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USMNT still adjusting to Arena’s system as WCQ resumes

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) U.S. coach Bruce Arena looked at the rosy side of a surprise draw with Venezuela in an exhibition game over the weekend.

“Good exercise for us,” he said Monday.

[ MORE: USMNT draws Venezuela | Player rating | Three things ]

The Americans are still getting used to Arena’s system, along with playing at a higher altitude. But there’s not much time left, with a World Cup qualifier on Thursday in Commerce City against Trinidad and Tobago.

Neither team has margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings with four points and Trinidad and Tobago last with three points. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“They have to understand the things we’re trying to do, and I don’t think we’re already there,” said Arena, whose team settled for a 1-1 draw with Venezuela on Saturday in Sandy, Utah. “The examples of Saturday’s game is good, to show some of the issues we have and correct them and be ready for Thursday.”

The team elected to switch things up Monday, going with an afternoon practice instead of being put through its paces in a morning session. Anything to that?

“We just wanted to have a meeting in the morning,” Arena said. “Meeting, practice, have lunch and off the rest of the day. Wasn’t rocket science.”

[ EXCLUSIVE: Pulisic talks BVB, USMNT, long career ahead ]

Figuring out what system the Americans may utilize could be, though. At times against Venezuela, the squad employed a 4-4-2 formation. At other times, it was a different alignment.

“It’s better for us if the opposition doesn’t know how we’re going to play, how we’re going to start the game,” midfielder Fabian Johnson said. “It’s positive for us that we have two systems that we can also switch during the game.”

Now, they just need everyone healthy. Central defender John Brooks left Saturday’s game with a bruised quadriceps muscle. Arena doesn’t know if he will be available Thursday, let alone three days later when the team plays in Mexico. But there’s also this: Forward Jozy Altidore is getting up to speed after reporting late to training camp because of his brother’s wedding.

Arena has gradually increased the tempo at practice to get his team acclimatized to the higher elevation. It’s 5,200 feet in Commerce City and a lung-searing 7,820 feet at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The elevation for the exhibition game was around 4,450 feet.

“Of course, it’s hard to breathe, to run,” said Johnson, who recently extended his contract with Borussia Moenchengladbach. “The first couple of days, you can tell in warmups and stuff. You’re breathing hard. But you get used to it.”

[ MORE: Altidore reminds of his importance to USMNT ]

Arena certainly liked the play of 18-year-old Christian Pulisic on Saturday as the midfielder scored the tying goal for the Americans in the 61st minute. Asked how he’s come along over the last six months, Arena responded: “Six months older.”

“He’s stronger physically, mentally,” Arena said. “The young ones make more improvement. I don’t think (DaMarcus) Beasley and (Clint) Dempsey are going to get much better in six months.”

Johnson met with Arena several times in Germany to discuss what’s expected of him. Johnson likes his responsibilities in the midfield, a position that’s relatively unsettled. Sebastian Lletget started against Honduras in March, scoring the opening goal, but injured his left foot in the 6-0 home win and will be sidelined four to six months.

“We have to create more chances, use the space a little bit better,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do on Thursday.”

PL AT HALF: Chelsea battering West Brom; Liverpool, Man City up

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Goals? Where we’re going there are loads of goals.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Chelsea

Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard assisted each other to give Chelsea a 2-0 lead, and Marcos Alonso‘s too back post goal off a Cesc Fabregas free kick has the boo birds out at the Hawthorns.

Leicester City 0-1 Manchester City

Claude Puel would’ve been pleased with the Foxes’ muster against the Premier League leaders, who lost John Stones to an apparent hamstring injury. But the 45th minute saw a terrific team goal from Man City, as Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling moved the ball through traffic for David Silva, who slid across for Gabriel Jesus and 1-0.

Burnley 2-0 Swansea City

Jack Cork scored against his old side to complete a week which saw him earn his first England cap. Ashley Barnes has a goal and an assist as the Clarets are cruising at Turf Moor.

Crystal Palace 2-2 Everton

James McArthur and Wilfried Zaha gave Palace leads. Everton sandwiched a Leighton Baines penalty goal in between the Eagles’ markers thanks to an Oumar Niasse dive, then Niasse scored before half to level the score line.

Liverpool 2-0 Southampton

Mohamed Salah has two, including a wonderful 31st minute goal from distance to put the Reds in front of Saints at Anfield.

Bournemouth 2-0 Huddersfield Town

Callum Wilson has a pair as the Cherries continue their up turn in form.

