Santi Cazorla

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PL Sunday preview: Man City go for 19; WBA-Arsenal

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How much longer can Manchester City keep up to their winning ways in the Premier League? Their latest test comes on Sunday…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Chelsea leapfrog Man United for 2nd ]

Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

At some point, one would presume, Man City will lose a PL game again. Whether or not it happens this season is the storyline on everyone’s mind: they’re 20 games through the 38-game campaign, and yet to taste domestic defeat. Sunday’s trip to Selhurst Park will afford Pep Guardiola‘s side the opportunity to make it 19 straight wins, thus extending their own English top-flight record. After winning three straight by a combined score of 12-1, Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Newcastle United felt uncharacteristically laborious for the Citizens, but they held on to turn Raheem Sterling‘s 31st-minute goal (his team-leading 13th of the PL season) into the winner.

“I don’t think anyone is really thinking about records,” Sterling said this week. “They’re nice to have on your CV but we have to keep winning and getting three points. Records only stand for a certain amount of time. Three points add to the table.

After a dreadful start to the season (they didn’t win a point — or score a goal — until game no. 8), Crystal Palace put together a seven-game unbeaten run starting in mid-November, only to see all their hard work go up in flames in Thursday’s 3-2 home defeat to Arsenal. Sunday’s clash with a record-setting City side is, to put it lightly, hardly an ideal opportunity for Roy Hodgson‘s to get back to winning ways.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: Mamadou Sakho (calf), Connor Wickham (knee), Chung-Young Lee (hamstring) | Man City — OUT: Vincent Kompany (calf), John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (knee)

West Brom vs. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It’s no 18-game winning streak, but Arsenal do enter Sunday’s trip to The Hawthorns with a five-game unbeaten run in tow — that’s the positive spin. Here’s the negative from the other side: the Gunners have won just two of those five games and have fallen behind Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur while slipping to sixth place (from fourth) in the PL table. The victory over Palace did see Arsene Wenger‘s side overcome a bit of adversity, as they were pegged back to 1-1 after taking an early lead. Alexis Sanchez responded with a second-half brace just four minutes apart. Palace finished the game with a second goal a furious fight for an equalizer, and Wenger was largely pleased with the result.

“Overall, I think it was a very good, positive performance. We were fluid going forward and controlled the game well,” he said. “At half-time it was 1-0, but it should have been more and then of course at some stage the home team who fights against relegation will come at you. I thought we had two good chances and after it was just down to 1-1, then we showed resources and character, were leading 3-1 and controlled the game quite well, but at 3-2 we became quite nervy again and we finished in a bit of a less controlled way, but overall it was a good team performance.”

West Bromwich Albion are currently the anti-Man City: having won their first two games of the season, the Baggies are without a win in their last 18 PL games and have fallen into 20th place, currently three points behind Palace who sit just outside the relegation zone. Similar to the Eagles, West Brom have a genuine mountain to climb if they’re to reverse fortunes on Sunday.

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: Salomon Rondon (hamstring), Nacer Chadli (thigh), James Morrison (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Olivier Giroud (hamstring), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Nacho Monreal (ankle), Santi Cazorla (achilles)

PL preview: Arsenal vs. Liverpool

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  • Top-four hopefuls have struggled of late
  • Arsenal seek revenge for embarrassment in August
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to Arsenal

The top-four credentials of both sides will be put to the test on Friday, when Arsenal host Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium in a battle of fifth versus fourth in the Premier League (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

While the two sides enter Friday’s primetime clash in identical form — two straight draws against far lesser opposition, followed by slump-busting victories last weekend — recent history hugely favors Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds in facing Arsene Wenger‘s Gunners. Liverpool have won the last three PL meetings between the two sides, by a combined score of 11-4. That dominance was most recently exhibited in the 4-0 thrashing at Anfield back in August.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

In each of those three games, it was Liverpool’s rabid, incessant pressing and quick counter-attacking which continuously frustrated and dismantled Arsenal. That strategy has only been strengthened by the arrival and emergence of Mohamed Salah, who’ll likely go down as the PL’s signing of the season, as the Egyptian has amassed a league-leading 14 goals through the first 18 games this season. Having recently rotated the other three members of the Reds’ “fab four” attacking quartet — Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino — Klopp’s side will be fresh and on the front foot from the opening whistle.

