Three things we learned from Arsenal v. Man City

Leave a comment

LONDON — Arsenal and Manchester City played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday but a point helped neither team in their quest to seal a top four finish.

[ MORE: Arsenal in strange state of flux ]

Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero twice put City ahead in the first half after Theo Walcott equalized, while Shkodran Mustafi grabbed a point for the Gunners with a second half header.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Both Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola went for it, as expected, but the talented attacking teams somewhat canceled each other out with City missing several glorious chances in the second half.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Here’s what we learned from north London.


TOP FOUR HANGS IN BALANCE

Both teams knew they needed a win to boost their top four hopes but neither truly took the game by the scruff of the neck.

With defensive mistakes, plenty of giveaways in midfield and missed chances for both, Wenger and Guardiola would have been frustrated with the outcome.

This game perhaps personified why these two hugely talented teams are closer to fourth place than challenging for the title.

The point keeps Arsenal in sixth place on 51 points, while Man City move to 58 points and stay in fourth place. In that respect, City will be happier with the point but this performance, which included another shaky defensive display, proved how far away they are from Chelsea and Tottenham as things stand.

With City heading to Chelsea on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men can still create havoc in the title race if they beat the leaders. This draw all but end their own title aspirations, while they’re just five points ahead of neighbors Manchester United who have a game in hand. City just can’t solidify their spot in the top four and Guardiola will point towards a lack of clinical finishing once again for not getting the three points.

Arsenal’s top four hopes hang in the balance as they’re seven points behind City with a game in hand. With just one win in their last six games, Wenger’s men needed the win but had to settle for a fair point.


DEEP DE BRUYNE

Kevin De Bruyne has been deployed in a deeper midfield role by Pep Guardiola in recent weeks and it’s working rather well. Well, at least for the first 45 minutes it did.

On his recent trip to NBC Sports’ HQ in Stamford, City’s usual deep-lying playmaker Ilkay Gundogan (out for the season with a knee injury) explained that Guardiola likes De Bruyne to play deeper so City can control midfield.

KDB’s assist for Sane’s opening goal was sublime, a rasping 40-yard side-volley which scythed opened Arsenal’s defense in an instance. He also hit the post with a long-range effort and he continued to be a pest with his deep runs as he surged into the box twice just before Sergio Aguero put City back in front. His first charge resulted in an effort hitting the post and his second led to Aguero’s goal.

In the second half KDB was pushed back out wide with Raheem Sterling coming off and Yaya Toure coming on to try and regain some defensive solidity in central midfield.

Often known for his crossing ability, pace from out wide and ability to create and score in the final third, some would say De Bruyne is wasted in a deeper role further from the opponent’s goal. De Bruyne struggled when he shifted back out wide in the second half but more often than not he looks more comfortable in his usual role.

Yet, Guardiola has seen something different, as he often does, and he may transform De Bruyne into a two-way central midfielder.


SANCHEZ, OZIL INDIFFERENT

For the first time in six weeks Mesut Ozil started for Arsenal and the German playmaker was met with a mixed vibe from Gunners fans throughout.

Before kick off the Arsenal mascot for the day was asked by the stadium announcer who his favorite players to meet were: Ozil and Sanchez were the inevitable answers he gave.

How much longer both stay around for Arsenal’s fans to admire remains to be seen but there’s no denying the star quality they provide.

Ozil’s inviting corner was flicked home by Skhodran Mustafi to make it 2-2, while Sanchez danced in from the left flank to set up Walcott for a chance late in the first half and put in a typically committed display even though he couldn’t get the better of Jesus Navas who was surprisingly selected at right back.

The duo linked up well in the box in the first half with Ozil’s clever flick finding Sanchez but Fernandinho‘s perfectly-timed tackle denied the Chilean forward at the crucial moment. They’ll always create chances and look dangerous. Always.

Yet, they both made bad defensive mistakes when trying to overplay in he wrong areas. Ozil gave the ball away cheaply in the build up to Aguero’s goal, while Sanchez got away with playing a lapse flick in his own box which saw Navas cross for Aguero but his header was saved. Moments like that show that sometimes the duo can be too flamboyant and consequently Arsenal lack balance on the defensive side of the ball when they’re both on the pitch.

Whatever happens with the future of Ozil and Sanchez, Arsenal’s rebuild will be much easier with them on board. When Arsenal needed them most on Sunday, they didn’t quite deliver the goods.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

Photo by Lukas Schulze - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?