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.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

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Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.