FA Cup Final preview: Will Arsenal end their trophy drought?

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The FA Cup final kicks off on Saturday, with Arsenal and Hull City meeting at Wembley at 12 noon ET.

It’s all new for Hull, who’ve never made it to the FA Cup final before – and who, no matter what the outcome, will be headed into the Europa League next season. But that doesn’t meant the Tigers will be staring around naively as Arsenal run circles around them. They proved themselves capable of causing trouble in the league by beating Liverpool and topping Newcastle (back when Newcastle could still score) and they might have an upset left in them.

But even the most die-hard Hull fan likely admits that Arsenal have the edge in this one. Hull picked up just one point from their last five league matches, and that was a draw to Fulham. The Gunners, meanwhile, have won their last five, including a 3-0 victory over Hull back in April.

Plus, Arsenal may be fired along by just a touch more desire. A trophy’s been a long time coming for the club, with the last one lifted an FA Cup, back in 2005. And although Arsène Wenger insists that his contract extension does not hinge on his team finally picking up another piece of hardware for the cabinet, it may very well figure in to the deal that’s yet to be announced.

With Hull known to be pragmatic (or, to be frank, a bit boring) will this be a dull 120 minutes, finished off by a penalty shootout? Or will Steve Bruce throw caution to the wind, telling his team that they have nothing to lose by attacking Arsenal?

The road to the final

Arsenal: The Gunners’ FA Cup adventure started off in the most satisfactory of ways, with a 2-0 victory over North London rivals Tottenham. Then came an easy 4-0 victory over League One side Coventry City. The Gunners must’ve felt nervous when Liverpool came to town, as they’d just lost 5-1 to the Reds the week before. But Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored early, and Lukas Podolski added a second shortly after the restart. Steven Gerrard’s penalty put the visitors on the board, but in the end it was a 2-1 Arsenal victory.

Next up it was Everton. Despite another early goal, this one from Mesut Özil, the sides were level at the break. Then the Gunners scored three in the second half. The 4-1 win took them to Wembley to face cup-holders Wigan – who proved to be their toughest opponents yet. Per Mertesacker got a late equalizer to force a penalty shootout, in which Lukasz Fabianski played the hero by saving two of Wigan’s strikes.

Hull: After forcing Tottenham to extra time in the Fourth Round of the League Cup, only to crash out on penalties, Hull may have felt rather confident about their chances in the FA Cup. A Third Round draw to Championship side Middlesbrough made it easy for the Tigers to progress, 2-0. The next round was even easier, with Hull drawn against League 2 side Southend United. Another 2-0 win and it was off to Brighton to take on one of the best sides in the Championship. Hull came unstuck, needing a late equalizer from Yannick Sagbo to force a replay, which they won 2-1.

Hull’s easiest match was, surprisingly, against Sunderland, their only Premier League opposition in the tournament. Curtis Davies, David Meyler, and Matty Fryatt all scored inside ten minutes in the second half. Then it was on to face League One side Sheffield United in the semi-finals at Wembley. The Blades had already disposed of Premier League sides Aston Villa and Fulham, and looked set to do the same to Hull. But the Tigers kept roaring back, eventually sealing a 5-3 win to move on to the final.

What they’re saying

Hull manager Steve Bruce, on his club’s chances“The pressure will be on Arsenal because they have not won anything for a while,” Bruce said, way back in April, after the conclusion of the semi-finals. “They are a great side, they have great tradition and great history with a top-class manager. We are up against it but we will do our best.”

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger on that pressure“There is a huge desire for us to finish the job in the FA Cup. There is a pressure there, a big one, but a positive one and we want to take that opportunity,” said Wenger“It’s an opportunity for us to crown our season. There is always a huge expectancy. It brings pressure but we played many games in the season under that pressure and tension. That experience will help us in the final.”

Prediction

No surprises in this one. Bruce is not likely to deviate from his plan, but Arsenal’s attack – particularly with Aaron Ramsey back – will be able to pick apart the Hull defense. The Gunners will finally have another trophy to polish up.

