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U.S. vs. Turkey: Three things that could matter, come Brazil

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The United States isn’t ready of the World Cup, but on Sunday, the team showed it’s making progress. Improving on Tuesday’s performance against Azerbaijan, the U.S.’s execution going forward was better against a more talented foe, producing a 26th minute goal that flashed the best of Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson. With Clint Dempsey’s second half insurance, the U.S. went on to a 2-1 win over Turkey, it’s second in as many games of their pre-Brazil send-off series.

The returns, however, weren’t entirely positive. Though the attack improved, problems were revealed at in defense, while the team’s midfield arrangement proved ill-suited to protect an unsettled back four. While the U.S. didn’t get bogged down in front of its opponents’ defense (as it did against Azerbaijan), the team proved too willing to let its opposition move through theirs. The defense’s left side was a big problem.

Six days from now, the U.S. will get a chance to address those issues. For now, here are three things we learned about the team which could matter come Brazil.

1. Bradley looking more like a number 10 …

On Tuesday against Azerbaijan, the U.S.’s diamond midfield was a misnomer. Michael Bradley, ostensibly the team’s attacking midfielder, spent most of the batch behind his two carrileros. On Sunday, that changed, with the normally ranging Bradley almost restraining himself to stay higher in the defensive phase, offering an outlet out of the back.

The flip side of that: Bradley’s positioning allowed him to exert pressure higher up the field, something that paid off in the 21st minute when a turnover in Turkey’s half created a 3-on-2. On the U.S.’s opening goal, Bradley was coming from behind two of the opponent’s central midfielders. He wasn’t in front of them, as a would normally be with his club team.  When the defense turned, Fabian Johnson had his space, and the U.S. had its opening goal.

2. … it’s still unclear that’s the best way to use him.

Speaking to ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp at halftime, Klinsmann noted the diamond midfield left holder Jermaine Jones outnumbered when Turkey threw its highest midfielders into attack. Of course, that’s the sacrifice you make when you go with this midfield alignment. The U.S. either needs to get its wide midfielders (Graham Zusi and Brad Davis) back quicker a la a normal 4-3-1-2 or it needs to pull Bradley deeper. Regardless, it was too easy for Turkey to get numbers at Jones and, consequently, that weak left side of the defense.

On Sunday, the U.S. was able to generate as many chances as its opponents. Against Germany and Portugal, however, that’s unlikely to hold. These psuedo-diamonds are in fashion right now in U.S. soccer, but without players who can play deeper roles in the sides, the formation may leave a suspect defense overexposed.

3. The defense, particularly its left side, may be a weakness.

The wording of that header is a bit “no duh,” but on Sunday, the problems were particularly evident. Against a Turkey team that seemed to constantly go at Matt Besler and Timothy Chandler’s side, the U.S. appeared destined to give up a goal. Though Klinsmann almost got away with it, with his team only conceding near the final whistle, the U.S. coach learned a Besler-Chandler combination either needs help, needs to be avoided, or needs to improve.

This goes back to the criticisms of the midfield, above, but if we concentrate on the defense, it also raises questions about Chandler. Regarding Besler, we know he’s a solid but limited player who, while reliable, needs solid players around him at this level. After Sunday’s game, the question is whether Chandler (a.) can that player, and (b.) how often.

The performance brought back memories of his struggles last February in World Cup qualifying against Honduras. It also made DaMarcus Beasley, a natural midfielder, look more viable. To the eyes, an even per his résumé, Chandler seems like the more viable option. In practice, that may not be the case.

Sunday may have just been a bad day, and the level of competition Chandler faced was much higher than Beasley saw on Tuesday, but that 90th minute mistake should never happen. Being so far out of position on Turkey’s 61st minute chance may have been a problem, too. And those weren’t the only issues on the left side of the U.S.’s defense.

Player ratings from Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City: Who shone in title clash?

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It was pulsating. It was crazy. It could prove to be a decisive moment in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Arsenal’s last-gasp 2-1 win over 10-man Leicester City came after Jamie Vardy had controversially given the Foxes the lead, but subs Theo Walcott and then Danny Welbeck with the final attack of the game cut Leicester’s lead at the top of the PL to two points as the Gunners grabbed a huge win.

[ MORE: Welbeck reacts to heroics ]

Here’s a look at how each player fared on Sunday in what could prove to be a pivotal result as the title race has been blown wide open.


Arsenal

Petr Cech – 7 – Good stop down low from Vardy early on and commanded his box well. Hardly troubled in second half.

Hector Bellerin – 6 – Not as enterprising as usual in attack but very disciplined.

