Referee Andre Marriner, in grey, sends off Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs, left, during their English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge stadium in London Saturday, March 22 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Quick Six: Arsenal’s woes, top three’s goals, and the headlines from this weekend’s PL action

6 Comments

On a weekend where Chelsea’s rout of Arsenal stole the headlines, Saturday’s result at Stamford Bridge dominates our Quick Six:

1. The most Arsenal thing they could have done

In hindsight, the strangest part of Chelsea’s barrage was its unpredictability. It’s not that we couldn’t foresee Arsenal collapsing in a big game. Gooners have been here before. It’s that nobody was willing to predict it. And yet, as Chelsea scored twice in seven minutes, three times in 17, the feeling was less shock than de ja vu. It wasn’t unpredictable because we couldn’t foresee it. It was unpredictable because we wouldn’t admit it. Arsenal was going to get blown out.

Samuel Eto’o had Arsenal down after five minutes, a lead André Schürrle doubled moments later. When Eden Hazard converted after Andre Marriner’s own headline (more below), Chelsea was up three and a man, an advantage that helped Oscar (two) and Mohamed Salah finish the job. On a day when Arsenal could have pulled within one point of first, the Gunners title hopes died on the wrong end of a 6-0 embarrassment.

(MORE: Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal: Blues hammer Gunners, as bizarre red card ruins Wenger’s big day (video))

And yet nobody’s talking about how impressive Chelsea was. This is how low our regard for Arsenal has fallen. It’s unfair (the team does have 62 points, after all), but it’s reality. Beating Arsenal by six grabs headlines, but it doesn’t change our view of a club. It only reinforces our view of Arsenal.

2. Andre Marriner shows his ‘perceptual expertise’

Let’s not dance around this one. There’s an established realm of psychology that addresses why Andre Marriner might have sent off the wrong man on Saturday. Marriner is white. Both Kieran Gibbs (the man sent off) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (the man who should have been sent off) are black. And yes, these things are important.

From the American Psychological Association’s Siri Carpenter, in a feature titled “Why do ‘they all look alike’?”:

People are notoriously awful at recognizing faces from other races. It’s a human foible often explained by the notion that we have more experience looking at members of our own race and thus acquire “perceptual expertise” for characteristics of our own kind.

… [Kent State University’s Daniel Levin, PhD] says, people place inordinate emphasis on race categories–whether someone is white, black or Asian–ignoring information that would help them recognize people as individuals. In recent research, Levin has shown that people can, in fact, perceive fine differences among faces of people from other races–as long as they’re using those differences to make race classifications.

For example, Levin explains, “When a white person looks at another white person’s nose, they’re likely to think to themselves, ‘That’s John’s nose.’ When they look at a black person’s nose, they’re likely to think, ‘That’s a black nose.'”

(Note: I am not a trained psychologist, so if there are better references for this phenomenon, fire away in the comments.)

Marriner later apologized for his mistake, one that may not be related to race at all. If it is, it’s both explicable (in the psychological sense) and something that should never happened in an environment where everybody wears huge, distinguishing numbers on their backs.

(MORE: Andre Marriner apologizes for error in Arsenal’s loss to Chelsea)

Now if only there was some kind of way officials could look at video footage to confirm …

source: AP3. Chelsea shines light on Arsenal’s Wenger dilemma

Saturday’s rout highlighted the Wenger conundrum. The man has been a huge asset to the club – somebody that defines their modern era. Once Manchester United finishes outside of Champions League, Arsenal will be the only team in the Premier League with top-four finishes in every season since Wenger’s arrival (in 1996). In the plights of the Red Devils, Liverpool, and Tottenham, you can see why Wenger’s success is so admirable.

But he’s not José Mourinho. He’s not Carlo Ancelotti. And he’s being passed by managers like Brendan Rodgers. Whereas the level of competition in the mid-90s meant Wenger’s ability to evaluate talent, instill a consistent style, and manage a squad could carry the Gunners to the top, now he also needs to be a master game manager to win the titles.

