Everton 3-0 Arsenal: Everton’s Champions League dreams in sight with big win (video)

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From the opening kick to the final whistle, Everton were the better side and it showed as they downed Arsenal 3-0 at Goodison Park.

Their biggest win over Arsenal in 25 years puts Everton just a point behind the Gunners for the fourth position with a game in hand, meaning Everton will be dancing in the Champions League should they win out.

Arsenal’s loss continues a late-season collapse that sees the Gunners in danger of missing out on Champions League play for the first time in 18 years. They’ve now failed to win in four straight matches, and have just five points from their last five matches.

Everton, meanwhile, have now won six matches in a row, a blistering run of form that has seen the Toffees outscore their opponents 15-4 and score at least three goals in three straight matches.

The home side began the match the brighter of the two at the start, with a number of crosses and shots pumped in early with Arsenal on their heels.

Unfortunately, Leon Osman was forced off after just nine minutes with a cut on his forehead after punishing Bacary Sagna with a yellow-card challenge, and Ross Barkley came on earlier than Roberto Martinez had planned.

After the initial Toffees spell, Arsenal put together their first chance on 10 minutes as Mathieu Flamini flew just wide of the mark.

But it would be the home side on the scoresheet first, as Baines put through a beautiful ball up front for Romelu Lukaku, and while the Belgian’s shot was saved, the rebound came right to Steven Naismith who buried the second chance.

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Romelu Lukaku scored the second and had a big hand in Everton’s domination of Arsenal.

The initial ball from the Everton left-back was utterly brilliant, threading a seemingly non-existent needle to find Lukaku behind the Arsenal back line.

The home side nearly doubled up on another spell of pressure, but Naismith’s redirect was directly at Wojciech Szezesny.  But Arsenal could do nothing to prevent an eventual second, as Lukaku was the man to put the Toffees in control.

A bouncing ball in the midfield on 34 minutes fell to Kevin Mirallas who cut across the pitch for a wide-open Lukaku on the right side. The Belgian youngster took Nacho Monreal on with ease, entering the box and cutting back to the center before firing low past Szczesny.

Arsenal looked to pull one back before halftime, and Lukas Podolski saw his dipping effort from distance saved well by Tim Howard five minutes from halftime.

The second half was more of the same – Arsenal possession with little on the back end, and another dangerous counter gave Everton a third.

Technically down as a Mikel Arteta own goal, Mirallas won the ball in Everton’s half and charged down the center, feeding Naismith in the box.  The striker was unable to get a shot off under a tackle by Szczesny, but the ball popped back to Mirallas who hit towards goal and Arteta’s tackle saw the ball into the net.

Everton’s third finally forced Arsene Wenger to make a change in the 66th minute, bringing on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey, but it was far too late.  The hosts easily took the air out of the ball and saw the match out, the only threat a chance by the Ox four minutes from full time as he burst across the top of the box and banged the crossbar.

The race for fourth place is by no means over, with the Toffees still required to play both Manchester clubs, but the Champions League is within their sights. The Gunners, meanwhile, have a much easier stretch run, but still must pick up the pieces if they are to avoid any disappointing end-of-season upsets.

LINEUPS:

Everton – Howard; Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman; McCarthy, Barry, Osman (Barkley 10′), Naismith (McGeady 81′); Mirallas, Lukaku (Deulofeu 86′).

Goals: Naismith 14′, Lukaku 34′, Arteta 62′ (og)

Arsenal – Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal; Arteta, Flamini (Ramsey 66′), Rosicky, Cazorla; Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain 66′), Giroud (Sanogo 71′).

FIFA worried about government interference in Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation, FIFA said Friday it will send a delegation to the country to investigate government meddling.

FIFA said in a statement written in Spanish that it had recently sent a letter to the federation “expressing our concern for the situation that the federation is going through and reminding (its officials) that, according to the Statutes of FIFA, all member federations must manage their affairs independently and assure that there is no interference by third parties.”

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported earlier Friday that the FIFA letter warned of a possible suspension because of the government’s push to hold elections following the arrest of federation president Angel Maria Villar in July on suspicion of corruption.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

According to El Pais, FIFA is concerned that the government’s interest in federation elections could be considered outside meddling and break its rules. If the national federation were to be suspended, Spain’s team would not be allowed to play at next year’s World Cup.

FIFA’s statement made no mention of a suspension or other punitive measures.

But the scare was big enough for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to say that Spain will not miss soccer’s biggest event.

“I am sure that Spain will go to the World Cup in Russia and that it will win it,” Rajoy said at a news conference in Brussels.

FIFA added in its statement that “in the coming days” it will send a delegation, which will include representatives from UEFA, to Madrid to “observe and analyze the situation” of the Spanish soccer federation.

The federation said in a separate statement that its interim president, Juan Luis Larrea, had spoken with FIFA and UEFA officials at the World Cup draw on Dec. 1 and that he had passed on their “enormous concern” to Spain’s minister of education, culture and sport.

The Spanish federation said it was waiting for the ministry to set a date for a meeting.

Spanish police arrested Villar, his son, and two other soccer officials in July on suspicion of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar was replaced by Larrea, the body’s treasurer for three decades. Critics of Villar argue that elections are needed to make a clean start for the institution that has been tarnished by the scandal.

Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace

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  • Leicester leads all-time 26W-18D-23L
  • Foxes 3W-1D vs. Eagles since Oct. 2015
  • Palace won at Leicester in Feb. 2015

The Claude Puel revolution at Leicester City has the Foxes surging up the Premier League table, and Saturday’s visitors from Crystal Palace are making moves of their own (Watch live Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester has won four-straight matches, the latest a 4-1 beatdown of Southampton at St. Mary’s, and returns to King Power Stadium with a chance to make a dent on the five-point deficit between the Foxes and the Top Four.

 

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After beginning the season 0-7, Crystal Palace has claimed 14 of 30 points to move from 20th to 18th on the table. Roy Hodgson’s men have two wins and four draws in their last six matches.

What they’re saying

Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the task at hand:

Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek on his high-flying loan spell from Chelsea: “It’s what you aspire to be when you’re younger. Right now it’s a case of trying to improve as much as I can and to keep the performances up. As long as I’m enjoying it I think I’ll do well, so I’m really happy. The experience of playing week in week out and the physical side of things, getting my body used to playing games – sometimes three in a week – has been a massive thing for me, especially when I haven’t played for two years regularly. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to get away from Chelsea, to play regular football, get my body used to it, get more robust and I think once you have that then it’s a platform to play better.”

Prediction

This could be a fun one, with names like Zaha, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy, Mahrez, and Gray ready to bless the match with pace and creativity. Goals have come in bunches when Leicester’s on the pitch, and we’ll call it 2-1 to the Foxes.

RBNY’s Grella heads to Columbus (through Colorado)

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Mike Grella didn’t get to pick No. 20 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, but that didn’t stop Columbus from getting their hands on the New York Red Bulls veteran.

Colorado selected Grella with the third overall pick, then sent him to Columbus for a second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

[ MLS: Ousted “blacklisted” by MLS? ]

The only other pick was made by Minnesota United, who took Tyrone Mears from Atlanta United.

Grella, 30, is a well-traveled Duke product who has played in England and Denmark. He scored 18 times with 13 assists in 89 matches for the Red Bulls, but missed most of the 2017 season with a pair of knee injuries.

It’s a good gamble for the Crew, and an extra draft pick for 2019. Second-round picks have become long odds to make MLS rosters, with Tommy McNamara and Aaron Long the last impact players to come out of the round. That was in 2014, and both needed changes of scenery before hitting their MLS strides.