Three things we learned from Arsenal’s FA Cup final win

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LONDON — Following Arsenal’s 3-2 win against Hull City on Saturday in the FA Cup final at Wembley, the Gunners came back from 2-0 down to win a record-equaling 11th FA Cup.

The Gunners never seem to do things the easy way and this sensational comeback was certainly one of those occasions.

MORE: Arsenal’s incredible comeback wins FA Cup final vs. Hull, first trophy since ’05

Hull raced into a 2-0 lead inside eight minutes and they battled incredible hard for the entire game as the Gunners fought back in dramatic fashion.

We learned many things from Arsenal’s first trophy win since 2005, here are three.

Arsenal’s slow start, once again, almost cost them

Away at Manchester City. Away at Liverpool. Away at Chelsea. Then again in the FA Cup final. Arsenal’s slow starts were a constant throughout the 2013-14 season. Starting two or three goals behind has put Arsenal in a bad spot in huge PL games this season and they never recovered. Luckily, for them, on Saturday Hull only went 2-0 ahead after seven minutes. Two set pieces launched into the box saw first James Chester flick home and then Curtis Davies reacted quickly as Hull’s aerial bombardment unsettled Arsenal from the start. Steve Bruce and his staff certainly did their homework and it could have been 3-0 after 12 minutes if Alex Bruce’s header wasn’t cleared off the line. Arsenal haven’t been able to handle face-paced attacks from the get-go all season and they must work on their sluggish starts if they are going to add more silverware to the trophy cabinet at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners were lucky to get away with their horrendous start.

Hull’s five-man defense biggest help/hindrance

The Tigers’ defenders defended like, er, well, Tigers… for most of the game but they came unstuck several times in extra time as they tried to overplay at the back. There were simply too many men at the back as Hull’s players got in each others way. Throughout the first 60 minutes they threw themselves in front of challenges, made herculian blocks and were extremely well organized. However when they started to falter, tiredness and the tireless running of Yaya Sanogo off the bench was a recipe for disaster. Hull went 2-0 up after eight minutes and they didn’t know what to do. Barely a threat going forward all game, only Sone Aluko’s effort towards the end of extra time came close to Hull scoring a third. Many call Hull’s five-man defense anti-football but until the 71st minute it looked incredibly likely it would win them the FA Cup. Their biggest strength became their Achilles heel.

Wenger’s extra time gamble pays off

After 105 minutes of keeping Arsenal at bay Hull hardly needed to see Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky both fresh as daises and jumping off the bench in extra time. Within seconds the duo had combined to tear Hull apart and Arsenal almost went 3-2 up with a slaloming one-two into the penalty box. That unsettled the Tigers as Wilshere and Rosicky’s energetic running and clever moves found space for Sanogo to create havoc for the winning goal, where Giroud broke free and Ramsey was left unmarked to play the hero. Wenger’s decision to keep both Wilshere and Rosicky on the bench until the last 15 minutes proved masterful and showed that the Frenchman still has that magic touch, even after nine years without a trophy.

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)

Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out:

Champions League last 16 draw sets up huge clashes

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The Round of 16 draw for the UEFA Champions League did not disappoint.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

We have some monster clashes with Chelsea facing Barcelona, once again, and the reigning champs Real Madrid paired with the favorites Paris Saint-Germain.

With five Premier League teams remaining, Tottenham have been handed a tough draw against Italian champions Juventus who were also runners up in the UCL last season, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool will all be rather happy with their draws.

United have been drawn against Spanish side Sevilla, Liverpool will face FC Porto and Man City clash with Basel.

Below is the draw in full, while UEFA has also released the schedule for the games with Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all playing their second legs at home.