Both Arsenal and City showcased why they can win the PL title, but will this season take yet another unexpected turn?

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.

source: Getty Images
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′)

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)