Hull City 0-3 Arsenal: Full-strength lineup sees Gunners cruise

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Arsenal kept their stranglehold on the final Champions League spot as they easily dispatched Hull City 3-0 in a preview of the FA Cup final.

Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil both returned to the starting lineup following long injury spells, and they were both at the forefront of the Gunners attack that looked rejuvenated with the return of its stars.

Ramsey opened the scoring for the Gunners and Lukas Podolski poached a double as Arsenal cruised to all three points.

The opening half-chances fell to Hull City, who were determined in the midfield and gave Nikica Jelavic an opportunity on 15 minutes but he could only earn a corner.

The home side were widely the better side in the opening half, holding just 38% of possession but still outshooting Arsenal during the opening 45 by three.

However, it was Arsenal who had all the finishing quality, as Ramsey and Podolski picked up the pair of first-half goals for the visitors.

Ramsey, in his first start since Boxing Day in late December, was brilliant in the midfield.  On the half hour mark, Ozil slammed on the brakes and cut back to Santi Cazorla, who slotted a streaking Ramsey through for an easy finish and a 1-0 lead.

source: Getty Images
Lukas Podolski wasn’t the focal point of Arsenal’s attack, but he picked up a brace to clean up the mess inside the box.

Jake Livermore came down the other end just minutes later and rattled the post of Wojciech Szczesny, but couldn’t find the finish. Ahmed Elmohamady then headed just over on the ensuing corner, and Hull’s best chance of the first half evaporated.

Arsenal would make them pay just before halftime, although the referee was in the spotlight as well. Nikica Jelavic broke towards the Arsenal box, and went down under pressure from Mikel Arteta, and with contact at a minimum referee Jon Moss let play continue.

With the ball and the push, Arsenal put on a clinical counter attack, with a ball into the box from Olivier Giroud found that Ramsey.  He likely looked to shoot himself on the volley, but his first touch was heavy. Luckily, it fell to Podolski who took the volley himself and finished powerfully for a 2-0 Gunner lead.

After the break, Arsenal wasted no time effectively putting the game away with a third.  With the ball headed for the end line, Cazorla expertly cut back across the box and found a waiting Ramsey, who fired at goal.  Harper made a kick save but it came right back to Podolski who again finished well for the three-goal lead.

Hull began to fade, even with strikers Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long on the pitch. They will not be available for the looming cup final between these two clubs, as they are both cup-tied to their former clubs. Neither of the pair made it the full 90 minutes anyways, with Long coming off at halftime and Jelavic replaced with 20 minutes to go.

Arsenal shut up shop, and picked up a vital three points down the stretch of the season. They temporarily go four atop Everton in the Premier League standings, with the Toffees set to play at 11:10ET against Manchester United.

The Gunners still control their own destiny in the fight for the fourth spot as they look for their 18th straight season in the Champions League. Hull City, meanwhile, are

LINEUPS:

Hull City – Harper; Rosenior, Elmohamady, Davies, Chester; Huddlestone, Livermore, Meyler, Boyd (Koren 84′); Jelavic (Quinn 70′), Long (Fryatt 45′).

Arsenal – Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil (Flamini 61′); Podolski (Sanogo 84′), Giroud (Oxlade-Chamberlain 74′).

Goals: Ramsey 31′; Podolski 45′, 54′

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.