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Wenger: Top four not as easy as it looks

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Arsene Wenger has compared finishing in fourth place to winning a trophy.

[ MORE: Arsenal’s strange state of flux ]

Quoting Pep Guardiola, the under-fire Arsenal boss has further risked the wrath of Gunners fans, many of whom are already protesting against him before each game.

After 20 straight seasons of finishing in the top four of the Premier League, thus securing UEFA Champions League qualification in the process, Wenger’s men are seven points outside the top four as things stand although they do have a game in hand on fourth-place Manchester City.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s PL score picks – Week 31

Still, when speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s clash with West Ham United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) Wenger gave a little reminder as to just how tough finishing in the top four is…

“It’s a good challenge [reaching the top four],” Wenger said. “It is perfectly possible, for 20 years I have done it. I am quite pleased that people can realize it is not as easy as it looks. Like Pep Guardiola said ‘to achieve a top four in England is a trophy.’

“We have many games in April, we need to have everyone on board and to work like we did against Manchester City, then we have a chance. We also have an FA Cup semi-final. There is all to go for and it is a good opportunity to show we are united and strong.”

With Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal all fighting for the final two UCL spots (Chelsea lead the PL on 69 points and Tottenham sit in second on 62 points) the top four race is set to go down to the wire.

On paper Arsenal and Man United have the toughest remaining schedules and given all of the uncertainty around Arsenal about Wenger’s future, plus whether or not Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will stay beyond this summer, the Gunners have just one win in their last six games and it seems like they must win out to finish in the top four.

After Arsenal’s CEO Ivan Gazidis met with supporters at a fans forum on Sunday ans has been quoted as saying Wenger must be a “catalyst for change” at the club, perhaps this is a little retort from Wenger to give a reminder of what a sterling job he’s done over the past two decades.

The 67-year-old Frenchman still hasn’t revealed his future plans but this crescendo of speculation seems to be approaching some sort of end game.

If Arsenal fail to finish in the top four Wenger can’t stay on, right?

Messi scores four (4) as Barcelona hammers Eibar (video)

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Lionel Messi scored four times as Barcelona belted Eibar 6-1 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday.

The 30-year-old now has 522 goals for Barca, including nine in five league matches this season. That includes two hat tricks.

[ MORE: Klopp rages at defending ]

Paulinho and Denis Suarez also scored for Barca, which is yet to lose a point in La Liga play.

Messi scored a penalty to start the scoring, then started a combination play before scooting into the 18 to score low and left.

Watch the movement from the Argentine magician.

Messi added his second when he drew the defenders and keeper to play him straight-on, then used the outside of his boot to flick a deft finish home.

He’d later dash to the doorstep to complete the 6-1 scoreline.

And how often do we see this? Messi starting and finishing a combination. When you’re an elite player who also thirsts for goals every minute on the pitch, you’ll score a few.

League Cup: Foxes oust LFC; Stoke, Burnley upset (video)

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Leicester City turned to its favorite tactics to send Liverpool out of the League Cup, while Bristol City stunned struggling Stoke City as 11 matches dotted the English tournament landscape on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]


Leicester City 2-0 Liverpool

Both sides were decidedly second-string, and the Reds had plenty of control over the proceedings despite a lack of goals.

But substitute Shinji Okazaki scored in traffic after Vicente Iborra headed a corner kick his way, and the Foxes took a late lead.

And Okazaki cued up Islam Slimani for a wonderful 78th minute marker (see above) to ensure the result.

Bristol City 2-0 Stoke City

The Robins were flying at Ashton Gate, getting an opener in the 50th minute through Famara Diedhiou and a 60th minute insurance tally from Matt Taylor.

Stoke left some starters on the bench in Erik Pieters, Joe Allen, Jack Butland, and Jese, but had plenty of their best in the XI (Kurt Zouma, Eric Choupo-Moting, Darren Fletcher).

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Barnsley

Spurs had a hefty edge in shots and possession, but the visitors held firm against a decent side including Dele Alli, Son Heung-min, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele.

Fernando Llorente made his first Spurs start, but it was Dele who broke the Londoners through on the side’s 17th shot of the night.

Burnley 2-2 (4-5 PKs) Leeds United

Sean Dyche‘s Premier Leaguers were nearly dismissed from the tournament by Thomas Christiansen’s high-flying Championship side.

It took penalty kicks, where Leeds GK Andy Lonergan stopped James Tarkowski to send the Clarets out of the Cup.

Hadi Sacko had an eye for the winner, assisted by Pablo Hernandez, but Chris Wood converted an 89th minute penalty to, seemingly, send the match to extra time.

Hernandez then scored a penalty of his own in stoppage time, only for Robbie Brady‘s free kick to equalize and again put the match on pace for extra time.

Elsewhere
Crystal Palace 1-0 Huddersfield Town
Aston Villa 0-2 Middlesbrough
Brentford 1-3 Norwich City
Bournemouth 1-0 (ET) Brighton
West Ham 3-0 Bolton
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 (ET) Bristol Rovers
Reading 0-2 Swansea City
Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers — Wednesday
Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest — Wednesday
Everton vs. Sunderland — Wednesday
Manchester United vs. Burton Albion — Wednesday
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City — Wednesday

Klopp “sick” of conceding bad goals after League Cup ouster

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp isn’t holding back when it comes to his defense’s lapses in judgment.

The Reds boss, who it must be said did not address his center backs during the transfer window and can only blame himself, was fuming after exiting the League Cup with a 2-0 loss at Leicester City.

[ MORE: U.S. teen makes 1st Bundesliga start ]

Klopp’s men controlled the match, but allowed a pair of second half goals and then could not find a single finish let alone the two required to prolong the contest.

“We had big chances, strange situations,” Klopp said after the game. “But it’s a 90-minute game. A second ball after a corner I think, and a throw-in again. I’m sick of goals like this to be honest. You cannot play football and in this case let this Leicester team somehow survive in the game because we are not playing good enough.”

The Reds have conceded in six of eight matches this season, and haven’t kept a clean sheet since an Aug. 27 thumping of Arsenal.

Leicester boss Craig Shakespeare, meanwhile, was pleased to see Klopp substitute a certain Brazilian wizard at the break.

Groin injury costs Arsenal’s Welbeck at least three weeks

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When Danny Welbeck landed awkwardly against Chelsea, many Arsenal fans feared another long absence from the English striker.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be too bad.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]

The 26-year-old forward is set for at least three weeks out with a groin injury. Arsene Wenger says his status will be reassessed after the international break ends in mid-October, which doesn’t bode well for his England availability either.

Welbeck had started all five Premier League matches for the Gunners, scoring on Opening Day against Leicester City and posting a two-goal, one-assist day versus Bournemouth.

The Gunners sit 12th with seven points after five match days.