Aaron Ramsey

PL Playback: What is wrong with Chelsea?

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CLOCK IS TICKING FOR CONTE

Guus Hiddink is currently sitting near his phone. We’ve been here before with Chelsea but nobody really expected this with Antonio Conte after he masterminded their title-winning season in 2016-17.

But following their 4-1 defeat at Watford on Monday the speculation surrounding Conte’s future is rife as the Italian manager has seen his side win just three games in their last 10 in all competitions.

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They’ve been humbled by Bournemouth and Watford in the space of a few days, conceding seven goals in the process, and from new signings failing to settle to Conte criticizing the club’s transfer policy and speculation linking him with the Italian national team job, this is not a good situation for the reigning PL champs.

Where has it gone wrong?

Simpy put, Chelsea have failed to back Conte in the transfer market and their system of signing players and letting the coach work with them has once again come back to bite them.

Conte is a fine coach, but that’s all he is, a coach. He’s said that time and time again during his 18 months in charge of the Blues and that isn’t going to change for him, or any other Chelsea manager, anytime soon. Therein lies one of the biggest problems: respect.

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Chelsea’s players don’t seem to fear the wrath of Conte anymore. He ousted Diego Costa last summer for his behavior and booted David Luiz out of the team for most of this season, but how many players truly fear being kicked out of Chelsea if they don’t play well for Conte?

There is also the case of big money summer arrivals Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata enduring tough times recently, with the former having a very bad season and the latter suffering multiple injuries and a lack of confidence after a fine start at Stamford Bridge.

With Ross Barkley, Davide Zappacosta, Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmeri also arriving over the past two windows, they are hardly players who will get the Chelsea faithful on the edge of their seats. Barkley has the potential but is rusty, Giroud is a stop-gap and Zappacosta is a back-up with Palmeri likely to be the same. All in all, there are no real consequences for the recruitment team at Chelsea who continue to do the deals and sit back and let Conte work with the players on the training ground.

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They have successfully cultivated a wonderful system of developing and loaning out young talent, but is it time for Chelsea’s recruitment policy to change? Are some of the players they’ve brought in really better than Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and others loaned out?

The brutal truth is this: instead of going out and spending $250 million on four key new players and keeping their entire title-winning squad from last season together, Chelsea have opted to actually bring in plenty of squad players and only a few key reinforcements as Manchester City and United stormed on with their expensive rebuilds.

They’ve stood still, or even regressed, with their squad weaker this season than it was last season despite the extra demands of European soccer plain for all to see. That is why Conte is upset.

Are we really shocked this is happening again? Just like the Andre Villas-Boas era, or the end of Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge, it’s almost as if Chelsea’s current squad have been conditioned to only perform when a new manager arrives, then drop their levels once a few moments of adversity arrive along with the impending newspaper reports about said manager being fired.

The players will remain, the managers will come and go, and so on, and so forth.

That’s the problem with Chelsea’s current model and although they’ve had great success in bringing managers in for short-term success, Conte calling for continuity and for the hierarchy to put their faith in him is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Conte’s saving grace is that the Chelsea supporters adore him and still sing his name and love his passion on the sidelines. Yet Roman Abramovich and those who call the shots are ruthless and if Chelsea fall out of the top four in the next few weeks, plus are humbled by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League last 16, that will be that.

And so the Chelsea cycle continues…


WOULD VAR HAVE HELPED LIVERPOOL v. TOTTENHAM DECISIONS?

The final minutes of Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at Liverpool on Sunday where among the most dramatic of the Premier League season so far.

Two penalty kick calls which went in the favor of Spurs were highly controversial, but having seen the replays and analyzed the rules of the game on numerous occasions, you can say that both were given correctly.

It wasn’t easy for Jon Moss and his officiating crew in real time, especially on the first penalty kick awarded to Harry Kane. As our analysts Arlo White and Robbie Mustoe point out in the video above, the audio picked up of Jon Moss having a debate with his linesman Eddie Smart and then fourth official Martin Atkinson via a headset has been highlighted due to Moss mentioning TV monitors a la VAR.

With that system currently not in play in the Premier League, that was an obvious error and has since been addressed by the PGMOL in England, but given the amount of time Moss debated with other officials about what they saw, using VAR would have surely been quicker to sort this out?