Per Mertesacker – 6 – Did okay. Fears about Vardy exposing his pace unfounded. Hardly tested when Leicester went down to 10.

Laurent Koscielny – 5 – Clattered into Kante in build up to Leicester’s goal. Came off at half time with an injury.

Nacho Monreal – 5 – Gave away the PK and although unlucky he got himself in a bad spot. Could’ve conceded another in second half too.

Francis Coquelin – 6 – Typical workmanlike display from the French midfielder. Tried his best to control Kante.

Aaron Ramsey – 6 -Missed several chances but kept on pouring forward. Needs to improve finishing. Big time.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 6 – Gave Leicester so many issues early on but faded as the game wore on.

Mesut Ozil – 6 – Yeah, he was going to get a 5 but that ball in for Welbeck’s equalizer was majestic. None of his flicks came off today.

Alexis Sanchez – 6 – Looked a little tired but kept on trucking. Leicester doubled up on him every time he got the ball. His pace got Simpson sent off.

Olivier Giroud – 8 – Didn’t score and had three or four half chances with headers but his knockdown for Walcott’s goal was sublime and not easy to negotiate Huth and Morgan on your own.

Subs: Calum Chambers (On for Koscielny, 45′ – 6 – Steady outing for the young center back), Theo Walcott (On for Coquelin, 61′ – 7 – Added pace which Leicester couldn’t handle. Good finish for the goal), Danny Welbeck (On for Oxlade-Chamberlain, 83′ – 7 – After nine months out, what a return. Glancing header won it for the Gunners)


Leicester City

Kasper Schmeichel – 7 – Made some tremendous saves, especially from Giroud in the second half.

Danny Simpson – 3 – Silly two yellows at the start of the second half as Simpson couldn’t handle Sanchez’s pace. Cost his team dear.

Robert Huth – 6 – Typically robust display. Cleared and blocked whatever he could.

Wes Morgan – 6 – See above. Will be disappointed the defense didn’t mark Welbeck tighter for the winner though.

Christian Fuchs – 5 – Had a bit of a nightmare early on and although he recovered the Gunners always looked dangerous down his flank.

N'Golo Kante – 9 – This guy was everywhere. Didn’t deserve to be on the losing team. Only Leicester man with energy to get up and support Vardy in second half.

Danny Drinkwater – 6 – Put in a shift but became overrun in second half.

Riyad Mahrez – 6 – Was causing problems and could have had a penalty kick in the second half. He was taken off but probably should have stayed on.

Marc Albrighton – 5 – Clipped in one good ball for Vardy early on and that was about it.

Shinji Okazaki – 5 – Plenty of running but didn’t get involved in the game. Had one chance in first half he fired over but flagged offside. He was onside by a yard though…

Jamie Vardy – 6 – Hmm. He scored the penalty kick which he won by dragging his leg into Monreal’s. No place for diving in the game. That said, forced Cech into a good save and looked sharp. Ran out of energy in the second half as the lone forward.

Subs: Marcin Wasilewski (On for Mahrez, 58′ – 4 – Did okay until he gave away a silly free kick right at the end which Arsenal scored from), Demarai Gray (On for OKazaki, 61′ – 5 – Added some pace on the break and one vital interception in defense), Andy King (On for Albrighton, 83′ – 5 – Didn’t have time to make a real impact)

Welbeck’s Arsenal heroics complete “roller coaster” ride; Walcott proud

during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium.
Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport
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Danny Welbeck hadn’t played for Arsenal in 10 months. It took him 12 minutes to score a goal that could live in Gunners’ history.

[ WATCH: The incredible late winner at the Emirates ]

Welbeck’s headed turn of a Mesut Ozil free kick deep into stoppage time lifted the Gunners to within two points of the Premier League’s first slot in a 2-1 win over Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

A September setback meant knee surgery for Welbeck, and an even longer spell on the sidelines for the embattled Englishman.

All that helped Sunday’s goal felt even more massive.

From Sky Sports:

“Dying seconds, we kept pushing, had chance after chance. I missed the first opportunity and tried to make amends. It is important and the most important thing is to get the win. It has been a roller-coaster for me, a difficult moment and my family and friends know what I have been through.

Welbeck’s Arsenal and England teammate Theo Walcott, who scored the Gunners’ other goal, was pretty happy for his striker.

“This man hasn’t played for nine months and to get into the mix like that, special players come into into big games. That could be massive.”

He said it. Could Arsenal’s Manchester United import be the man who scored the biggest goal of a title run?

