Arsene Wenger

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Arsenal’s Wenger played to his advantages in Swedish blowout

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You know that argument we make on behalf of preseason MLS teams when they face Liga MX sides in the CONCACAF Champions League?

[ RECAP: Ostersunds 0-3 Arsenal ]

Imagine you’re a Swedish club and instead of Pachuca, it’s Arsenal on the other side.

Ostersunds staged its second match since Dec. 7, and was overwhelmed by the speed and press of Arsenal from moment one as the Gunners claimed a 3-0 first leg win in the Europa League’s Round of 32.

“Overall we played a serious game, so job done,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. “They looked very nervous and we took advantage of it.”

Ostersunds’ only other competitive match of 2018 was a Swedish Cup game on Feb. 9.

Nacho Monreal and an Ostersunds goal had it 2-0 by halftime, and Mesut Ozil put the finishing touch on the scoreline in the second half.

Ostersunds’ 2017 Allsvenskan schedule wrapped up in November, leaving only the Europa League group stage fixtures and the aforementioned Cup game to keep them sharp for the Europa League Round of 32.

The club won’t play outside the UEL until after the Arsenal tie is over, and doesn’t begin the 2018 Allsvenskan schedule until April 1.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan forced the own goal with a hard cross, and says Arsenal was prepped to pressure the out-of-sync hosts.

“It was their first game after a while, because we are in the league and keep playing maybe we are more practiced,” Mkhitaryan said. “They are a good team, tried to play, but we scored two in the beginning.”

Mkhitaryan said, “Why not?” when asked if Arsenal could win the whole thing.

“We have to focus on every game regardless of this result to ensure more success. Even with the League Cup final, I think we have to play with the same team and win at home.”

Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette ruled out with injury

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Arsenal will have to do without French international striker Alexandre Lacazette for a pivotal stretch of their season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Lacazette, 26, has suffered a left knee injury and has undergone surgery which will keep him out for up to six weeks.

The North London club released a statement on Lacazette’s injury.

“Striker Alex Lacazette had an arthroscopy on his left knee in London on Tuesday morning. The minor procedure was a success and he will now undergo a period of rehabilitation. It is envisaged that he will return to the squad within four to six weeks.”

It was expected that Lacazette would play a significant number of minutes in the UEFA Europa League, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ineligible to play in European competitions following his arrival from Borussia Dortmund in January.

Before Aubameyang arrived for a club-record $79.6 million fee, Lacazette was Arsenal’s record signing with the predatory forward signing from Lyon last summer for $73 million but he has only been used as a sub in each of the Gunners’ last two games. Lacazette had two glorious chances to equalize late on against Spurs in the 1-0 North London Derby defeat on Saturday but was off target with both attempts.

How much will Arsenal miss their fox in the box?

Lacaztte has scored nine goals in 26 PL appearances for Arsenal this season, which is a decent return but a little less than was expected given his record of 100 goals in 171 starts for Lyon in Ligue 1.

Danny Welbeck will be the main man for their Europa League Round of 32 games against Ostersunds, and likely the last 16, if they advance, which is far from ideal. Welbeck has once again struggled with injuries this season and has scored six goals in 25 appearances in all competitions, mostly off the bench.

Aubameyang will ease the burden of losing Lacazette but with Alexis Sanchez joining Manchester United and Theo Walcott leaving for Everton in January, all of a sudden Arsene Wenger‘s forward options are limited.

Arsenal still have options, but not what you need when you’re trying to claw back an eight-point gap to the top four, have a League Cup final against Manchester City and are in the latter stages of the Europe League.

Premier League Playback: Moving week arrives

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MOVING WEEK

Watching the Premier League this weekend was like watching a Saturday at Augusta. Moving day was in full swing.

When we look back and wrap a bow on the 2017-18 Premier League season, it seems like Week 27 will have been particularly pivotal in deciding the fate of several teams.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester United and Arsenal lost in the top six, while Liverpool and Tottenham won to solidify their top four hopes and Manchester City all but sealed the title as they extended their lead atop the table to 16 points.

But arguably the biggest results came in the bottom half of the table with massive victories for Swansea City, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and West Ham to all significantly boost their survival chances.

There were seismic shifts in optimism over the past few days in the PL as clubs who previously thought they were destined for a relegation battle are targeting the top 10 and teams who believed their top four chances were in jeopardy have steadied the ship.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Momentum is everything at this point of the season and the fact that Swansea and West Ham won again suggests they’re heading in the right direction and have hit form. In fact, West Ham, Swansea, Newcastle and Bournemouth are all in the top eight of the form league in the PL.

But for all of those clubs, a word of warning: respect the schedule.

It’s easy to get giddy and see the finish line on the horizon with just 11 games to go, but several strugglers have incredibly tough fixtures lists in the new few weeks which could see them sink back into the mire.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For example, Stoke’s schedule looks particularly nightmarish in March and early April: Man City (H), Everton (A), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H). Plus, West Ham’s schedule includes Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in their next six games.