Arsenal, meanwhile, will be just 72 hours removed from their League Cup quarterfinal victory over West Ham United, and in the midst of another mounting injury crisis. As such, star attackers Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were rested on Tuesday. Midfielder Aaron Ramsey and forward Olivier Giroud are both out with absolute certainty, while defender Shkodran Mustafi remains a doubt now six weeks into his recover from a thigh injury.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Week 19 ]

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Olivier Giroud (hamstring), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (achilles); RETURNING: Shkodran Mustafi (thigh) | Liverpool — OUT: Alberto Moreno (ankle), Nathaniel Clyne (back); QUESTIONABLE: Joel Matip (thigh), Daniel Sturridge (illness)

What they’re saying

Wenger, on Liverpool’s attacking options: “I have to analyze that well and you have to guess a little bit who will play. It is not always the same — it depends on their personnel. They have plenty of offensive players and, looking at them recently, they have changed a lot their teams so it is difficult to guess. But I will try to see what I do. For me, the most important thing is we turn up with a positive performance. We have been strong at home and it is important we continue to dictate our game at home.”

Klopp, on defending proactively: “We are a team that are very offensive-orientated, but that doesn’t mean you have to give any space away. The boys did well in different systems, which I really like because that’s the biggest improvement, but only because they now do the jobs more often. But even against Bournemouth, which was obviously an impressive performance, when Jermain Defoe hit the post, that’s not good defending. It was a good pass, but it should be defended. Not by the center-halves — earlier. Then keeping the line for the offside or if you’re a bit deeper you have to react in the situation differently.”

Prediction

Over the last year or so, Wenger has shown a willingness to adopt rigid, defensive tactics for big games against irresistible attacking sides. He would be wise to do so against Liverpool and avoid another lopsided beatdown. 1-1 draw.

PL Sunday preview: Derby day in Manchester, Merseyside

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Sunday is derby day for two of the fiercest, longest-standing local rivalries in the Premier League. Need we say more?

[ PL ROUNDUP: Spurs bounce back in a big way; Leicester on fire ]

Southampton vs. Arsenal — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Arsenal turned in arguably their best performance of the season last weekend, and were hammered on the scoreboard, 3-1 by Manchester United. On the one hand, they’ll feel good about the performance; on the other hand, questions remain about their abilities to compete with other top-six sides. It was a fourth straight impressive performance by the Gunners, who over the last six weeks have stabilized (wins in five of their last seven) after a rocky first few games (one win from their opening three).

Much Sunday’s opponent, who are comfortably slotted into the top-four battle, Southampton find themselves in a familiar place as a mid-table side with very little hope of catching the elites of the PL, and in very little danger of sliding into a relegation battle. Saints have hit-or-miss at home this season, as Mauricio Pellegrino‘s side has won 11 of its 16 point at St. Mary’s Stadium, site of Sunday’s clash, but have also lost three of eight games at the ground, by a combined score of 7-1.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: Cedric (hamstring) | Arsenal — OUT: Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles)

Liverpool vs. Everton — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Red-hot Liverpool (nine games unbeaten in all competitions, with seven wins; six games unbeaten in the PL, with five wins) welcome a suddenly resurgent and re-energized Everton side (riding back-to-back PL wins for the first time all season) to Anfield for the 229th Merseyside derby.

Only first-and second-place sides Manchester City (46) and Man United (35) have scored more goals this season than the rabid attack of Liverpool (33), but it’s those pesky defensive struggles (once again) which have held Jurgen Klopp‘s side back from putting forth a genuine title challenge. There have been massive improvements in recent weeks, though, as the Reds have conceded just three goals during their current six-game run in the league. As if they need anymore confidence ahead of Sunday’s clash, history also happens to be on their side: Liverpool haven’t lost a derby at Anfield in 17 outings.

