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Three things we learned from Arsenal, Chelsea

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Chelsea on penalty kicks at Wembley on Sunday to clinch the FA Community Shield in the curtain-raiser for the 2017-18 season.

Victor Moses‘ goal less than a minute into the second half put Chelsea ahead but Arsenal equalized late on with Sead Kolasinac heading home moments after Pedro was sent off for Chelsea.

The game went straight to penalty kicks, using the new ABBA system, after it ended 1-1 in normal time and Arsenal scored all four of their penalty kicks with Thibaut Courtois smashing over and Alvaro Morata scuffing wide for Chelsea.

Arsenal impressed for plenty of the game as new signing Alexandre Lacazette hit the post and Danny Welbeck also caused plenty of problems.

In the end Arsene Wenger got the better of Antonio Conte once again as Arsenal picked up the first piece of silverware of the season and beat Chelsea at Wembley just like they did in May to win the FA Cup.

Here’s what we learned from Wembley on a sunny Sunday less than a week before the new Premier League season begins.


LACAZETTE, WELBECK PROMISE PLENTY

Without Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in their squad, you could forgive Arsenal for looking lackluster in attack. That wasn’t the case.

New club-record signing Alexandre Lacazette displayed enough energy, ability to find pockets of space and ingenuity to suggest the $68.7 million Arsenal paid for Lyon is money well spent.

Lacazette know as “La Gachette” or the Trigger in France sparked a wonderful counter attack in the 22nd minute, spinning away from his marker to link up with Hector Bellerin and then Danny Welbeck in a sweeping move from right to left which ended with Lacazette composing himself before sending a curled effort which cannoned off the post and out. You could be forgiven for thinking a former French international striker was back on the pitch for the Gunners.

Thierry Henry comparisons aside, Lacazette, 26, is in his prime and appears to be exactly what Arsenal have needed ever since Robin Van Persie departed in 2012. He is more than just a pure finisher with plenty of tracking back and dropping deep to get on the ball, cutting in from wide positions, but “Trigger” also had a wiling runner alongside him in Welbeck who he could link up with and he also provided Chelsea plenty of problems with his runs in-behind.

In a summer dominated by the future’s of Sanchez and Ozil, Arsene Wenger may well have found his new strike partnership mid all the fuss. With Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott all able to play centrally too, the Gunners have plenty of fine attacking options heading into the season. On this showing Lacazette and Welbeck may provide the best balance with Ozil and Sanchez battling for places to support them. Of course they’ll both play, but adding them to the starting lineup and keeping the balance of their attack will be an intriguing dilemma for Wenger.

With Shkodran Mustafi, Sanchez, Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere to come into this team, the Gunners’ squad is looking incredibly strong. With Kolasinac jumping off the bench to head home a late equalizer they have another solid option in defense too and since switching to a 3-4-3 formation seem more sturdy and have a knack of digging out results.

Maybe, just maybe, Arsenal will surprise plenty this season with a squad big enough to have two different teams in the PL and the Europa League. Expectations are perhaps lower than ever among Arsenal’s fans which is a strange thing, but maybe it will help them flourish.


CHELSEA SLUGGISH

For most of the first half Chelsea struggled to connect passes, put themselves under pressure in defense and took loose touches in the final third. Antonio Conte’s lacked sharpness in the first half but soon came alive in the second with Moses gambling off Gary Cahill‘s flick to finish well.

That woke Chelsea up and just as we saw last season when opponents pushed hard to get back into the game, Chelsea began to pick Arsenal off on the counter with N'Golo Kante running the counters from midfield.

Overall it was a groggy display and far from vintage as Chelsea missed the creative spark of the injured Eden Hazard and the guile of soon to depart Diego Costa. For much of preseason that’s been the case for Conte’s side with new signings Tiemoue Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger and Alvaro Morata not starting on Sunday at Wembley.

Bakayoko is working his way back to full fitness, while Rudiger and Morata are slotting in after arriving late in preseason. With Bakayoko, Morata and Hazard all likely to become starters in this team, Conte knows his Chelsea side a month from now will be very different to the one which recovered from a sluggish start at Wembley on Sunday. They were perhaps aided by Per Mertesacker‘s head injury which forced Arsenal into a defensive reshuffle, but as they game wore on you could see their ruthless streak returning.

Then came a minute of madness as Pedro received a straight red card and they then switched off to allow Kolasniac to head home from a set piece situation, something which hurt the Blues during their title-winning campaign. Courtois and Morata then missed their penalty kicks with more lapses of concentration which will leave Conte wide-awake for a few nights ahead of the new season.

The reigning champs can’t afford to start the season as sluggishly as they started, and finished, the Community Shield.


MORATA’S ABSENCE TELLING

In the week Antonio Conte revealed that Alvaro Morata, Chelsea’s club-record signing who is supposed to deliver the goals lost from Diego Costa’s impending departure, “has to improve his condition a lot to adapt quickly into our team.”

Morata, 24, played for Conte at Juventus and knows what the Italian coach is all about, but it appears the early signs for him at Chelsea haven’t been great.

With Michy Batshuayi a bystander for most of this game, it’s clear he will be nothing more than a second central striking option for Chelsea this season. Morata replaced Batshuayi with 20 minutes to go and received a standing ovation from Chelsea’s supporters. The expectancy on his shoulders is clear.

Conte will rely on the towering Spaniard to score at least 20 goals and he showed his penchant for that as he first peeled off Arsenal’s defense and connected with Willian‘s searching cross to the far post but he couldn’t get a proper connection on it.

In stoppage time he then won a free kick cleverly and from the resulting set piece he nodded Cesc Fabregas’ cross wide but was offside. Morata looked lively but you can understand why Conte seems concerned about his fitness.

His scuffed penalty kick summed up his slack start to life at Stamford Bridge for the $90 million man.

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.