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′)

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.