As for the Toffees, Sam Allardyce is in charge now, and they’ve won all three games since his appointment — though he’s only actually managed one of the three. Allardyce’s debut saw Everton grind out a 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town last weekend, though they were far from dominant in doing so. Alas, goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are wonderful signs for a side which managed only 13 goals in as many games to start the season.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Joel Matip (leg), Nathaniel Clyne (back); QUESTIONABLE: Adam Lallana (fitness), Alberto Moreno (ankle) | Everton — OUT: Leighton Baines (calf), James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee)

Manchester United vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

No PL side has ever won 14 straight games in the league, a feat Man City can achieve on Sunday, and can do so against their most hated local rivals to boot. Undoubtedly, Jose Mourinho has thought of nothing other than Pep Guardiola‘s quest for history this week, and will set out to ruin the party by any means necessary.

Without the services of star midfielder Paul Pogba (suspension), expect a heavy dose of bludgeoning courtesy of Marouane Fellaini, who is set to return after two weeks out with a knee injury. The absences are truly a shame, as United have appeared — when healthy — to be genuinely capable of matching City stride for stride at the very top of their game. While City have scored nine more goals than the Red Devils — two two sides were on a nearly identical scoring pace prior to Pogba’s injury back in mid-September — United’s defense is predictably best in the league once again.

What’s more, a City win at Old Trafford feels as though it would — even 16 games into the season — all but end the title race, as Guardiola’s men would go 11 points clear of United, their closest title rivals.

For the first time all season, City fell to defeat in the Champions League on Wednesday. Prior to that loss to Shakhtar Donetsk, they had won 20 straight games across all competitions and were unbeaten in 22. Having already secured the top spot in the group, Guardiola elected to rest a handful of regular starters with Sunday’s showdown presumably in mind. As for what this particular derby means for the Citizens and their fans, defender Vincent Kompany believes the tables have turned 180 degrees in recent years.

“I think to every player it means more than any other game,” he said this week. “It started as something that was way more important for the City fans than the United fans. At this moment in time, we are the team they want to beat more than any other team.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Eric Bailly (groin) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (knee)

Arsenal’s Cazorla endures 9th achilles surgery in 13 months

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Santi Cazorla revealed earlier this month some of the gruesome details of his now-13-month battle to return from an achilles injury suffered in October 2016, and it’s only grown more heartbreaking in the weeks since.

[ MORE: Pardew named new West Brom boss ]

Having already endured eight operations, faced a bout of gangrene, been faced with the possibility he could lose the leg and seen an eight-centimeter chunk of the tendon eaten away by infection, the discomfort is yet to subside and Cazorla has undergone a ninth operation, the 32-year-old Arsenal midfielder announced via his Twitter account on Wednesday.

“Some discomfort in the tendon that had dragged the last few days, I have had to undergo surgery. It is delaying the date of return to the playing fields, I maintain the hope and motivation to enjoy my great passion, soccer.”

Cazorla had recently hoped to return to full training with the Arsenal squad in January, with an eye toward a handful of appearances at the tail end of the season. Doing so would provide Cazorla a foundation of fitness and form ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Prior to operation no. 9, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had already called Cazorla’s ongoing saga “the worst injury I’ve ever known.”

PL Sunday preview: Man City go for 11 straight

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Manchester City’s bid to run away with the Premier League title continues on Sunday with a visit to one of the feel-good stories of the still-young season. Elsewhere, Burnley host Arsenal in a battle for the top-four (yes, really), and a pair of severe underachievers do battle at St. Mary’s Stadium.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool drop points; Manchester rejoices ]

Southampton vs. Everton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

It’s still early in the 2017-18 PL season, but no side has displayed levels of disarray capable of rivaling that of (permanent) manager-less Everton — at least, not yet. After firing Ronald Koeman on Oct. 23, David Unsworth was put in charge on an interim basis. Burnley’s Sean Dyche was coveted and unsuccessfully hired, as was Watford’s Marco Silva. Here the Toffees sit, a month later, 16th in the league table and just 12 points to their name from 12 games, with owner Farhad Moshiri publicly claiming a new appointment is imminent, and Unsworth completely in the dark.