Wenger: Arsenal “complacent, had no ideas” in Ostersunds loss

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Perhaps Sunday’s League Cup final had already reached the forefront of their minds, but Arsene Wenger admonished his players, whom he said were “complacent, not focused” and “had no ideas” for much of Thursday’s Europa League defeat, at home, to Swedish side Ostersunds.

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The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 on the back of their 3-0 first-leg victory last week, but Wenger was understandably displeased by the effort he saw and expressed such feelings in no uncertain terms, before quickly easing up and praising the fact they were able to pull back a goal against the current fifth-place team from Sweden — quotes from the BBC:

“We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals.

“In the first half, we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble.

“We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”

With Arsenal now trailing fourth-place Chelsea by eight points (and seven back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur), winning the Europa League might just be the Gunners’ last chance at qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.

Whitecaps defender Tim Parker being tracked by several teams from East

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Tim Parker’s next destination could very well be closer to his hometown, however, other MLS sides are in hot pursuit of the U.S. Men’s National Team defender.

[ MORE: CCL recap — FC Dallas falls, Club America struts its stuff ]

The Vancouver Whitecaps center back has been the subject of trade speculation recently, and Pro Soccer Talk has learned that Parker has turned down a new contract with the Cascadia side that would have kept the 24-year-old in Canada for at least three more seasons.

Multiple sources have told PST that the deal Parker rejected was worth over $1.4 million in totality. Metro New York’s Kristian Dyer was the first to report the story.

Parker was subject to make roughly $99,000 in 2017, according to the MLS Players Union, although he’s expected to receive a significant increase with any new deal that he signs. On an average basis, Parker would have made over $400,000 annually had he signed a new contract with the Whitecaps.

A New York-native, Parker has been looking to return to the East Coast after spending three seasons with the Whitecaps. The former Saint John’s University standout was selected in the first round by the Whitecaps in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, after spending all four years with the Red Storm on the collegiate level.

Sources can also confirm that D.C. United and the Montreal Impact have emerged as the leaders to obtain Parker’s services if a deal is struck with the defender, although a move to the New York Red Bulls hasn’t been ruled out.

The Red Bulls have shown interest in the young defender for some time — and would be the preferred destination for the player — given Parker’s New York roots. A combination of allocation money and a player would likely be needed from the Red Bulls if the Eastern Conference side proved to be serious about pursuing Parker.

D.C. has managed to acquire significant allocation money over recent years, particularly GAM, which would prove to be essential in signing Parker. Ben Olsen’s defense has been built around USMNT center back Steve Birnbaum — who arrived in 2014 — but an addition of Parker would surely benefit a D.C. back line that conceded 60 goals in 34 regular season matches a season ago.

Meanwhile, a move for the Impact would be logical given the fact that the Canadian side lost center back Laurent Ciman this offseason when the Belgian international was traded to expansion side Los Angeles FC.

Police officer dies after fan violence before Bilbao-Spartak Moscow

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BILBAO, Spain (AP) A Spanish riot police officer died of cardiac arrest after clashes involving Russian soccer fans before a Europa League match on Thursday between hosts Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, raising concerns less than four months before the World Cup in Russia.

Basque Country authorities in northern Spain said the officer died in hospital after the confrontations outside San Mames Stadium in the city of Bilbao, which will host matches in the 2020 European Championship.

Police also said a Russian man was injured but the extent of his injuries was not immediately disclosed. Five people were arrested – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards.

The identity of the dead officer was not immediately disclosed.

Spartak won the match 2-1 but Athletic advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

The trouble in Spain erupted ahead of the round-of-32 match in the second-tiered European club competition.

Police were escorting some Spartak fans into the stadium but a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

The fighting spread onto the streets near the stadium and police struggled to restore order. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks exploded all around.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of `Ultra’ Russian fans in Bilbao, and a large police force was deployed to try to prevent fan trouble.

Six year ago a fan died in Bilbao in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.