He’s just not, part of the reason he can’t beat Mourinho. And whereas we see Brendan Rodgers is making subtle tweaks every week to exploit his competition, Wenger has maintained a more consistent approach, one that leaves his players sitting ducks for the league’s best managers. As the likes of Manuel Pellegrini, Guus Hiddink, and Ancelotti cycle in and out of the league, Arsenal’s plight becomes more pronounced.

If Wegner left, Arsenal’s would be one the most sought after jobs in the world. But they can’t let him go. He’s still too good at what he does, even if that means Arsenal seems to have no chance when in games like Saturday’s.

It’s the conundrum of this era of Arsenal soccer: Appreciate the good; swallow the bad; hope things change in the future.

4. Top three’s outburst underscores the divide

Chelsea wasn’t the only team to get its goals out of its system. Liverpool and Manchester City also blew up. Continuing their pursuits of the league’s goal scoring record, the teams posted six and five (respectively) in their Saturday wins. If Arsenal’s loss didn’t highlight the divide between the top three and the rest of the league, 17 goals from that trio did.

It was a combination of coincidence and competition. All three happened to click on the same day. All three happened to play teams playing like relegation battlers. Fulham and Cardiff City are in the drop, while Arsenal plays like it is in very specific situations. Combine those factors with teams hitting their strides as they pursue first place and you get a series of embarrassing results.

(MORE: Liverpool’s six-spot in Wales | City posts five on Fulham)

It was good for the highlight reels, with hat tricks from Luis Suárez and Yaya Touré boosting each stars prodigious totals (Suárez is up to a league-leading 28; Touré leads midfielders with 16). For the losers, however, it was only good for demoralization. Fulham and Cardiff still sit in the league’s bottom two, while Arsenal look destined for another fourth place finish.

5. Wayne Rooney’s First should have been WORTH two

Part of me wants to say “Poor Adrian,” but most of me wants to thank him. Wayne Rooney’s goal from just inside West Ham’s half left the Hammers’ keeper on his back and United up at Upton Park.

source: Getty Images6. Eriksen, Sigurdsson stop Tottenham’s fall

For all the issues Tim Sherwood has managing Spurs, motivating his players isn’t one of them. Even when they’ve looked aimless tactically, the players have put in the work, an effort that paid off in Sunday’s last hour at White Hart Lane. After falling behind two within 30 minutes, Tottenham got two goals and an assist from Christian Eriksen, with the Danish international assisting on Gylfi Sigurdsson’s stoppage time winner.

(MORE: Tottenham 3-2 Southampton: Sigurdsson puts icing on three-goal comeback after Eriksen double)

Mistakes by Nathaniel Clyne and Dejan Lovren helped, but on a weekend where we saw leads snowball, Tottenham’s resolve deserves some credit. While we (read: I) mocked the idea that something would carry over from Spurs’ loss at Benfica, Sherwood was proven correct. The same fight that pulled Tottenham within one goal of extra time in Lisbon brought them all the way back in North London.

If returning to Europa is a goal, the win moved Spurs a step closer, mostly by throwing a major wrench into one of their pursuers’ chase. More readily, it stopped the four-game slide that had begun to send their season into chaos. Instead of trying to manage a sinking ship, the team can get back to seeing who will be part of next year’s crew.

Kane: Wembley needs to be “our home” long before next season

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham Hotspur have been — how should I say this? — less than stellar at Wembley Stadium this season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

In their three UEFA Champions League group-stage games played inside England’s national stadium, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side was thrashed by a vibrant Monaco side; blunted into apathy by Bayer Leverkusen; and victorious against last-place CSKA Moscow, but only after having already been knocked out of the competition.

