Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City: Gunners fight-back thwarts Citizens title charge (video)

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LONDON — Arsenal and Manchester City drew 1-1 at the Emirates on Saturday, as a pulsating clash played out between two title hopefuls.

Given Chelsea’s defeat earlier in the day away at Crystal Palace, both sides knew a win in this clash would greatly enhance their chances of lifting the Premier League crown. Man City are the champions elect, and they started off in ominous fashion with David Silva putting the Citizens 1-0 up early on after he followed up Edin Dzeko’s shot that ricocheted off the post.

For most of the first half City dominated, as Arsenal’s faint title hopes seemed to be slipping away with a whimper. However after the break the Gunners got back into the match, as Mathieu Flamini finished superbly and Arsenal dominated vast swathes of the second half. Both sides pushed for a winner late on, but the closest either side came was when Lukas Podolski went clean through but Joe Hart made a superb save with his legs to keep the scores level.

With the draw Arsenal remain in fourth on 64 points, while Man City stay third on 67 points but are now just two points behind leaders Chelsea with two games in hand.

(MORE: Man City, Arsenal up for the fight but where will Premier League title go?)

Early on Man City took the game to the Gunners, as Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas linked up well down City’s right to torment Kieran Gibbs, as the former pulled a cross back instead of shooting and then Navas flashed a shot just wide soon after.

After City’s bright start, Arsenal started to get a grasp in the game. Tomas Rosicky raced into the box and went down after contact from Zabaleta but referee Mike Dean waved away vociferous appeals from the home fans inside the Emirates Stadium.

In the 18th minute City took a deserved lead, as a break that started just inside their own half saw Dzeko smash a shot against the post and the rebound fell to Silva who tapped home from close range. The home fans tried to pick their team up, and Flamini did have the ball in the back of the net in the 20th minute but his header was ruled out for offside.

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A spirited second half fight back saw Arsenal push City all the way at the Emirates.

In the 30th minute Samir Nasri wriggled free on the edge of the box, but his long-range effort was easily gathered by Szczesny as the game settled down with half time approaching. Plenty of meaty challenges flew in from both teams as the first half closed out, as Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva were all shown yellows for City, while Rosicky was cautioned for the Gunners.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

After the break Arsenal started much brighter, and within 10 minutes of the restart they were level, despite Per Mertesacker almost putting into his own net to double City’s lead. Seconds later Podolski was found on the left flank and his cross was met by an onrushing Flamini who slotted home to make it 1-1 and lift the roof off the Emirates. That goal was the first time City had conceded in over five-and-a-half PL matches, as Arsenal took the game to the visitors with renewed panache.

The Gunners were in the ascendancy, as the home crowd urged them on and in the 60th minute it looked like they were about to go ahead. A clever through ball found Podolski in the box and the German did everything right with his low shot, but Hart saved tremendously with his legs as City struggled to hold off Arsenal’s rampant attack.

(MORE: Premier League Roundup: Chelsea slip up, Man United respond, relegation drama)

City then fought back, as the game opened up, with Fernandinho’s rasping long-range effort tipped over by Szczesny in the 65th minute. Then up the other end, Flamini burst into the box once again but his rising shot just cleared the crossbar in a game that ebbed and flowed magnificently. In the final 15 minutes, City pinned Arsenal into their own half and brave defending from the Gunners thwarted Toure, Nasri and Dzeko in the 76th minute as massive scramble was eventually cleared to safety.

Late on both teams tried to push for the winner, but in a game where City dominated the opening half and Arsenal had the better of the second, a draw was a fair result.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Rosicky, Flamini, Cazorla, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain 79′), Giroud (Sanogo, 83′)

Goal: Flamini (53′)

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Navas (Milner, 64), Silva, Nasri (Javi Garcia, 81′), Dzeko (Negredo, 83′)

Goal: Silva (18′)

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.