Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth: Sanchez double sees off bright Cherries

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Arsenal got back to winning ways with a feisty 3-1 win over Bournemouth at The Emirates, pushing them back within a point of Manchester City and the top three. The Cherries asked plenty of questions of the Arsenal back line, but aside from a controversial penalty, the visitors couldn’t finish their chances, while Alexis Sanchez could for a brace.

The match exploded open in the first two minutes, with a cross from Sanchez was blasted on goal by Mesut Ozil but it was well blocked. Down the other end, Bournemouth’s Adam Smith was given space and he took aim, swerving a shot just wide right of Petr Cech‘s net.

Bourmouth earned itself a pair of early yellow cards, with Steve Cook and Simon Francis both booked inside the opening 10 minutes. The latter’s foul down the left allowed Arsenal a dangerous free-kick, and it brought a big opportunity for Mohamed Elneny at the top of the box, but his powerful shot was smothered by a pair of closing defenders.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Despite all the attacking creativity from Arsenal to start, it was a horrid mistake by Bournemouth that allowed them in. A miserably short back-pass from Steve Cook under pressure allowed Sanchez in on goal, and the Chilean unwrapped the early holiday gift easily to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead.

The Gunners were forced into an early change as Mathieu Debuchy, on for his first start in over a year, was forced off after just 15 minutes, replaced by Gabriel.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Bournemouth was given a way back in on 22 minutes as the referee pointed to the spot, whistling for a foul on Nacho Monreal chasing a long ball with Callum Wilson. The two players simply came shoulder-to-shoulder, but Bournemouth was given a penalty, and Wilson stepped up and buried it down the middle to level things up.

They nearly came up with another just three minutes later, as a Nathan Ake header to the middle of the area on a plate for Adam Smith, but the midfielder headed over. They continued to pressure Cech’s net, with Brad Smith forcing a save after choosing to shoot himself from a tight angle despite Wilson sitting free in the six-yard area.

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The Gunners popped off a pair of shots past the half-hour mark, with Elneny and Sanchez both rifling over from a good distance out. The Chilean crashed one off the bar in first-half injury time, hammering a shot from a tight angle.

In the second half, the Gunners looked much more incisive, and they were rewarded in the 53rd minute. Ozil spun on the right to work space, and while his ball was headed across to the other end, Monreal kept it alive, sending it back in to Theo Walcott waiting to finish it off for a 2-1 lead. Sanchez was lucky to stay on the pitch past the hour mark after he caught Harry Artur from behind with a nasty step on his ankle.

Bournemouth wasn’t out of it just yet, as Cech was required to make an outstanding reflex save on substitute Benik Afobe who had found space from point-blank range and tried to poke one in 14 minutes from time. The Gunners brought on Olivier Giroud leading 2-1, and he proved dangerous, nearly knifing a ball from Aaron Ramsey on net before chesting one down that earned a corner moments later. Lys Mousset, on for Bournemouth, looked to put a header on target in the final minute of regulation. Down the other end, Sanchez would kill off the game with the third and final Arsenal goal, as Giroud fed him perfectly on the break from the right.

The win puts Arsenal on 29 points, just three points back of the top of the table. The Gunners are now unbeaten in league play in 12 matches, but after a pair of draws are back to winning ways.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.