Three things we learned from Arsenal’s failed UEFA Champions League campaign

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Following Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League exit to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, it seems like a good time to reflect on another disappointing European campaign for the Gunners.

Despite their brave effort in Bavaria — Arsenal drew 1-1 but barely threatend Munich who prevailed 3-1 on aggregate over the two legs — the North London club somewhat stuttered through the Champions League this season.

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There were some bright spots along the way, but some familiar problems popped up as Arsene Wenger’s men bowed out at the last 16 stage for the third time in the last four years.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from another UCL campaign to forget for the Gunners.

  • Lack of squad depth horribly exposed

In Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Bayern  Munich on Tuesday they had to rely on players like Serge Gnabry, Lukazs Fabianski, Thomas Vermaelen and Tomas Rosicky. Most of those names — who by the way, let nobody down — have been bit-part players this season and too many times throughout this domestic and European campaign they’ve been called upon on short notice and rushed back into the fray. The Gunners lost Nacho Monreal, Kieran Gibbs and Yaya Sanogo over the past weekend, that was on top of missing Nicklas Bendtner, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. That’s a lot of injuries, but it only acted to reinforce what we already knew: outside of their starting XI, Arsenal haven’t got much depth. Instead of spending $63 million on one player — we’ll get to you in a minute, Mesut Ozil — they should have added strength in-depth throughout the squad during both the summer and January transfer windows.

That cost them dear in the UCL knockout stages, as injuries in the PL and FA Cup have come back to haunt the Gunners. The players replacing Walcott and Ramsey in the lineup were simply nowhere near good enough to cause teams like Bayern problems. We saw that play out twice, painfully.

  • Ozil hasn’t delivered expected UCL pedigree
source: AP
Wenger’s big gamble on Ozil taking the Gunners to the next level hasn’t paid off, so far.

When Mesut Ozil arrived at the end of August to delight and delirium on the streets of North London, many believed he was the missing cog in Arsenal’s well-oiled machine. “He will make the difference in the Champions League,” they said, “Ozil has delivered on the biggest stages, he can be our leader” exclaimed plenty of Arsenal’s fans. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way in the UCL, did it? Yes, the German playmaker had his moments, after years of experience with Real Madrid on Europe’s biggest stage that was bound to happen. But when the biggest moment of all arrived, a penalty kick in the opening 10 minutes of their last 16 tie to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead over Bayern, he fluffed his lines. Even before that tie-changing PK miss, Ozil only scored once in Arsenal’s Champions League campaign and failed to turn up when it really mattered.

The official reason for replacing the German at half time of Arsenal’s second-leg away in Munich was “a hamstring injury” but he simply looked off the pace and disinterested. The man Arsenal bought in to quarterback their UCL charge didn’t deliver. Will this failure have a lasting impact on his legacy at the Emirates?

  • Away day blues are over

Okay, it’s not all doom and gloom. Besides the crazy 2-0 loss away at Napoli in the final group stage game, which Arsenal never looked losing until the last 15 minutes and then somehow were almost heading out of the tournament on goal difference, the Gunners were solid and sensational away from the Emirates. In recent seasons the Gunners have struggled away from home in the UCL group stages, winning just twice in the last two season on the continent. But early in the campaign with Olivier Giroud, Walcott, Ramsey and Ozil firing on all cylinders, the Gunners looked unstoppable away from home with their silky style shocking homes teams on the break.

Wins away at Borussia Dortmund and Marseille in the group stages were added to by their 1-1 draw away in Munich, and if you take into account their 2-0 win in the last 16 of the 2012-13 UCL tournament to Bayern, Arsenal have now lost just one of their last five away games in the Champions League. Not many sides can say that in the UCL, so a silver lining, of sorts, for Wenger to chew on as he tries to digest Arsenal’s latest failure to get over the first hurdle of the Champions League knockout stages.

Klopp: Liverpool “not 500 miles away” from Man City’s standard

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Jurgen Klopp remains bullish on his Liverpool’s credentials as one of the Premier League’s top-four sides title challengers this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

While everyone else might be writing off the Reds due to their propensity for defensive disasters on an every-game basis, Klopp refuses to concede that a gap of “500 miles” exists between his side and Manchester City, the early-days runaway leaders of the 2017-18 season — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t compare City with us, but I think everyone can see we are not 500 miles away. But they fly. It was a very decisive day when we lost 5-0. Dealing with a 5-0 defeat is not the easiest thing. We didn’t lose confidence but we were not that fluent afterwards and it was not like we could close our eyes and finish [thinking about it]. They did exactly the opposite. I saw the Stoke goals, you see the shot from Fernandinho and you think, ‘If it works, it works even like this.’ They are a fantastic team and we don’t have to compare, but it starts so early again with us having to apologize for the season so far because one team is flying.”

“Their way of football I would say is not something we are too far away from but to be as clinical as they have been so far? We weren’t.

“That’s the thing. We are still in the race, not with City in the moment because they have I don’t how many points, and I don’t say already that we should only fight for a top-four place. Performance-wise we are a team that should be there but now we have to get the results.”

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

All due respect to Klopp and Liverpool, the league table says City currently have 25 points (having played one game more), while Liverpool have 13. That’s not a difference of 500 points, but taking into account not only results but performances, it might as well be.

Ligue 1: Falcao, Balde score to keep Monaco close to PSG

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PARIS (AP) French champion Monaco got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home win against Caen on Saturday.

Monaco lost three and drew one of its previous four games in all competitions. But coach Leonardo Jardim’s side was largely in control against a Caen side that started brightly and faded after Keita Balde’s opening goal and first for Monaco.

“It was important to win, to get a bit of confidence back,” Jardim said. “We’ve been working hard and the players were very serious today.”

Captain Radamel Falcao scored his league-leading 13th from the penalty spot in the 59th, confidently sending goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre the wrong way.

The win moved second-place Monaco within three points of Paris Saint-Germain, having played one game more. Unbeaten PSG is away at bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.

Falcao’s partnership with teen star Kylian Mbappe was crucial to Monaco’s charge to the league title and the Champions League semifinals last season. Mbappe left to join PSG in a high-profile move — as did several other key players — but Falcao’s new partnership with the unselfish Balde looks a promising one.

“We’ve lost a few players and we need a bit of time, it’s been a bit difficult for us,” Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said. “I hope we can stay at the top of the table and that the young players can shine. We have a lot of quality here.”

Balde has been sharp in his handful of appearances since joining from Lazio in the offseason, but mainly as a link player and a provider.

This time, the Senegal forward finished off the move as he ran onto Thomas Lemar’s perfectly weighted pass into his path, cut across a defender on the edge of the penalty area and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.

Lemar almost created another goal when his corner was headed against the crossbar by Brazilian defender Jemerson late in the first half.

Falcao put the game beyond doubt from the spot after Slovenian midfielder Jan Repas fouled attacking midfielder Rony Lopes.


After a tricky start to his tenure at Nantes, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri has turned things around.

Nantes beat Guingamp 2-1 at home to move up to third place, extending Ranieri’s unbeaten run to eight matches after losing the first two.

Nantes, which scored through defender Chidozie Awaziem and midfielder Abdoulaye Toure, is just two points behind Monaco.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.