Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal: Walters penalty enough to sink the Gunners (video)

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Many said that it was March that would be the true test for whether Arsenal truly are title contenders. Well, bad news for Arsenal fans: they fell to relegation-threatened Stoke City on Saturday and, with Chelsea beating Fulham, the Gunners are now four points off the pace. More worryingly, they’re just two points above Manchester City, who have not one but two games in hand.

It took thirty minutes for the first real chance of the game – Olivier Giroud getting on the end of a cross from Bacary Sagna, only to see his header saved – to occur. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the first half of Stoke vs. Arsenal, well, there were three attempts on target in that 45 minutes, and neither Asmir Begović or Wojciech Szczęsny needed to put themselves out stopping shots.

Despite Arsenal’s possession, their persistence, their superior league standing, it was Stoke that took the lead with 15 minutes left to play. The hosts had actually looked the better side for the majority of the second half, grabbing chances and causing panic among the Gunners’ back line.

That panic must’ve been what prompted Laurent Koscielny to handle the ball inside the area. Peter Crouch headed on to Jonathan Walters and, when the attacker attempted to flick past Koscielny, the defender stuck out his hand. But with Charlie Adam replaced by Stephen Ireland just two minutes earlier, it was up to Walters himself to take the penalty – Walters, who had missed four of his last six spot kicks. But he got it right this time, putting it past Szczęsny and into the bottom corner.

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Begović; Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Walters, Nzonzi, Whelan, Adam (Ireland 73), Arnautović (Etherington 88); Crouch

Goals: Walters (76′)

Arsenal: Szczęsny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere (Sanogo 81), Rosicky (Oxlade-Chamberlain 74), Cazorla, Podolski (Özil 66), Giroud

Roma-Chelsea reports could see Dzeko, Batshuayi… and Sturridge on the move

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Here’s a wild rumor out of Italy, as Gianluca Di Marzio has UEFA Champions League Round of 16 sides Chelsea and Roma working out a big transfer.

[ MORE: PST chats with Dzeko in July ]

Again, before we lay it out, we know that both clubs would not be able to use Cup-tied players in the UCL and that gives the rumor its unrealistic bent.

Chelsea reportedly is willing to send $62 million and striker Michy Batshuayi on loan to Roma in exchange for Edin Dzeko and Emerson Palmeiri. Reports say Roma is holding out for another $20 million, potentially add-ons.

Dzeko isn’t producing at his otherworldly rate of last season, but is far and away i Lupi’s leading scorer and bagged a brace against Chelsea in the UCL. And Batshuayi scored in Chelsea’s first two matches of the tournament.

There is something to the rumor, at least in terms of Emerson. The London Evening Standard quotes the player’s agent as saying talks are ongoing and the move is a “dream” one for Emerson, who is behind Aleksandar Kolarov on the left back depth chart since returning from injury.

Roma would need a UCL-eligible center forward, as Czech youngster Patrik Schick has been unable to find his scoring boots since a summer move from Sampdoria. Football Italia says, sensationally, that Roma would use some of the money to pry Daniel Sturridge from Liverpool.

Maybe the Emerson move goes through, but the striker swap feels like a headscratcher for Dzeko and Chelsea.

Pardew the latest to scratch head at transfer fees

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West Bromwich Albion manager Alan Pardew is the latest to find himself baffled at the prices on the transfer market.

To be fair to the Englishman, 56, it doesn’t sound like he’s raving in ‘old man yelling at the sky’ fashion. Rather he thinks the numbers are hard for fans to gauge and perhaps it’s causing a disconnect.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

And for him, at least, it’s a challenge to sort out whether the prices he’s being quoted are reasonable relative to the market. That makes sense, considering that as Newcastle boss in 2012 he sold Fraser Forster to Celtic for about $3 million and PSG bought Yohan Cabaye — then 28 — from him for $26 million.

Both fees would be a little different right now, we think (from the BBC).

“It’s difficult with the prices now to gauge what’s good value,” Pardew said. “We live in a hyper-inflated world because of the TV money received by the football clubs. Therefore, transfers and wages are going way out of kilter with real life. I think we’re all losing the plot with the figures. It’s just becoming, ‘Oh okay,’ and not even reacting to things any more.”

Now, to play devil’s advocate, if Pardew is actually just old man yelling at the sky, he’d better get out of the manager’s box. The fees aren’t changing for top clubs, which is why Jonny Evans is at risk from a Man City bid but not Newcastle United or Crystal Palace. And the TV money he talks about is going to allow clubs like WBA to hold onto players by offering better wages if they choose that route.

But it’s a fair sentiment regarding how to gauge these numbers. While it’s usually a bit laughable when fans and writers estimate whether clubs have paid too much or sold for too little, managers and administrators risk looking foolish if they agree too low or too high a fee relative to other teams.

Stanford’s Andi Sullivan is the No. 1 pick in NWSL draft

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The Washington Spirit have selected midfielder Andi Sullivan out of Stanford with the first pick in the National Women’s Soccer League draft on Thursday.

Stanford won the NCAA College Cup championship last season. Sullivan scored in the 3-2 Cardinal victory over UCLA. She also won the Mac Hermann Trophy for the nation’s best soccer player.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

Sullivan has made seven appearances with the U.S. national team and has been called into January training camp as the team begins to prepare for World Cup qualifying in the fall.

The Spirit also had the third overall pick, which they used to select midfielder Rebecca Quinn out of Duke.

The Boston Breakers took forward Savannah McCaskill out of South Carolina with the No. 2 overall pick.

The day also featured a number of high-profile trades, including a deal between the Reign and the Royals that sent midfielder Diana Matheson to Utah in exchange for veteran defender Yael Averbuch.

Stoke City adds versatile Greek left-sided man on loan

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New Stoke City boss Paul Lambert is tasked with shoring up a defense which has been bottom half in goals allowed for several seasons, and has made his first move.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

Kostas Stafylidis is a 24-year-old left-sided player with 22 Greek caps to his name, but he’s fallen out of favor at Bundesliga side Augsburg and managed just 31 minutes this season.

He’ll head on loan to the Potteries, where he’ll attempt to aid the leakiest side in the Premier League. Stoke’s 50 goals allowed are eight more than its closest competitor (Watford).

Stafylidis has played left back and left mid for club and country, though he had his most league success last season at left back. He scored four goals and was rated Augsburg’s best field player by WhoScored and its top player overall by Squawka.

And he wants to be there (from StokeCityfc.com):

“As soon as I heard I told my agent directly that I wanted this move,” he added. “I left it to him then, he spoke to the Club more, and then to the trainer and we all wanted to make this move happen. It is good for me, it is good for the Club to bring me here for five months and I am very happy about that.”