PL Sunday preview: Chelsea host Arsenal; Rooney returns to OT

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Gigantic top-four implications in game no. 1, and a “real legend” returns to his old haunt in game no. 2 — Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures are nothing short of must-see TV.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City unstoppable; Liverpool, Spurs held ]

Chelsea vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

This is Arsenal’s new reality, six times minimum this season: Thursday night Europa League, followed by an even greater challenge, PL opposition, less than 72 hours later. Suffice to say, much rides on Arsene Wenger‘s side re-establishing themselves as a Champions League club next season. Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge, where the Gunners will take on the defending champions in fine form (three straight wins after an opening-day defeat), is the type of game in which they’ve squandered what might be seen as “bonus” points in recent seasons.

Sunday could also see the return of Eden Hazard to the starting lineup, quite an untimely occurrence from Arsenal’s vantage point. After playing the final 30 minutes of Tuesday’s CL thrashing of Qarabag, the Belgian superstar is nearing full fitness after three months on the sideline due to a broken ankle suffered in early June.

“For sure he’s improving,” Conte said. “Having this patience with him is paying off. He is very close to being totally fit. We have to continue in this way. I have to make the best decision for the team and the players, but he is improving a lot and is very close to being 100 percent fit.”

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Danny Drinkwater (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Francis Coquelin (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (achilles); PROBABLE: Aaron Ramsey (knock), Mesut Ozil (knock)

[ MORE: Guardiola salutes Aguero’s brilliance, but has one complaint ]

Manchester United vs. Everton — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Not only does Sunday’s meeting between Manchester United and Everton mark the return of Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford, the arena in which he thrilled and dazzled for 13 years, but also Romelu Lukaku‘s first clash with his former club following his $97-million transfer this summer. Familiarity (typically) breeds contempt, though Sunday should prove a joyous reunion for so many familiar faces.

After essentially swapping frontmen in the summer, the start of the 2017-18 season has produced drastically different sets of results for Man United and Everton. Take, for example, Toffees boss Ronald Koeman, who’s already feeling a bit of pressure after spending nearly $180 million this summer.

“It is not the time or the place to criticize the players,” Koeman said. “I have to criticize myself because the team was not prepared. It is a big lesson. I thought that was happening after the third goal against Tottenham at the weekend but I need to ask myself the question what I did wrong.”

As for Jose Mourinho’s men, for the first time since the Portuguese took over last summer, all is well at Old Trafford. Back in the CL (where they’re flying high) and battling with Chelsea and Manchester City in the race for the PL title, last week’s 2-2 draw away to Stoke City is the still-young season’s only blemish. Lukaku has already paid off in the form of five goals (four in the PL), while the youthful duo of Anthony Martial (21 years old) and Marcus Rashford (19) each have a pair of PL goals to their name. United, along with no one other than Man City, have conceded just twice this season.

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (hamstring), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Luke Shaw (fitness), Marcos Rojo (knee) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (back), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee)

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”

Follow Live: Chelsea, Swans, Cherries in FA Cup replays

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Chelsea, Swansea City, and Bournemouth look to avoid upsets in replays of their third round FA Cup matches.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All three matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

The Blues tangle with former Premier League peers Norwich City, this time at Stamford Bridge, in a bid to host a fourth round match with Newcastle United.

Antonio Conte‘s not messing around (too much) with the XI.

Swansea City and Wolves, meanwhile, are arguably battling for a bid in the fourth round, as a trip to Notts County is on the docket for the winner of Wednesday’s replay at the Liberty Stadium.

Bournemouth is at Wigan Athletic for a replay with the third-tier Latics, with the victor hosting West Ham United on Jan. 27.

Benevento captain Lucioni banned one year for doping

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ROME (AP) Benevento captain Fabio Lucioni has been banned one year for doping.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

Italy’s national anti-doping organization made the decision Tuesday after the steroid clostebol was found in a sample taken after Benevento’s 1-0 loss to Torino in September.

Benevento team physician Walter Giorgione was banned for four years for administering the steroid to Lucioni in a spray.

Both Lucioni and Giorgione plan to appeal.

The 30-year-old Lucioni joined Benevento in 2014 and the defender helped the team move from the third division up into Serie A this season for the first time.

Benevento is last in Serie A with only two wins in 20 matches.

The ban is back-dated to October, meaning Lucioni can return early next season.

Everton completes move for Walcott: “I’m dead excited” (video)

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

The move is another exciting one for Everton, which has underachieved under Ronald Koeman and now Sam Allardyce. And it’s another sale from Arsenal which gives pause: Are the underperforming Gunners going to regret the move?

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Montreal nabs Algerian DP ]

Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.