“Look, what will be will be,” he said this week. “I’m a proud man, I’ve stood proud for the past five weeks and I will continue to do that until someone tells me otherwise. I was only made aware of this development as I came off the training pitch, and if it is the case that we are close to getting a manger, I am delighted. I just want what’s best for the club. They asked me to stand in and I was pleased to do it. There were never any guarantees.”

Sunday’s opponent, Southampton, meanwhile, have come under plenty criticism of their own these first three-plus months of the season. Same as under Claude Puel last year, Saints have struggled to create chances and score goals under new manager Mauricio Pellegrino — to the tune of nine goals in 12 games, a -5 goal differential and 14th place in the league table. A win on Sunday could vault them as high as ninth. Pellegrino insists his employment is safe.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: Mario Lemina (ankle) | Everton — OUT: Oumar Niasse (suspension), James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Maarten Stekelenburg (groin); RETURNING: Morgan Schneiderlin (toe)


Burnley vs. Arsenal — 9 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

For the first time in what feels like decades, the football club known as Arsenal has an almost entirely clean bill of health — only Santi Cazorla (out since October 2016) and an ill Theo Walcott, who already lives on the periphery of the squad anyway are unavailable for Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor.

On top of their newfound fitness, are also in the midst of a particularly purple patch of results in recent weeks — last weekend’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur erased memories of the defeat away to league-leading Manchester City. In total, the Gunners (22 points) have won six of their last nine games in the PL and would leapfrog both Liverpool and Tottenham to go fourth with a win on Sunday.

The Clarets, meanwhile, are the surprise team of the season thus far. Level on points with Arsenal, Dyche’s side could also finish the weekend by occupying a top-four place. With three straight wins and just two defeats all season, it’s no wonder Burnley have been approached time and again by “bigger” clubs in an effort to lure Dyche away from Turf Moor. Dyche is pleased with Burnley’s place in the PL pecking order, but his focus remains solely on reaching the 40-point mark, at which point everything else will be a cherry on top.

“The league table is to be enjoyed and I’ll probably do that for an hour before I start thinking about the next one,” he said after last week’s win over Swansea City. “We know it’s a big challenge going forward, and 40 points is the marker, so we look to the next challenge that comes our way and that’s Arsenal.”

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Tom Heaton (shoulder), Jonathan Walters (knee), Dean Marney (fitness) | Arsenal — OUT: Theo Walcott (illness), Santi Cazorla (achilles)


Huddersfield Town vs. Man City — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

96 days have elapsed since Man City last dropped a point, in any competition. Since their 1-1 draw with Everton way back on Aug. 21 — game no. 2 of the 2017-18 season — Pep Guardiola‘s side has won 10 straight in the PL, as well as five straight in the UEFA Champions League, and another two in the League Cup — altogether, 17 straight victories for the runaway PL leaders.

Sunday’s trip to take on newly promoted Huddersfield affords the Sky Blues to make it 11 in a row in the PL, and re-establish their eight-point lead in the title race after Manchester United closed the gap to just five with a victory over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday. It’s not just the results which have been so dominant for Man City, but the scorelines by which they’ve been achieved: 37-6 combined score during the 10-game winning streak; six clean sheets during the run; and, they have trailed for all of eight of a possible 900 minutes.

As for Huddersfield, this first season in the PL has been a stomach-churning roller-coaster ride for David Wagner‘s side. After winning their opening two games of the season, the Terriers went winless in their next six (three draws), followed by alternating wins and losses each of the last four weeks, including the shocking slaying of Man United, destruction at the hands of Liverpool and even worse from Bournemouth. For all the peaks and valleys, they’ll gladly accept their 10th-place standing a dozen games into the campaign, while remaining cognizant of the fact there’s still a million miles to travel in their bid to stave off relegation.

INJURIES: Huddersfield — OUT: Michael Hefele (achilles), Philip Billing (ankle), Kasey Palmer (fitness), Jon Gorenc-Stankovic (knee) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (knee)