Wenger believes Ozil, Sanchez will stay at Arsenal

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LONDON — Fresh from Arsenal’s first Premier League victory over North London rivals Tottenham since 2014, there was a spring in Arsene Wenger‘s step as he strode into his post-match press conference.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Arsenal’s boss saw his attack-minded lineup dominate Tottenham at home  as the Gunners secured an 11th-straight home win and sixth-straight of the 2017-18 season to breath new life into their season.

With a dangerous three-pronged attack of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette destroying Spurs’ usually rock-solid defense on numerous occasion, Arsenal gave a taste of what can be achieved this season.

Consistency is key for Arsenal but keeping Sanchez and Ozil is more important. Their futures at Arsenal remain uncertain with the duo free to talk to non-English teams in  January about a free transfer on July 1, with both likely to see what other clubs can offer them outside of the Premier League.

Speaking to the media afterwards, Wenger reaffirmed his belief that Sanchez and Ozil want to stay at Arsenal beyond the end of their contracts next summer despite the situation being totally out of his hands.

“The quality of the contract of the contract has to be good and enough for them as well, you know. I am convinced they love the club, they love the team but all the rest will be decided, when? I don’t really know,” Wenger said. “I’m not alone to master that. [Quality of the contract] is part of it. The whole thing has to be right, they have to be happy. I believe they love the club and they want to stay but there are other top clubs out there who offer good contracts as well.”

So, Wenger is bracing himself for Sanchez and Ozil to be offered big contracts from European giants as soon as Jan. 1 rolls around, then a barrage of transfer offers from other PL giants as they believe the duo will be available in cut-price deals. At this point, the Gunners must keep hold of the duo until the end of the season, even if it means they leave on a free.

With Sanchez scoring a cheeky goal, racing free on numerous occasions and forcing Hugo Lloris into numerous saves, his signature on a new deal is essential for Arsenal to haul themselves back into the top four on a consistent basis.

His desire and hunger was evident and he even had time to joke around in the second half, diving on his stomach to the delight of the home fans as he tried to slide towards a loose ball in the pouring rain in north London.

You can never question the Chilean’s desire but his displays have become more erratic over the past 12 months with this contract saga hanging over his head. Sanchez’s goal against Spurs was his first in 12 games against the so-called “big six” in the Premier League.

Ozil’s display yielded an assist and numerous eye-catching balls as Lacazette’s runs allowed Arsenal’s two contract rebels to have plenty of space in front of Spurs’ back three.

Wenger pointed to the fact that he has never once questioned their commitment and although Ozil and Sanchez’s futures remain uncertain, he believes they will continue to put their bodies on the line for the Arsenal cause.

“I know them well and I know when it is their turn to go on the football pitch they want to win a football game. They’ve shown their commitment again today. I’ve never questioned their commitment,” Wenger said. “They can have bad games but the problem is, but the problem is that when a player goes to the end of a contract and has a bad game everybody says ‘of course, because he goes.’ Their interest is to play anyway.”

Man City: John Stones limps off with leg injury

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One Man City center back took a yellow card in the third minute, while another is in even more trouble on Saturday at King Power Stadium.

John Stones pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury in the 28th minute of Man City’s visit to Leicester City.

[ MORE: Arsenal 2-0 Spurs | 3 things ]

Running stride for stride for Demarai Gray, Stones grabbed at his upper left leg and crumpled to the pitch.

Eliaquim Mangala replaced the improving English big back, and City will hope Stones’ absence isn’t as long as some hamstring ailments.

Defiant Pochettino: “Football was fantastic” in loss

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Mauricio Pochettino is defiant following Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-0 loss at Arsenal in the North London Derby on Saturday.

The Spurs manager thinks his team was pretty good in the loss, and it’s true that both Petr Cech and Shkrodan Mustafi intervened critically for the victors.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things ]

But overall Arsenal was better on the day, which makes Pochettino’s almost buoyant post-match interview a bit awkward.

“It was an even game in terms of shooting, on target, possession,” Pochettino said.

“I’m disappointed for the rest of my team. You saw what happened. I’m disappointed because the small details went against us. … It’s true that they scored and we didn’t but I’m very proud cause the football was fantastic.”

We won’t go as far as to say we watched different games — Pochettino knows a bit more about the game than us — but that’s quite a spin we doubt his players will buy. Back to work for Spurs with a visit to Dortmund before West Brom visits next weekend.