VIDEO: Watch Welbeck score incredible late winner for Arsenal

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Danny Welbeck is now an Arsenal legend.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

The England international hasn’t featured in a Premier League game since last April due to injury and came on for the final stages with Arsenal and Leicester drawing 1-1.

Then, this happened.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-1 Leicester – Gunners snatch win ]

In the 95th minute Mesut Ozil whipped in an inch-perfect cross and Welbeck glanced home to sent the Emirates wild.

Click play on the video above to relive what will go down as perhaps the moment of the season so far with Leicester’s lead at the top of the Premier League now cut to just two points and Arsenal breathing down their necks.

Scenes at the Emirates. Scenes.

Three things we learned from Arsenal’s dramatic late win vs. Leicester City

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On Sunday Arsenal beat Leicester City 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium with Danny Welbeck‘s stunning stoppage time winner sealing a massive win for the Gunners and reducing Leicester’s lead at the top to just two points.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

After Jamie Vardy had given Leicester a controversial lead via a penalty kick he won, a red card for Danny Simpson early in the second half turned the tide of this match and Theo Walcott‘s equalizer set up the dramatic finale Welbeck delivered.

Stunning. Here’s what we learned from a sensational clash in north London.

GUNNERS GRIND OUT

They did it. They actually did it. So many times in the past Arsenal have been in this situation at a crucial time of the season and they’ve blown it. Not on Sunday.

On Valentine’s Day the Gunners broke the hearts of Leicester’s fans with Welbeck glancing a header into the far corner with the final attack of the game. It was what Arsenal deserved as they forced the issue from the start and were unlucky to go behind after Vardy’s skulduggery to win and then score a penalty kick. Wenger made the right subs at the right time with both Walcott and Welbeck jumping off the bench to net huge goals in what is a pivotal 10-day spell. Heading into a two-week break in the Premier League calendar, the momentum is now with Arsenal and Leicester’s hearts will be heavy instead of fluttering. Moments like Welbeck’s 95th minute are exactly why you end up winning the PL title. True champions have a never say die attitude and despite missing chances and coming up against an in-form Kasper Schmeichel, the Gunners dug deep and ground what could be a season defining win. They still remain two points off first-place Leicester but it is surely now advantage Arsenal in the title race.


DIVING VARDY SUCKS ARSENAL IN

The major moment which shaped this game arrived in the 44th minute. It all started on the edge of Leicester’s own box — as does most of their best attacking play — as Ozil looked to be clearly fouled by Wes Morgan but referee Martin Atkinson waved played on and Arsenal’s player hesitated for a second too long. The brilliant N'Golo Kante (more on him below) broke free down the right and Laurent Koscielny fouled him but Atkinson waved play on. Jamie Vardy then latched onto the ball and suckered both Nacho Monreal and Atkinson in as he flicked the ball past the Arsenal left back and dragged his left leg into Monreal’s body. Call it what you want: clever, cheating. Vardy knew what he was doing and it’s not the first time he’s done it this season.

He slammed home the spot kick to make it 1-0 and although you could fault Monreal for initially sticking his leg out, Vardy looked to go over. The crux of this debate should revolve around why no free kick was given for Morgan clambering over Ozil. That would have stopped the trademark lightning-quick counter that has become the lifeblood of Leciester’s remarkable rise to the top of the PL this season. Riyad Mahrez went down in the opening five minutes of the second half in a similar fashion as he bamboozled Monreal with his slick moves and felt a clip on his knee so went down. Atkinson didn’t fall for it this time.

Walcott equalized and Welbeck grabbed the dagger in Leicester’s heart at the end and perhaps it was what the Foxes deserved after the way they took the lead. Vardy dived. Justice prevailed.


KANTE MAKES FOXES TICK

N’Golo Kante didn’t deserve to be on the losing team. He is not a holding midfielder. He is a machine. Kante had 47 touches in the first half and was absolutely all over the pitch. He broke down Arsenal’s attacks and after Christian Fuchs struggled to cope with the pace of both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Hector Bellerin early on, Kante shuffled over and shut down the left flank. He is the undisputed heartbeat of Leicester’s team. Sure, Vardy provides the pace and Mahrez the trickery but the industry and grit comes from the tiny midfielder signed from Caen in the summer for what now looks like a paltry $8 million. Even when Leicester were reduced to 10-men he was the driving force, the only man who could had the energy to get on the ball and drive forward in support of Vardy. It was a monumental display from the man who was plying his trade in the lower tiers of French soccer until recently. Now, he looks like one of the most complete central midfielders in the PL.