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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.

Brazil will play Colombia in friendly for air crash victims

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 03:  A fan pays tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on December 03, 2016. The players were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains. Players of the Chapecoense team were among the 77 people on board the doomed flight that crashed into mountains in northwestern Colombia. Officials said just six people were thought to have survived, including three of the players. Chapecoense had risen from obscurity to make it to the Copa Sudamericana finals scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil will play Colombia in a friendly match at the end of January to help victims of the air crash that killed most of the players, staff and directors of soccer club Chapecoense last week.

Spokesman Douglas Lunardi also said on Monday that the Brazilian football confederation will donate about $ 1.5 million to Chapecoense.

Nineteen of Chapecoense’s players were killed in the crash just outside Medellin, Colombia, as the Brazilian team headed to the first of two matches against Colombian club Atletico Nacional to determine the champion of the Copa Sudamericana – Latin America’s No. 2 club tournament.

[ MORE: U.S. Soccer’s Player of Year finalists ]

Earlier, South America’s football confederation Conmebol officially gave the title of the 2016 edition to Chapecoense, as Atletico Nacional requested.

Lunardi said the venue will be decided by Chapecoense directors and that all the ticket office revenues will go to the families of the victims. The most obvious choices, he said, are the historic Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro and Chapecoense’s Arena Conda.

“The decision will be between making that tribute at home or get a bigger revenue for the victims,” Lunardi told The Associated Press. “We will let them take their time to make that decision.”

Maracana has a capacity of 78,000 and has hosted two World Cup finals as well as the opening ceremony of the last Olympic Games in August.

Arena Conda is a 22,000-seater. It hosted a memorial service on Saturday for 50 of the 71 victims.

Chapeco, the city of the club impacted by the tragedy, has 200,000 residents and sits about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) south of Rio.

In a press conference in Chapeco, Chapecoense’s president Ivan Tozzo said the club will decide the venue for the match in the next few days. He also said that the donation from the confederation will help cover the expenses for the memorial services.

UEFA Champions League preview: Arsenal in Basel, Man City hosts Celtic

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City takes on Stuart Armstrong of Celtic during the UEFA Champions League match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
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The final week of group stage matches in this season’s UEFA Champions League are upon us, and only a pair of berths remain in Tuesday’s groups.

Those are in Group B, where Napoli, Benfica, and Besiktas enter the day a point a part. Only Dynamo Kyiv has been eliminated, and they’ll host a Besiktas side which is in the catbird seat. If the Turkish side wins, it will finish above either Napoli or Benfica.

Benfica is at home to its Italian rivals, with both sides on 8 points. And they’ll each head to the knockout rounds of Besiktas (7 points) fails to earn a result.

[ MORE: U.S. Soccer’s Player of Year finalists ]

As for our Premier League contestants, Arsenal looks pretty locked into the second seed in Group A. Trailing PSG after a 2-2 draw in London, the Gunners head to Switzerland to face Basel. Arsenal needs to better PSG’s result against visiting Ludogorets Razgrad.

Manchester City hosts Celtic knowing it’s already clinched second place in Group C and cannot catch leaders Barcelona. Expect youth.

In Group D, things are also settled with Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich 1-2 regardless of what happens in their match in Germany. Atleti is the only team which can finish the group stage 6-0. The last team to achieve that 2014-15 Real Madrid, who swept Basel, Liverpool, and Ludogorets Razgrad.

Tuesday’s UCL schedule
PSG vs. Ludogorets Razgrad
Barcelona vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Bayern Munich vs. Atletico Madrid
Manchester City vs. Celtic
Basel vs. Arsenal
Benfica vs. Napoli
PSV Eindhoven vs. Rostov
Dynamo Kyiv vs. Besiktas

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Everton’s Bolasie needs ACL surgery, will miss AFCON

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United reacts as Yannick Bolasie of Everton is given treatment during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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This is a big blow to Everton, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Yannick Bolasie is set for a long spell on the sidelines after suffering an ACL injury in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

The 27-year-old attacker has played in every match for the Toffees, and is an electric attacking threat. He has one goal and four assists in PL play this season, after nabbing five and four for Palace last season.

[ PL: Grading the superstars’ seasons ]

A $32 million buy from Crystal Palace, Bolasie will miss the Africa Cup of Nations next month and likely send the Toffees into the transfer market.

Manager Ronald Koeman has made no secret of his Memphis Depay admiration, and this could tip Everton’s hand.

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Aubameyang raises transfer eyebrows in midst of otherworldy season

LISBON, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 18: Pierre Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund in action at the warm up during the UEFA Champions League match between SC Sporting and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Jose Alvalade on October 18, 2016 in Lisbon, Lisboa. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
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Game changer, season changer, title changer.

It’s hard to find a phrase that would overstate what it would mean if a club could pry Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the hands of Borussia Dortmund.

Aubameyang raised eyebrows Monday with his non-dismissal of a transfer possibility. It wasn’t quite a “come and get me”, but the door is certainly open.

[ MORE: U.S. Soccer’s Player of Year finalists ]

“I don’t know if I will stay. I just think about playing good football right now. I want to give my best and win titles. I just think about the sport and nothing else.”

If you don’t pay a lot of attention to the Bundesliga, it might be easy to overlook Aubameyang. But the season he’s having with BVB’s wealth of playmaking midfielders is overwhelming. Give him less than a yard, and he’s all set.

Throw in the UEFA Champions League, and “Auba” has 18 goals in 18 matches. In the Bundesliga, he has a 4-goal night at Hamburg but also goals against Bayern and Hertha. Aubameyang has two braces, and has only been held off the score sheet three times (BVB is 1D-2L in those contests).

Put plainly, no one is doing what he’s doing right now.

Top Five leagues, 2016-17 goals (matches)

  1. Aubameyang, BVB — 15 (12)
  2. Edinson Cavani, PSG — 14 (14)
  3. Anthony Modeste, Koln — 12 (13)
  4. Mauro Icardi, Inter Milan — 12 (14)
  5. Eden Dzeko, Roma — 12 (15)
  6. Alexandre Lacazette — 11 (11)
  7. Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal — 11 (14)
  8. Diego Costa, Chelsea — 11 (14)
  9. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid — 10 (11)
  10. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City — 10 (12)
  11. Andrea Belotti, Torino — 10 (13)
  12. Lionel Messi, Barcelona — 9 (9)
  13. Luis Suarez, Barcelona — 9 (12)
  14. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich — 9 (13)
  15. Iago Aspas, Celta Vigo — 9 (13)
  16. Ciro Immobile, Lazio — 9 (15)
  17. Alassane Plea, Nice — 9 (16)

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