Of course, with the arrival of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) for cup competitions in England over the past few months, the video debate is up in the air as people question if it should be used in the Premier League or the World Cup this summer.

I ask you this: would VAR have solved both of these penalty debates on Sunday in a quicker and clearer fashion?

For the first penalty, yes. It would have 100 percent solved any debate over the touch on the ball from Dejan Lovren. There was contact from Loris Karius, even though Kane may have gone down slightly easily, and that part isn’t what is being debated. As for the second penalty kick, VAR won’t have been too more conclusive as the contact was clear but so was Erik Lamela‘s embellishment. It would have been down to the video assistant referee and Moss to debate any other factors, but the penalty kick would still have been awarded as there was no “clear and obvious error” regarding the initial decision.

Moss and the officials deserve praise for getting the calls correct without seeing video footage, even if there was plenty of time taken to get the call right.


NEW-LOOK ARSENAL HAVE MOMENTUM…

Watch out. Here they come.

Yes, it was an Everton side bereft of confidence right now, but the way Arsenal shamelessly battered the Toffees 5-1 on Saturday showed their new-look attack is fired up and ready to push for a top four finish.

Given the recent struggles of Chelsea and the inability of Liverpool and Tottenham to consistently win games in recent weeks, the Gunners have a real chance of eating away at the current five-point gap to the top four.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan grabbed a hat trick of assists on his home debut, the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang caused problems as he grabbed a debut goal and Aaron Ramsey marked his return to the team with a hat trick with the Welshman almost like a new signing after months out. Mesut Ozil signing a new long-term deal capped off a fine week for Arsenal in terms of acquisitions and some much need stability after months of uncertainty.

Now, crunch time has arrived.

Arsene Wenger has the luxury of being able to prioritize the Premier League top four race in the final months of the season knowing he has already guided the Gunners into the League Cup final in a few weeks at Wembley, plus he can continue to rotate his squad in the UEFA Europa League knockout rounds.

Heading into the north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley this weekend (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Arsenal have momentum and two new attackers ready to run riot in Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang and their arrival coupled with Alexis Sanchez’s departure have given everyone a lift.

Their defensive frailties remain but there’s no doubt that their business in the final days of the transfer window have handed Wenger’s men a chance to get back into the top four race. Can they take it?


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

PL roundup: Arsenal impress at Emirates; Citizens drop points

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Get caught up on all seven of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures…

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Arsenal 5-1 EvertonFULL RECAP

The Toffees never looked like they were in the match, with Arsene Wenger‘s side coming out firing from the opening kick off. A hat-trick from Aaron Ramsey and Lauren Koscielny’s sliding finish had the Gunners flying high on Saturday, before new signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang opened his account for the club (although he was really offside). Everton found its consolation through Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s close-range header. The win puts Arsenal within three points of Tottenham for fifth place.

Manchester United 2-0 Huddersfield Town — FULL RECAP

Alexis Sanchez bagged his first goal for the Red Devils, while Romelu Lukaku also found the back of the net. Jose Mourinho’s side now sit 13 points behind league leaders Manchester City, who dropped two points on the day. Meanwhile, the Terriers have now gone eight straight PL matches without a victory, which leaves the side in the bottom three.

Burnley 1-1 Manchester City — FULL RECAP

The Clarets became the fourth PL side to take points off of Man City this season, although Pep Guardiola‘s group remain 16 points clear of second place following the draw. Johann Berg Gudmundsson played hero for the home side in the final minutes, after cancelling out Danilo‘s stunning finish earlier in the match.

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City — FULL RECAP

Xherdan Shaqiri kicked off the scoring for a desperate Stoke side, but it was Bournemouth that responded positively and found a way back. The Cherries moved into ninth place with its comeback victory at the Vitality Stadium behind Lys Mousset and Joshua King finishes. The defeat for Stoke leaves Paul Lambert‘s side in 18th place.

West Bromwich Albion 2-3 Southampton — FULL RECAP

In what proved to easily be the most exciting match of the day, the Saints picked up their first PL victory in 13 rounds of play. Mario Lemina‘s brilliant strike highlighted the outburst from Southampton’s attack, while goals from Jack Stephens and James Ward-Prowse also gave the visitors a boost. Southampton sits two points clear of the bottom three, while West Brom remains bottom in England.