Ahead of Thursday’s Europa League round-of-32 second leg against Belgian side Gent — which will be played at Wembley, as they will do for every European fixture this season — Spurs’ captain of the future, Harry Kane, has called upon the north London side to make themselves at home inside the 90,000-seat arena on the following counts: 1) they’ll be playing the entirety of the 2017-18 season there; 2) they’re a victory over League One side Millwall away from an FA Cup semifinal, at Wembley, this season — quotes from the Independent:

“If we get through the next round of the FA Cup it’s to Wembley, and we play at Wembley on Thursday. Hopefully we get through. We’ve got to try to make Wembley our home. We could be there next season, so we want to make it as good for us as possible, try to win as many games there as we can and get that confidence going. We could be playing there a few times yet this season.”

[ FA CUP QF: Chelsea-Man United; Spurs-Millwall; Arsenal-Lincoln ]

As for Spurs’ recent form, perhaps best described as indifference, Kane says that’s an issue which was raised during a series of meetings in which Pochettino and a handful of the young side’s more senior figures called for more “hunger” and “sharpness” from the opening kickoff — quotes from the Independent:

“We’ve been starting quite slow in games and it was just about bringing the desire and hunger back to the team, chasing balls down, running in behind. We did that great on Sunday. Sometimes we need that — we need a reminder of who we are and what we’re about. We had a couple of meetings between us and we were glad to go out and put that right.”

Rejuvenated and reinvented, Toure integral to Man City again

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: Yaya Toure of Manchester City speaks to Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City after being subtituted during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MANCHESTER, England (AP) It has been one of the great sights of English soccer in recent years, Yaya Toure picking up possession in central midfield for Manchester City, rampaging upfield and scattering opponents in his path.

Those days appear to have gone.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Toure is now found sitting in front of City’s defense, reading the game, dictating its tempo, picking off opposition passes, and starting attacks rather than finishing them.

His reinvention over the last three months as a holding midfielder — and one of Pep Guardiola‘s most integral players — is one of the stories of City’s season and has coincided with an upturn in the team’s fortunes. It’s as much a tale of the 33-year-old Toure’s enduring quality and hunger as circumstance and opportunism.

The former Ivory Coast captain started the season ostracized by Guardiola, who was unhappy at both Toure’s fitness levels and the criticism coming from the player’s outspoken agent, Dimitri Seluk.

Toure was even omitted from City’s squad for the Champions League group stage but he knuckled down, lost about 14 pounds, and waited for his chance. That came when one fellow midfielder (Fernandinho) was hit with a four-match ban and another (Ilkay Gundogan) sustained a season-ending knee injury.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Toure, looking lean and fit, started a Premier League game against Watford on Dec. 14 and has played every match since, excelling as the team’s deep-lying midfielder and no longer the box-to-box player that City fans have been used to seeing.

Such is his change in status and importance that he was one of the few players rested by Guardiola for the FA Cup match at Huddersfield on Saturday ahead of City’s match against Monaco in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.

“He has been unbelievable since the game he came back,” City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne said on Monday. “Last year, he wasn’t that sharp. Give him credit for coming back and doing very well.”

Guardiola has settled on a central-midfield trio of Toure, as the protector of the defense, and De Bruyne and David Silva as the playmakers, and it is proving an ideal mix. City has conceded only one goal in its last five games, and its previously shaky defense kept five clean sheets in its last six away games.

Toure has said he feels like a kid again under Guardiola.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

“He is so important for his personality,” Guardiola said on Monday of Toure. “He is part of the history of the club. He helped the club to be where it is. He is back with us and playing at a high level.”

Monaco will be a big test for Toure. The French league leader has scored more goals than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues this season, and is lethal on the counterattack thanks to ultra-fast transition play involving forwards Bernardo Silva, Kylian Mbappe, and Valere Germain.

Toure will be tasked with stopping them from getting at City’s backline, and that’s no easy job. The games in which he struggled since his return have been the losses to Liverpool and Everton, who played a high-energy and up-tempo style.

Monaco will be a level up from that.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

“As a spectator, it is so nice to watch them. I am really impressed how good they are; physically strong, the full backs play like wingers, the wingers play like attacking midfielders … a complete team,” Guardiola said on Monday, describing their attackers as “killers in the box.”

