos and Robben ran the show.

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Amid fanfare, Bastian Schweinsteiger arrives in Chicago

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Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it is clear Bastian Schweinsteiger is kind of a big deal…

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Posing for photos with fans as he stepped off the flight with his wife, former Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was mobbed by Chicago Fire fans who are delighted he has arrived in Major League Soccer as the newest Designated Player.

The German legend has completed his move from Manchester United to the Fire and will be officially unveiled to the media on Wednesday after signing a one-year deal.

[ MORE: Latest MLS news ]

Schweinsteiger, 32, has already had a training session in the books and the World Cup winner is expected to make his debut in Chicago’s home clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Below is a video of Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, his first training session and a collection of photos he took with ecstatic Fire fans.


Liverpool’s Emre Can scores stunning goal in training

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Emre Can, take a bow.

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Alongside Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, the German international stole the show as BT Sport rocked up for an episode of “Goals Recreated” at Melwood.

The premise is simple: can current day PL players recreate sensational goals of the past?

On this occasion each player had four attempts to mirror Papiss Cisse‘s stunning goal for Newcastle United against Chelsea, and although Mane came close Can was the man of the moment.

Click play on the video below to see the stunning effort.


Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.