Brighton & Hove Albion 3-1 West Ham United — FULL RECAP

Goals from Glenn Murray, Jose Izquierdo and Pascal Gross gave the Seagulls a much-needed lift in the relegation battle, with Brighton moving up to 13th place. Meanwhile, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s beauty of a finish on the half-hour mark gave the Hammers a temporary moment of relief, but it was short-lived for the visiting side.

Leicester City 1-1 Swansea City — FULL RECAP

Jamie Vardy‘s 11th goal of the season wasn’t enough to secure all three points for Leicester, who picked up their 35th point. The draw was quite important to Swansea though, with the point picked up lifting the Swans out of the relegation zone despite being level on points with Stoke and Huddersfield.

Ramsey hat trick leads Arsenal demolition of Everton

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  • Aubameyang scores 1st Arsenal goal
  • Mkhitaryan sets up Ramsey’s first
  • Ramsey doubles season output
  • Gunners beat Everton 5-2 in reverse fixture

Aaron Ramsey scored a hat trick as Arsenal ran all over Everton in a 5-1 blowout at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Laurent Koscielny also scored for the Gunners, who stay sixth with 45 points.

Everton remains on 31 points, dropping to 10th behind Bournemouth and seven points above the drop zone. Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored for the Toffees.

According to the BBC, Ramsey is the 20th Arsenal player to record a PL hat trick, joining “Henry, Wright, Adebayor, Van Persie, Walcott, K.Campbell, Sanchez, Anelka, Arshavin, Bergkamp, Cazorla, Giroud, Kanu, Ljungberg, Overmars, Parlour, Pennant, Pires, Wiltord.”

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Arsenal was ahead before the clock hit six, with new boy Henrikh Mkhitaryan sliding a ball through the six for Ramsey to pass home.

Given a bit of room from Michael Keane, Mkhitaryan just missed on a laser from 25 yards in the 10th minute.

A corner kick saw Arsenal make it 2-0, as Koscielny’s diving header stopped a debut goal from Aubameyang. Both players had time thanks to lost loanee Eliaquim Mangala‘s marking.

Ramsey made it 3-0 in the 19th minute, his hard shot taking a hard turn off Mangala to defy Pickford’s hopes of a save.

Aubameyang had a chance to lift the lid on the pace with a 32nd minute charge toward goal, but Pickford closed him down.

He did score in the 37th minute, possibly offside, with a tiny chip over a sliding Pickford. And Monreal nodded a ball off the bottom of the cross bar and out as Arsenal attempted to set some recent records.

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Everton didn’t quit, to their credit. Well, at least Oumar Niasse didn’t, sliding to put a ball off the post in a characteristic relentless effort.

Substitute Calvert-Lewin did dent the scoreboard for Everton, leaping over Sead Kolasinac to deny Petr Cech a 200th PL clean sheet.

Cech was injured shortly after the concession, and came out of the game for David Ospina.

Ramsey completed his hat trick in the 74th minute, doubling his season output in the Premier League.

LIVE, League Cup semifinal: Arsenal v Chelsea, 2nd leg

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Arsenal host Chelsea in the second leg of their League Cup semifinal at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Locked at 0-0 following the first leg at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago, you might say that the Gunners have the upper hand with Arsene Wenger eyeing up a spot in the League Cup final for the first time since 2011.

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Arsenal haven’t won the League Cup since the 1992-93 campaign, while Chelsea have won it three times since 2005.

The winner of this tie face Manchester City in the final at Wembley on Feb. 25 after Pep Guardiola‘s men beat second-tier Bristol City 5-3 on aggregate over their two legs.

In team news Arsenal go for a 4-2-3-1 formation with David Ospina in goal as the only change, as Mesut Ozil starts in support of Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey is on the bench.

Chelsea make one change from the team which beat Brighton 4-0 at the weekend with Willy Caballero continuing in goal, while Michy Batshuayi is replaced by Pedro.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Wilshere, Iwobi, Ozil, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Chambers, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Ramsey, Nelson, Nketiah.

Chelsea: Caballero; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Pedro. Subs: Eduardo, Cahill, David Luiz, Zappacosta, Drinkwater, Barkley, Batshuayi.

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

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How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?