Ozil has failed to score in his last 14 games, and missed a pivotal PK vs. Bayern in the biggest game of the year.

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

1 Comment

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.

source:
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.

Premier League Preview: Arsenal vs. Stoke City

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Stephen Ireland of Stoke City shoots a volley during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on February 2, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Arsenal has won last 14 matches against Stoke
  • Gunners are currently unbeaten in last 13 PL fixtures
  • Stoke has gone unbeaten in eight of last nine matches

Arsenal looks to remain hot on Saturday as the Gunners host Stoke City (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live) from the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners remain in contention at the summit of the Premier League as Arsene Wenger‘s side sits second behind league leaders Chelsea on 31 points. In addition to Arsenal’s recent success in the PL, the Gunners have progressed to the final 16 in the UEFA Champions League as well, making 2016/17 a potentially strong year for the London side.

Alexis Sanchez continues to lead the way for the Gunners attack, with the Chilean international notching 11 goals so far this season. In his last 25 PL matches for the club, Sanchez has either scored or assisted on as many goals for the Gunners.

[ MORE: Everton heads to Vicarage Road to face Watford ]

Stoke remains without several top pieces in its lineup, including U.S. Men’s National Team defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross, however, Bruno Martins Indi and Marko Arnautovic are expected to play for the Potters.

The Emirates has not been friendly to Stoke though in recent years, with the Potters only scoring three goals in their last eight visits while conceding on 19 occasions.

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s progression throughout the season: “We have a good team dynamic, we have a very strong team spirit and we have more maturity, definitely. Unfortunately, the teams around us have more as well. You can assess the Premier League as very open and very interesting… December is a very important month and for us even more because we have some big games. Stoke is another challenge for us [to show] that we can reset, refocus and continue our development and take the points.”

Mark Hughes on Stoke’s solid play against PL’s top sides“In the past as a club we’ve struggled to get results at places like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge but we’ve been able to do that in recent times. This is the only one left standing so it would be great to get it out of the way. Our recent form is good and we’re in good heart so confidence is high, that is huge in football, so we’ll be able to benefit from that. It’s up to us to restrict them to minimal chances and make sure we’re creating chances when going the other way.”

Prediction

The Gunners can make it 14 straight matches unbeaten on Saturday, and while Stoke has done well to start the season, it’s highly likely that Arsenal will continue its winning ways. Alexis Sanchez is a Golden Boot contender in England, while the backline has improved every match for the Gunners. While the club has received its deserved criticisms in the past for faltering at critical junctures of the season, 2016/17 could be the year that Arsene Wenger and co. break through in the PL. Arsenal 3-1 Stoke

Premier League Preview: Watford vs. Everton

WATFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 09:  Jose Holebas (1st R) of Watford scores his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on April 9, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Everton are unbeaten in 11 straight matches vs. Watford (all comps)
  • Troy Deeney is one goal shy of 100 in Hornets kit
  • Toffees have won just one of last nine in PL

Watford hosts Everton on Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live) from Vicarage Road as the two clubs look to keep pace in the running with the Premier League’s top six.

The Hornets have lost three of four in the PL and currently sit 11th in the table on 18 points. In that span, Watford has been outscored 11-4, including the team’s brutal 6-1 defeat at Liverpool in early November.

Etienne Capoue leads the way for Watford in the goals department, with five on the season, while Troy Deeney has three of his own and sits just one away from notching his 100th for the club. Defending his been a bit of an issue though for the Hornets — who have conceded 24 in 14 matches — with only four teams allowing more goals this season.

[ MORE: Swansea remain committed to Bob Bradley despite struggles ]

Everton could potentially have to deal without Yannick Bolasie for the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury, while Seamus Coleman is expected to play after sustaining a head injury a week ago.

The Toffees enter Saturday with just one win out of their last nine, and while one point separates Ronald Koeman‘s side from sixth place Manchester United, a victory is very much needed for the Merseyside club. While Romelu Lukaku continues to carry the load up front for Everton with seven goals thus far, the Toffees rank mid table in terms of goals scored this season (17).

What they’re saying

Walter Mazzarri on importance of upcoming fixtures for Watford: “It’s very important. The next six games will probably decide our future and decide if we are going to be in the Premier League. It will decide in a certain way, if we are going to be up or playing in a different way and struggling more. These games will decide this. We have been unlucky on injuries and have been in a bit of an emergency for a couple of months.”

Ronald Koeman on Everton striker Romelu Lukaku’s form: “You can have a good run of scoring goals and then have a bit of time where you don’t really get big chances to score. The players around him need to create more and he can improve in his movements – it’s a team question to create more chances. But if he gets the chances, we always know he will score goals.”

Prediction

Both sides enter Saturday’s encounter in desperate need of a victory, but Everton’s last time out against Manchester United was a bit more encouraging. It won’t be an easy task to take points at Vicarage, however, I expect the Toffees to come away with something against the struggling Hornets. Watford 2-2 Everton

Strootman has 2-match ban for Rome derby melee lifted

ROME, ITALY - DECEMBER 04:  Kevin Strootman of AS Roma celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico on December 4, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman has had a two-match ban lifted on appeal, clearing him to play key matches against AC Milan and Juventus.

Strootman had been banned for instigating a melee after scoring during Sunday’s Rome derby.

After the goal and an extended celebration, words appeared to be exchanged as Roma’s players walked back onto the field alongside Lazio’s bench.

[ MORE: MLS Cup Final preview ]

Strootman appeared to toss water from a bottle at Lazio’s Danilo Cataldi, who reacted by tugging the neck of Strootman’s shirt as the Netherlands midfielder walked away.

That prompted both benches to get involved.

Cataldi, who had been on the bench, was given a red card while Strootman was shown a yellow.

The two-match ban was decided on Monday, with league officials deciding that Strootman simulated falling to the ground after Cataldi grabbed his shirt.

However, the football federation’s appeals court determined that the simulation could not be proven.

Besides a one-match ban for the red card, Cataldi’s full punishment has not been announced yet.

Roma won the derby 2-0.

The second-place Giallorossi host Milan on Monday and then visit Serie A leader Juventus.

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

Leave a comment

Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Follow @NicholasMendola