With City running away with the title, the top four battle and the scrap against relegation will take center stage in the final months of the season.


SEASON OF INDIVIDUAL BRILLIANCE CONTINUES

As a member of the Football Writers’ Association, I’m honored to get a vote for the FWA Player of the Year each season in the Premier League.

The vote this year is going to be very tough.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

We know that soccer is a team game, but it’s those glittering individuals who are making a huge difference this season in the Premier League.

Kevin De Bruyne, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah are ripping up the PL week after week and Week 27 was no different.

KDB grabbed three assists in Man City’s 5-1 win against Leicester. Kane scored the winner against Spurs’ bitter North London rivals Arsenal and tormented the Gunners defense. Salah scored one and set up the other as Liverpool eased by Southampton.

As things stand De Bruyne will probably be crowned the top player in the PL and he deserves it. He has 14 assists to his name this season and has reinvented himself in a deeper central midfield role this season under Pep Guardiola.

The way he sees a pass that nobody else can sets him apart and the Belgian wizard has it all. He digs deep to defend, controls the tempo of games and makes key passes at key moments.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

Kane and Salah continue to drive their teams towards top four finishes with their impressive goalscoring records, and arguably both men will be disappointed with chances they’ve squandered in recent weeks with their goal totals set to rise towards 30 by the end of the campaign. The fact that Sergio Aguero’s four-goal performance against Leicester is a sidenote says it all.

Given KDB’s brilliance for a team 16 points clear atop the table, he will likely win the Player of the Year vote by a landslide.

He’s the shining light in a glittering galaxy of stars in the Premier League as the outstanding individuals continue to shine brightest.


POCHETTINO’S PRECARIOUS GAME

Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham are one of the form teams in the Premier League.

Over the last six games no PL team has gained more points than Spurs, with the North Londoners beating Manchester United and Arsenal at home comfortably (even if the scorelines suggest otherwise) and drawing at Liverpool.

You’d think he’d be a happy man. Far from it.

Pochettino has seemed slightly abrupt and ornery in his recent press conferences. He first responded in spiky fashion to questions about his team not being clinical enough against United, his record against the top six and new signing Lucas Moura, while he then barked back at reporters following the derby win against Arsenal on Saturday when asked why Toby Alderweireld didn’t feature despite declaring himself fit to play.

Since then Alderweireld hasn’t traveled to Turin for Spurs’ UCL clash at Juventus despite making his long-awaited comeback last week against Newport County in the FA Cup, with reports stating his future at Spurs could be in doubt as his contract has a release clause of $34.6 million next summer.

Still, it was all a bit bizarre as Pochettino grumbled under his breath as he walked out of the press conference room at Wembley on Saturday shaking his head. In general, the Argentine manager has started to become increasingly upset with suggestions that Spurs aren’t fulfilling their potential and it’s easy to understand why.

Over the past three seasons Spurs have finished third and second in the PL with legitimate title challenges in each campaign, reached the League Cup final, FA Cup semifinal, were the best team in the UEFA Champions League group stage this season and Poch has nurtured the talents of Harry Kane and Dele Alli expertly while managing to keep his playing philosophy crystal clear despite moving from White Hart Lane to Wembley. Not bad.

Yet the question mark hanging over his head remains a big one: why haven’t Spurs won anything?

Spurs look set to finish in the top four and challenge United for second place in the PL this season, while the FA Cup is now looking like their most likely chance of silverware. Getting past Juventus in the Champions League will be tough but doable, but can Spurs really win the Champions League?

Until Pochettino leads Spurs to that type of glory and ends a 10-year drought for silverware, he will continue to get questions which seem to upset and annoy him. At the moment questions which aren’t suppose to do either are pushing his buttons, and all of the wrong ones.

There’s a fine line between Pochettino being praised incessantly for his overachieving and then slated for his complaining. His nowhere near the levels of annoyance the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho cause among their detractors, but Poch is starting to get on a bit of a slippery slope with his public demeanor.

Is their something bigger annoying him behind-the-scenes at Tottenham?


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

Wenger: Arsenal should have beat Tottenham by half time

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LONDON — Arsenal lost 1-0 to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley on Saturday as Arsene Wenger‘s men saw their top four chances slip further away.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Harry Kane scored the only goal of the game to take his tally to seven goals in seven Premier League games against the Gunners, as the local lad once again haunted Arsenal, the club who released him at the age of eight.

Speaking to reporters after the game Wenger believed his Arsenal side should have won the game by half time, even if Spurs dominated after the break.

“Possession is 50-50, basically, in this game. The game should have been finished at half time. We missed opportunities on counter attacks which are not missable at our level, with the final ball,” Wenger said. “In the second half, we should have lost the game in the early part of the second half by more than one goal. We were destabilized by the goal they scored and they had two or three opportunities they could have scored. In the final part of the game we should have come back to 1-1, which was maybe not enough but better than 1-0 down. Overall it’s a bit mixed feelings because for long periods in the first half, with a bit more quality in the first half and final pass we win this game.”