Yet these are exactly the sort of games in which Guardiola will lean on the experienced Toure, a Champions League winner under the Spanish coach at Barcelona in 2009.

In those days, he also played as a holding midfielder and it is in that position that he’s set to end his career.

“I judge players on whether they are able to go to Anfield, Old Trafford, the Nou Camp, or Madrid or Turin and if they are able to react,” Guardiola has said. “There is no doubt about Yaya with that.”

Brazilian footballer in tears after racist chants in Serbia

Partizan Belgrade's Brazilian player Everton Luiz, centre left, leaves the field accompanying by goalkeeper Filip Kljajic, during a Serbian championship match between Rad and Partizan, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Luiz was in tears after suffering persistent racist chants during his team's 1-0 victory against Rad in the Serbian premiership. The Brazilian, who joined Partizan from the Swiss league in 2016, received monkey chants and other abuse, including a racist banner on the stands where Rad fans were standing. (AP Photo/Miroslav Todorovic)
AP Photo/Miroslav Todorovic
Leave a comment

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Partizan Belgrade midfielder Everton Luiz was in tears after persistent racist chants during his team’s victory over Rad in the Serbian league.

The Brazilian, who joined Partizan last year, played through monkey chants and other abuse, including a racist banner in the stands where Rad fans were standing.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The banner was removed after intervention from the referee.

There were scuffles between the players after the match on Sunday, when Partizan won 1-0, after Everton Luiz showed the middle finger to the Rad supporters.

Wiping away tears, Luiz said he “faced racist abuse during the entire match.”

[ MORE: Wenger “didn’t really enjoy” Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Sutton ]

Serbian fans are notorious for racist outbursts against black players. Rad supporters are known for their nationalist ultra-right behavior.

On Monday, the Serbian Football Association suspended Rad’s stadium in Belgrade until further notice because of the fans’ behavior.

Wenger “didn’t really enjoy” Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Sutton

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 20:  Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal looks on from the bench before the Emirates FA Cup fifth round match between Sutton United and Arsenal on February 20, 2017 in Sutton, Greater London.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One might imagine that Arsene Wenger doesn’t enjoy too terribly much these days, especially when it comes to matters regarding his employment as Arsenal manager, a post he’s held for the last 7,456 days.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

From the constant reports and rumblings that his time at Arsenal is coming to an end, to falling all the way out of the Premier League title race, to being absolutely demolished in the UEFA Champions League last week, the 2016-17 season has looked quite similar to those of recent years.

On Monday, the Gunners knocked off fifth-division side Sutton United in the fifth round of the FA Cup, a triumph which was beamed out for the entire world to witness on television. Surely the 67-year-old would have immensely enjoyed that, right? Sadly, it was anything but enjoyable for Wenger, according to his post-game comments — quotes from the BBC:

“We did the job. It is very different, I must say, on this kind of pitch. It was not an easy game at all. We have to give them credit because every error we made, they took advantage of on this pitch. They played very well.

“It is basically division five, and when I arrived here 20 years ago in division five, they were not as fit physically as they were today. They were organized and had a huge desire. If we were not mentally prepared, we would not have gone through today.

“I don’t really enjoy tonight, because we absolutely had to do the job and it is tricky. It is important for the confidence of the players. At Bayern we were 1-1, and then in the second half it all went wrong, so at halftime today at 1-0 up it was not finished.”

On the one hand, Wenger has a point: there’s very little to be gained by the “bigger” sides in Cup clashes versus opposition the size of Sutton — if you win, that’s great, but you were “supposed” to; if you lose, that’s … well, a much greater embarrassment than losing 5-1 to Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

On the other hand, that kind of potential embarrassment (should the prospects of winning a third FA Cup in four seasons doesn’t do it for them) should have been all the motivation the Gunners needed, and … well, they were far from dominant in this one.

Elsewhere in the FA Cup

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Manchester City
Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea RECAP
Fulham 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur RECAP
Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Manchester United RECAP | REACTION