Is now the right time for Wenger to leave?

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Usually in this kind of situation the first question many ask is “why now?”

But almost unanimously the response when Arsene Wenger announced Friday that he will be leaving Arsenal at the end of the season was simply: “The time is now.”

[ MORE: Who will take over from Wenger?

Wenger, 68, has spent almost 22 years not only leading Arsenal to 10 major trophies but also reshaping the way English soccer developed. The Frenchman arrived in the Premier League in 1996 and revolutionized the game with his methods on and off the pitch as he created some of the greatest teams the PL, and the game, has ever seen with the “Invincibles” and all of the fantastic players who arrived in his first 10 years in charge.

[ MORE: Wenger’s Departure ]

But now feels like the right time for Wenger to move on. It is fitting that the end of an era will be as classy as the man himself. I’ve been lucky enough to talk to him and ask him questions over the years and he is someone who loves the game dearly and speaks with passion and intellect about so many things.

But, above all else, he loves Arsenal.

After leading Arsenal to 20-straight seasons in the top four and 19 in the UEFA Champions League, that run ended last season and the Gunners have now had their two worst seasons under Wenger back-to-back. They have regressed and even Wenger, a man who transformed Arsenal into a team admired around the world for their attacking play, knew his time was up.

With Wenger announcing his decision to step down with one year left on his current contract, it shows that he realizes fresh impetus is needed and the job of rebuilding Arsenal is not for him to lead.

Following two years of “Wenger Out” and empty seats starting to appear at the Emirates Stadium on a regular basis, this was what had to happen for Arsenal to move on from a legendary figure who kept winning FA Cups in recent seasons (three in the last five campaigns) to keep his success ticking over.

Wenger was totally committed to the club and put his own success to one side to help Arsenal negotiate the move from Highbury to the new stadium as players were sold and he turned down some of Europe’s biggest clubs. As he said in his statement, Arsenal will have Wenger’s “love and support forever” and he should have the stadium named after him and a statue in his honor.

He will now get the sendoff he deserves in the next few weeks as English soccer pays its respects to Wenger in the final five games of the Premier League campaign before it all ends on the final day of the season at Huddersfield Town on May 13.

Hanging over all of this is the chance for Wenger to ride off into the sunset and put Arsenal back in the Champions League for next season.

With a UEFA Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid coming up next week and the return leg on May 3, Wenger has the chance to reach a major final in Lyon on May 16 to see out his incredible time at Arsenal.

But then what?

There is talk that Wenger may remain at Arsenal in a different role and go upstairs and help the directors — he is particularly close with majority owner Stan Kroenke — but in the past he has shared his belief that he could well manage elsewhere when he left the Gunners.

The French national team? Paris Saint-Germain? Both seem like sensible options for Wenger, with perhaps the former the best fit for him. If a talented crop of players don’t deliver for Didier Deschamps this summer at the World Cup, you’d think that French Football Federation may make a managerial change.

Wenger’s legacy will be intact at Arsenal no matter what he does in the future and no matter what happens in the final weeks of this season. The sight of him struggling with a zipper on the sidelines, berating an official or smiling as he applauds another fine team goal are almost over.

The time was now for him to move on. And Wenger now leaves Arsenal in a much better place than when he took over almost 22 years ago as the Gunners will aim to get back into the top four and the Premier League title conversation with a new man at the helm.

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal will always be inextricably intertwined but he has made the right call at the right time. His class remains.

Merci, Arsene.

Marcos Alonso charged by English FA

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Marcos Alonso has been charged with violent conduct by the English Football Associaton after stamping on Shane Long during Chelsea’s 3-2 win at Southampton on Saturday.

The Spanish left back lunged in at Long just before half time and referee Mike Dean missed the incident despite being close to the scene with a clear view.

Below is the statement from the FA as Alonso could miss the next three games for Chelsea, which include the Premier League trip to Burnley on Thursday, the FA Cup semifinal against Southampton on Sunday and the league game at Swansea next Saturday.

Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso has been charged with violent conduct following an incident with Southampton’s Shane Long. It happened in the 43rd minute of Saturday’s game [14/04/18] and was not seen by the match officials but caught on video.

He has until 6pm on Wednesday [18/04/18] to respond to the charge.

Off the ball incidents which are not seen at the time are referred by The FA to a panel of three former elite match officials. Each panel member will review the video footage independently of one another to determine whether they consider it a sending-off offence. For retrospective action to be taken, and an FA charge to follow, the decision of the panel must be unanimous.

If the charge is upheld on Alonso, then Southampton will at least know he will be missing for the FA Cup semifinal as Chelsea will have their options at left wing back limited.

