Premier League Sunday Preview: Heat’s on Arsenal; Liverpool at Upton Park

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Sunday’s the day Arsenal affirms it hold on fourth or squanders it, an outcome that was unfathomable of a month ago. It’s also the day the dreamer meats the cynic in East London, with Brendan Rodgers’ looking to reclaim first in the Premier League.

It’s all part of a Sunday doubleheader that begins at 8:00 a.m. Eastern, with fifth place Everton hosting Arsenal before West Ham United welcomes Liverpool. Both games will be broadcast on NBCSN and streamed via NBC Sport Live Extra.

After Saturday’s action, Liverpool finds itself in second place, with Chelsea’s win over Stoke temporarily allowing the Blues to reclaim first. Only one point back and holding the goal difference advantage, Liverpool will go top with a draw at Upton Park, maintaining a key points edge it has on third place Manchester City ahead of the Citizens visit to Anfield next weekend.

Before that, Arsenal looks to reestablish some distance between itself and Everton. With a game-in-hand, the Toffees are within four points of fourth. Should they win at at Goodison Park, Roberto Martínez’s team will be within one, have the goal difference advantage, and maintain a match in hand.

Here’s a closer look at Sunday’s action:

Everton vs. Arsenal, 8:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Toffees tied for the fewest losses in the league: Five.
  • Arsenal with one win in its last five league games.
  • Gunners won teams’ last meeting, 4-1 on Mar. 8 (FA Cup).

The last time Everton beat Arsenal, Thierry Henry was still leading the Gunners, James Beattie scored the match’s only goal, and teams were only allowed to name five players to their benches. It was Jan. 21, 2006, the only time in the last 11 years the Toffees have taken pull points from the Gunners.

It puts Sunday’s game in perspective. Everton may have an opportunity to take control of the race for fourth, but to do so it would have to do something that’s so rare that only Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert were around the last time it happened. Throughout David Moyes’ entire tenure at Goodison, the Toffees only beat Arsenal once, yet in Roberto Martinez’s first year in charge, form suggests Everton could match that mark. As Martínez’s side has surged toward the top four, Arsenal has dropped away from the title race.

History, however, can be a daunting thing, particularly in light of the teams’ last meeting. If things were really so different around Goodison — if the problems the club has had with Arsenal left with its former boss — March’s game would have been more competitive. Instead, the result serves as a reminder: Everton may need more than an early spring surge to close the gap with Arsenal.

West Ham United vs. Liverpool, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Liverpool one point back of Chelsea for first place.
  • Two wins in a row have West Ham in 11th place.
  • Reds won season’s first meeting, 4-1 at Anfield.

There’s a surprising amount of skepticism as to whether Liverpool can handle West Ham, with some seeing the combination of a trip to Upton Park plus Sam Allardyce’s tactics as a threat for the Reds’ eight-match winning streak. Yet the last time the teams met, Liverpool routed the Hammers at Anfield, with Luis Suárez scoring twice in the Reds’ three-goal win.

At that time. however, West Ham was in a mild free fall, with Allardyce’s job in danger as the Irons descended toward the bottom three. Since then, however, the Hammers have recovered. While fan discontent continues to grow toward the team’s uninspiring play, the club’s spot in next year’s Premier League is almost assured. After wins against Sunderland and Hull, West Ham’s 10 points clear of the drop.

It’s a status that speaks to West Ham’s improvement, though Liverpool has also improved dramatically since December. Back then, qualifying for Champions League was Liverpool’s only, and then still precarious, goal. Now, Rodgers’ team is in title contention, and while many continue to look for signs the team will slip recent, lopsided wins over Tottenham, Cardiff City, Manchester United, and Southampton (all by at least three goals; all since March 1) suggest the Reds may be beyond being bothered by the likes of West Ham.

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”