Klopp, Wenger dismiss defensive flaws

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LONDON — On Friday night under the lights in north London with the world watching on, two of the Premier League’s great entertainers lived up to their reputations to deliver an early Christmas present.

It was beautiful. It was ugly. It was exactly what we’ve come to expect from both Arsenal and Liverpool.

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The 3-3 draw showcased the good and bad of both teams and underlined why neither will seriously challenge for the Premier League title unless something changes drastically in their soccer DNA.

Speaking to reporters after the game, both Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp saluted their teams attacking instincts but stopped short of slamming their defensive displays even though both clubs have conceded the most goals among the current top seven in the PL table.

“We defended well but you know with their quality going forward they can always score a goal,” Wenger said when asked if he should have ‘parked the bus’ after going 3-2 up. “I hoped that we could score one as well. I think in the second half we were not much in trouble. They  have quality everywhere going forward and it is difficult to say that you can guarantee you don’t concede a goal.”

Saluting the spirit of his team for their comeback, Wenger conceded that the game could have been over at half time and it should have been.

Liverpool’s counter-attacking unit was rampant with Philippe Coutinho pulling the strings and popping up to head home the opener. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane should have both scored and Arsenal were hanging on for dear life as their fans ripped into Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez and took aim at Wenger.

“It is true that I am frustrated after 3-2 that we couldn’t keep the result but overall what can you say,” Wenger said. “It was a fantastic game with quality going forward on both sides. Us more on quick combination. Them more on fantastic counterattacking pace. That’s why it was always an interesting game.”

For neutrals, sure. But fans of both Arsenal and Liverpool have seen this kind of game far too often for their liking.

Both managers saluted the attacking play of the other and therein lies the problem. The defensive frailties of both Arsenal and Liverpool remained unchecked. Their defensive players aren’t up to scratch and unlike Chelsea last season and Manchester City this season, they’re unwilling to adopt their philosophy and change personnel defensively to solve the issue.

Klopp believes his team need to learn from their five minutes of madness which saw them concede three times just one minute after they went 2-0 up. But how many more times does a collapse of this nature need to happen for the message to sink in?

“On the whole we had more chances. It is not too cool but we had five minutes where we had obvious problems. That’s how it is. We had individual problems. In this case it is not about team defending,” Klopp said. “First goal, that’s why we shouldn’t invite crosses because when the ball is in the box it is at least 50/50, a misjudgment, obviously. Misjudgment the second goal. Third goal, a misjudgment and too deep and offside blah, blah, blah and let them go in the box and make it too easy.

“After these five minutes we reacted much better and deserved, in the end, the point. That is the minimum that we deserved tonight. The result is not what we wanted. The performance for 89 minutes is what we wanted because we played for 94. The five minutes were decisive tonight. Difficult to explain but good to learn from because we need to react differently as individual players in situations like this. We need to be much more angry than sad or disappointed. We gave them and we opened the door for them in those five minutes and they, all respect, they took the chance.”

Liverpool fought back to at least grab a point after their defensive collapse but it is a scene becoming all too familiar this season.

Klopp reacted angrily even when Roberto Firmino made it 3-3, slamming his water bottle into the ground and then apologizing to Arsenal’s fans around him who had been hurling abuse his way. The German coach called it an “aggressive celebration” and you can understand why he’d be incandescent with rage.

During this encounter, Liverpool’s collapse to draw at Sevilla after being 3-0 up in the UEFA Champions League earlier this season sprung to mind, so to did the hammerings at Tottenham and Manchester City this season. So far in 2017-18 they have conceded 12 goals in their three visits to fellow top six contenders.

Still, Klopp believes that Liverpool do not have a problem controlling games from a defensive standpoint and insists that individual mistakes are costing his team dear. Asked about James Milner‘s comments after the game that Liverpool need to learn how to be ‘boring’ in certain situations, Klopp only half agreed.

“He’s 100 percent right. Controlling the game, that’s what he means. But that was not the situation. It was not that we gave the game away,” Klopp said. “It was just that pretty much everybody was in and around the box, the cross comes in the box and we know that, we are professional football players. Everybody saw it. Joe Gomez makes a step in the right direction, shoots the ball to Tottenham and they can play with it. That was not a situation. It was a non situation but because we didn’t react well they had a goal. It was nothing about controlling the game. You can’t avoid all crosses in 95-96 minutes. Second goal, Xhaka shoots a few more times in his life like this and Simon Mignolet saves the balls in 99.99 percent of all situations. Not tonight. So, we have to take that. It is what it is.

“It is not about controlling. Yes, we need to control games but I thought we did control the game but then we opened the door for them. We should have scored. We all know that. We don’t have to talk too much about defense because it was not defense, it was individual. That is possible. Usually not all in one night. We should have scored another four and that is a big compliment for the team. Coming here and playing this kind of football and creating these kind of chances, that is not easy as well. We did it. And that is why everyone in this room thinks that if there would have been a winner tonight, it should have been Liverpool but now we have a point. Okay. That’s it.”

It should have been Liverpool. It could have been Arsenal. It was neither. Given their defensive mistakes, neither side deserved to win.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

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It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

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Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.