Yet the fact that Dean didn’t see the incident and send Alonso off at the time hurt Saints, as the Spaniard was pivotal in Chelsea’s comeback as his cross found Olivier Giroud for the first goal and playing against 10-men would have certainly helped Saints to victory in their desperate battle against relegation.

 

Manchester United’s Mourinho reacts to Man City title

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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho reveled in keeping Man City out of throne room with a 3-2 comeback win last weekend, so it makes sense that The Special One will understand that his home loss to West Brom isn’t so good, yes?

Kinda, but a full yes wouldn’t have been vintage Mourinho.

“City were the best team, sooner or later they would get the points, so no dramas when the best team wins the league,” he said.

Ooooooooo-kkkkkaaaaaaaay.

[ MORE: Man Utd 0-1 WBA | NUFC 2-1 Arsenal ]

Mourinho tried his best to be magnanimous and cavalier about United’s loss on Jay Rodriguez’s rain-soaked diving header, but it definitely isn’t carrying the right ring after the 1-0 loss clinched the Premier League title for City.

“I have won titles, I would not be happy if someone say won title if someone lose a match,” Mourinho said. “City won the title because they won more points than everyone else, don’t tell City they won title because United did not win, it is not fair on them.”

He also said United tried to be too fancy against the Baggies.

“We were masters in complication, everything was complicated,” he said. “We didn’t want or played simple, everything was slow, one more flick, trick, turn. There was no fluidity. We did not deserve to lose, we gave them opportunity to win the match.”

PAOK owner banned, team docked points for violence

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) The owner of Greek soccer club PAOK Thessaloniki was banned for three years on Thursday for his part in violence during a match against AEK Athens, including running onto the field with a holstered pistol on his hip.

PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis, a powerful Russian-Greek businessman, was also fined 100,000 euros ($123,000) by the Greek sports court.

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The club itself was docked three points for violence that interrupted recent matches against Olympiakos and AEK – incidents that triggered a two-week suspension of the league.

The ruling gives AEK a seven-point advantage over Olympiakos and sees PAOK drop to third place with five matches remaining – unless the decision is overturned on appeal.

Olympiakos has dominated the league for two decades, but AEK is now favored to win for the first time in 24 years.

In fallout from the incident, FIFA said on Thursday a panel it appointed last year to oversee the troubled national soccer federation recommended the federation be suspended immediately.

This season has been roiled by ongoing allegations of corruption and political interference. The government this week ended a 15-day suspension of the league saying it received a commitment from clubs to back reforms aimed at curbing violence.

However, in its letter revealed on Thursday, the FIFA committee said: “Regretfully … the monitoring committee is of the opinion that the current situation of Greek football with its repeated episodes of violence does not allow the (federation) to guarantee a smooth running of national competitions.

“The monitoring committee unanimously recommends an immediate suspension of the (federation) from FIFA membership.”

The federation said FIFA representatives attended a meeting of its executive board in Athens to brief them on their findings.

Federation chief Evangelos Grammenos said he was determined to hold clubs to their pledge to reform.

“The changes will take time,” Grammenos said.

Dunbar contributed from Geneva.

Historic call: VAR voted into laws of the game

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VAR is here to stay.

On Saturday, as expected, IFAB (The International Football Association Board) voted to add Video Assistants Referees into the laws of the game.

The landmark decision was a unanimous one at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland as FIFA and the four British associations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) all voted to introduce VAR permanently.

Below is the official announcement released by IFAB with plenty of intrigue to see exactly how quickly this new rule is ushered in at the top level of the game.

FIFA has confirmed it will vote on using VAR at the World Cup when it next meets on March 16, while the Premier League has yet to decide if it will be implemented next season.


The International Football Association Board (The IFAB) unanimously approved the use of video assistant referees (VARs) at its 132nd Annual General Meeting (AGM) that took place at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich today.

The philosophy of VARs is ‘minimum interference – maximum benefit’ which aims to reduce unfairness caused by ‘clear and obvious errors’ or ‘serious missed incidents’ in relation to:

  1. Goal / no goal
  2. Penalty / no penalty
  3. Direct red card (not 2nd yellow card/caution)
  4. Mistaken identity (when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player of the offending team)

The principles of a VAR Implementation Assistance and Approval Programme (IAAP), to be overseen by The IFAB in conjunction with FIFA, was also approved to ensure consistency and quality in competitions that want to use VARs. The IFAB members approved a draft VAR Handbook containing compulsory protocol, principles and requirements, as well as advice on the implementation of VARs, to enable competitions to complete the rigorous mandatory approval process.