He does have a point about how dangerous Arsenal looked on the counter in the first half.

Mesut Ozil, Hector Bellerin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang raced forward time and time again but that final ball or final shot was wayward. Still, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Arsenal should have wrapped the game up.

Kane missed a glorious chance in the first half and Spurs were so dominant after they went ahead, Mauricio Pochettino could feel aggrieved not to have won by three or four goals.

Asked about Arsenal’s top four hopes, Wenger conceded that the Gunners are up against as they will be at least six points from the top four by the end of the weekend and possibly more if Chelsea and Liverpool take care of business.

“What happens today, it is a game we couldn’t afford to lose,” Wenger said. “That makes it much more difficult now but we have to fight. As long as we have a mathematical chance, that’s why you come out with a game like that, where you know there is more at stake than just the derby. I said that before the game. That’s why it is so disappointing, to lose the game the way we lost it.”

Despite their slack second half display, Alexandre Lacazette missed a glorious chance in stoppage time when he was clean through but slotted wide of Hugo Lloris‘ far post and given Spurs’ wastefulness you got the sense Arsenal were going to nick a point.

Wenger was then asked if Arsenal were close to the point where they could forget about finishing in the top four and focus instead on winning the Europa League and qualifying for the Champions League that way.

Let’s just say he’s not a fan of that route.

“It’s too early. Football is not about switching off for three games and switch it on for one game. Man United decided that once they were in the semifinal. We are far from the semifinal. We have to fight to have a chance to come back and overall for me it is a very disappointing result because the priority is to be in the Champions League through the Premier League. I am not a great fan of being a Europa League qualifier for the Champions League. I don’t think it is right. If it’s an opportunity we will have to take it as well, but the priority is to be in the Premier League.”

PL preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal

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  • Tottenham 5th in PL, 1 point back of Chelsea
  • Arsenal 6th, 4 points back of Spurs
  • Arsenal won first meeting this season, 2-0

In the Premier League, the paths that clubs take matter very little, for over the course of a 38-game season, they typically end up right where they belong. Long winless skids are evened out by runs of good fortune and fortuitous results, and vice versa.

Take, for example, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, the north London powers who have finished five of the last eight seasons occupying consecutive places(*) in the final Premier League table; they were separated by just one spot in two of the other three(**); last season was the lone exception, when Tottenham finished second and Arsenal finished fifth.

TOT ARS
2009-10* 4th 3rd
2010-11* 5th 4th
2011-12* 4th 3rd
2012-13* 5th 4th
2013-14** 6th 4th
2014-15** 5th 3rd
2015-16* 3rd 2nd
2016-17 2nd 5th

The current season, like so many to precede it, has seen Spurs and Arsenal set out in drastically different directions — Spurs were the side who thrashed their Champions League group, which included Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, while the Gunners suffered the indignity of the Europa League — but after six and a half months of the PL season, they enter Saturday’s north London derby (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com) with not another soul standing between them.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

There will almost certainly only be room for one of the two — if any — inside the top-four this season. Thus, Saturday’s clash at Wembley Stadium will carry a great deal of added incentive, particularly for Arsenal, who not only hope to overthrow Spurs, and Chelsea and/or Liverpool, for a top-four finish, but also to re-establish their superiority in north London after finishing behind Spurs last season for the first time in 22 years.

Spurs are the side in far better form over the last six games (12 points to 8), though they’ve also endured a more taxing period of fixtures thanks to their ongoing participation in the FA Cup, including a replay against League Two side Newport County on Wednesday, as well as clashes with fellow top-five sides Manchester United and Liverpool. Harry Kane joined the PL’s 100-goal club last weekend against Liverpool, and the two-time defending (soon-to-be three?) Golden Boot winner has 13 goals to his name in his last 10 appearances (all competitions).

INJURIES: Spurs — PROBABLE: Lucas Moura (fitness) | Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Welbeck (hamstring); DOUBTFUL: Petr Cech (calf)

What they’re saying…

Mauricio Pochettino, on the strength of two sides: “Arsenal will be tough to play, they have good quality, talented players and are one of the best teams in the league. I cannot say if they look stronger or not than they were since their new signings. We are focused on us. I don’t care. They play with 11, we play with 11.”

Arsene Wenger, on the rivalry: “There is always huge passion before the game and the emotion at stake means it becomes a bit more agitated; but this season, if you look at the table, this is a very important game. For us, it is an opportunity to come back closer to the Champions League places, which is a priority.”

Prediction

A frantic pace. Disjointed play. Hard, desperate tackles flying in from all directions. Everything you expect from a frenzied, consequential derby of this caliber. Plus, a Harry Kane goal or two. Spurs 3-2 Arsenal.