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Premier League preview: Arsenal vs. Hull City

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With everything else happening in Arsenal Land, you might have forgotten the 2016-17 Premier League season is far from over. Sure, the future of Arsene Wenger is in greater doubt now than it’s ever been; sure, the Gunners have lost two in a row in league play, and fallen to fourth in the league table, 12 points back of leaders Chelsea; and yes, they suddenly find themselves closer to sixth place (just two points between Arsenal and Manchester United) than they are to second (three points back of Tottenham Hotspur).

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But Hull City are coming to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), which means an easy, automatic three points, right? Well, actually, wrong. Marco Silva’s side shocked Liverpool just last weekend, a result which gives the Tigers points from three of four PL games (their only loss came against Chelsea) under their newly appointed Portuguese boss. Another upset this weekend would almost certainly jump Hull from 18th in the PL table, where they presently sit, to safety outside the bottom-three.

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INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Aaron Ramsey (calf), Granit Xhaka (suspended), Santi Cazorla (achilles), Yaya Sanogo (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Hector Bellerin (concussion) | Hull City — OUT: Abel Hernandez (hamstring), Michael Dawson (calf), Curtis Davies (hamstring), Ryan Mason (head), Markus Henriksen (shoulder), Will Keane (knee), Moses Odubajo (knee)

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger, on the support of the fans: “Our fans have been consistent and have a high level of expectation, as I have as well. But I don’t feel it is absolutely clear. You cannot be a fan until last Tuesday and not be a fan anymore and not be behind the team this Saturday, it doesn’t make sense. … I want the fans to be behind the team. But at the same time, I am not fool enough not to know that the first priority is us and our dynamic inside the team that will create and facilitate the support of our fans.”

Marco Silva, on turning one good result into two: “Of course last weekend was important because we won three points. We take those points but now we forget the game because in my mind, all we do now is prepare for the match against Arsenal. We have to continue to show our best on the pitch and prove that what we did last week in terms of the result is our real value.”

Prediction

At some point, all those injuries are going to catch up with Hull — not just the number of players unavailable, but they quality and import they carry with them as well — and if we know one thing, it’s that Arsenal bite back the hardest after they’ve been written off. Alexis Sanchez has himself a day to remember, and Arsenal are up 2-0 or 3-0 before halftime.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

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3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.