Henrikh Mkhitaryan

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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.”

Ostersunds 0-3 Arsenal: Gunners too much in first leg

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Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil joined an Ostersunds own goal on the score sheet as Arsenal cruised past their Swedish hosts in the first leg of a UEFA Europa League Round of 32 tie on Thursday.

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David Ospina stopped a stoppage time penalty kick to preserve the clean sheet and deny the Swedish hosts the lifeline provided by a poorly-timed Hector Bellerin tackle.

Arsenal didn’t need to do too much to get a lead thanks to an Ostersunds side which had knocked off some strong sides but looked uncomfortable with the Gunners speed of play.

The second goal came when Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s hard cross took a turn off Sotirios Papagiannopoulos and into the Ostersunds goal.

Ozil rounded off the scoring with this run into the box to tap the ball over the sliding keeper.

Time for Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo to swap?

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Okay, so we’ve seen a mega swap deal in the Premier League in January with Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and who says it can’t happen between two megastars?

[ MORE: Tottenham come of age

Ahead of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg clash on Wednesday, reports continue to link Neymar with replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and the theme within all of them is clear: Real Madrid are incredibly confident of signing the Brazilian star this summer.

Could the duo swap places this summer? Think about it.

Not the craziest idea, but of course with Neymar 26 and Ronaldo 33 years old, you’d expect Ronaldo plus cash to be heading to PSG if Neymar, their $265 million prized signing from Barcelona last summer, is ever allowed to leave.

The crux of the reports regarding Neymar moving to Real point to his belief that he won’t win the Ballon d’Or if he remains at PSG. Neymar has been a star for PSG since his huge move from Barca, scoring 7  goals in 27 games and adding 14 assists in his first season in the French capital.

He is the main man, just as he wanted to be at Barcelona but found himself stuck behind Lionel Messi and even Luis Suarez. If he moved to Real in the summer, would he be the main man at the Santiago Bernabeu?

Ronaldo, who has been the main man for Real for the past decade after leading them to three European titles, has been linked with a move away from the Spanish capital multiple times over the past 12 months due to unhappiness. This season he’s scored 23 goals in 28 games in all competitions which is a little low by his own lofty standards and Real’s poor form has coincided with Ronaldo’s dip.

Rumblings continue that a summer of huge upheaval is planned at Real as Zinedine Zidane’s side falter in La Liga, despite winning the league last season and two-straight UCL titles. You get the sense this is the end of an era with not only Ronaldo discussed in potential outgoings but also Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric.

Are all of those deals lined up so Neymar can arrive and be the new star of the show?

Ronaldo heading back to Manchester United for the final years of his career has always seemed like the smart bet but given the success of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at PSG at a similar stage of his career, perhaps Les Parisiens’ would be willing to do this deal considering the commercial income which would also arrive?

There’s also the problem regarding UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules as PSG have yet to officially sign Kylian Mbappe from Monaco for $220 million, but they will do in the summer when his season-long loan ends. Can they afford to have the world-record fee for Neymar and then the blockbuster deal for Neymar with regards to FFP? It’s clear that will cause problems.

It is also clear that Neymar isn’t fussed with rocking the boat and doing what he feels is best for his own personal career. Just 12 months after his huge move to PSG from Barca, we will see him make an even bigger move back to Spain to join Real Madrid?

Wednesday’s showdown in the Santiago Bernabeu will be about much more than Real Madrid vs. PSG. It will be a glimpse of the current (Ronaldo) and perhaps the future (Neymar) of the most successful team in European history.

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.”

Three things learned: Tottenham’s win v Arsenal

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur dominated Arsenal in the North London Derby at Wembley on Saturday, as Harry Kane‘s header sealed a huge win for Spurs in front of a record crowd of 83,222 for a Premier League game.

The home side were guilty of missing several chances in the second half but it didn’t matter as the Gunners had now answer.

Here’s what we learned from Spurs’ win at Wembley.


HEROIC HARRY KANE DOES IT AGAIN

We are running out of ways to praise Harry Kane.

The local lad did it once again against Arsenal on Saturday, scoring a towering header for his seventh goal in as many Premier League games against Spurs’ bitter rivals.

Kane, 24, is having yet another fairytale season and leads the Premier League with 23 goals after becoming the top scorer among Europe’s top five leagues (in all competitions) in 2017 with 56 goals.

He could’ve had yet another hat trick in the NLD as he nodded over in the first half from close range, then glanced a header just wide moments after he gave Spurs the lead and soon after he had a thunderous drive beat away by Petr Cech.

As Kane wheeled away to celebrate in front of a jubilant Wembley, he pointed to the Spurs fans and clinched his fist. He’s one of their own and after Arsenal released him at the age of eight, he’s making them pay.

With seven points from their last three games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are bang in form and have second-place United in focus.


SPURS’ HIGH-PRESS TO PERFECTION

By now we know how Pochettino sets his teams up. Apparently nobody told Arsenal.

The Gunners were hurried into clearances, gave the ball away in midfield and were left wide open on the counter multiple times. In a game they needed to win to give themselves a serious chance of finishing in the top four, the Gunners looked shaky from the start.

Cech gave the ball away on multiple occasions in the pouring rain under pressure and Arsenal were the much happier side to go in level at the break, despite showing flashes of promise on the break even if the final ball wasn’t there.

Tottenham should have wrapped things up with more than 20 minutes to go as Kane had multiple chances, Cech denied Erik Lamela, Son skied over and Dele Alli poked wide. If Spurs would have won 3-0, Arsenal could have had zero complaints.

Ahead of the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash vs. Juventus in Turin this week, Spurs are in sensational form at precisely the right time of the season.


WILSHERE THE BRIGHT SPOT FOR ARSENAL

With 20 minutes to go Wilshere had Arsenal’s first shot on goal. That said it all.

Arsenal showed plenty of promise on the break in the first half but couldn’t get that final ball correct. When Wilshere did, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was flagged offside.

In the second half he launched into tackles, curled an effort towards the top corner which Hugo Lloris saved well and as at the heart of everything good Arsenal did. With Mesut Ozil’s contract locked down, Wilshere should be next and it can’t come soon enough. After a run of three months as a regular, the England midfielder is finally back to his best.

Arsenal could fall as much as eight points off the to four by the end of the weekend and their inability to deliver in big games, away from home, has cost them dear in the past few seasons.

The Gunners are winless in their last 16 PL away games against the current top four, with their last victory coming at Man City in January 2015.

In truth, they never looked like winning on Saturday as the mercurial talents of Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan lacked the tenacity of Wilshere and were dominated.